Safe socialisation in vaccination period

Essential guidance on how to make sure your pup is both socialised and safe before they're fully vaxxed.

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November 2, 2021

How to socialise your puppy safely in the vaccination period

Can you take your puppy out before he is fully vaccinated? Should you?

Many puppy owners face a dilemma about how to socialise their puppy or take their puppy out when they’ve been advised to stay home and well away from other dogs until vaccinations are complete. Here I’ll help clear this up and give you some practical ways to socialise your pup while still keeping him safe.

Should I take my puppy out to socialise?

As we all know ’prevention is better than cure’, and when it comes to dogs this statement is as true as it gets. The vast majority of the behavioural issues I treat at my Clinic could have been prevented by doing the right thing at the right time, and if a puppy gets no socialisation in his critical Formative Period (8 -16 weeks), then it can result in a lifetime of issues such as fear and aggression. The results from research speak for themselves - 80% of euthanasias in the first 3 years of dogs’ lives are due to behavioural problems, not medical issues like diseases.

Aside from socialisation, it’s so important that your pup is exposed to the sights and sounds of the great, big, busy world so he is desensitised to lots of new experiences while he is young and fearless, so that he won’t freak out when the time comes to go out.

The good news is, there ARE ways you can still give your pup some socialisation and exposure to the world  before he is fully vaccinated. I’ll walk you through them.

Why is the Formative Period so important? Can't it just wait?

The most critical time in a puppy’s development is the “Formative Period” when pups are between 2 and 4 months old. During this time, the pup’s flight or fight nervous system isn’t fully developed, which means the puppy is almost always in a Learning State, non-fearful, and ripe for picking up new behaviours and adjusting to new situations.  At this age, you are shaping behaviour rather than trying to change established behaviour. In particular, dogs’ sociability towards people, dogs and other species is learned during this time. If pups aren’t socialised extensively during the formative period, then it is much more likely they’ll have aggression or fear based issues later in life, which can be immensely stressful and dangerous. Also, if pups aren’t exposed to certain experiences during this time, they may become phobic towards them (e.g. cars driving past, bikes, scooters etc). This is why it’s so important that we don’t keep our pups completely isolated and at home during this time.

Who does my pup need to socialise with?

It is important to socialise your pup with:

  • people of all ages, races and gender (especially young children and babies)
  • many dogs of different sizes and breeds
  • any other animals your pup might encounter in his life, such as cats, chickens or stock animals.

Use a clicker to click and reward your pup as they have these new experiences to make it a positive encounter! The sooner they are exposed to these different groups, the better - by 12 weeks it’s getting late, and if they haven’t been socialised adequately by 4 months, it’s likely the pup will be malsocialised.

The difficult thing here is that this time clashes with the “vaccination period”, and many vets recommend you don’t take your puppy out of the home or anywhere they might encounter other people or other dogs at this time.

So - what should you do?

The answer is to find a way to socialise your pups safely while they are building immunity and waiting for vaccinations. Here are some ways to do that:

  • Take your pup below the high tide line on beaches, where it is unlikely they’ll come across anything that might make them sick due to the ocean washing the sand clean each day
  • Socialise your pup with other dogs who you know are vaccinated e.g. friends or family dogs. If you don’t have any friends or family with dogs, reach out to the community - I’m sure you’ll have neighbours with vaccinated dogs that will be very happy to have a visit from a cute little puppy so your pup can get some socialisation! Community Facebook groups or notice boards are great for this. Just be sure to socialise on your property or their property (somewhere that there won't have been unvaccinated dogs)
  • Puppy classes are great and can allow you to cover off socialisation with other dogs and some new people in a safe environment
  • Invite people to your house to see the puppy (I doubt you’ll have any problem finding takers!). If you don’t have or know children yourself, I’m sure some neighbours will be happy to bring their little ones round to meet the puppy
  • Carry a virucide such as Virkon-S so that you can take your pup out in public. Spray it around any area that you want to set your pup down (e.g. a small area of grass in a park). This kills viruses on the ground so that your pup can enjoy being outside in the big world in a safe way. You can purchase this from your vet.
  • If you’re not certain that an area is safe, carry your pup in your arms. This allows him to still be able to see and smell the world, other dogs and other people around, but from the safety of your arms
  • Don’t go to dog parks or other places you think strays and unvaccinated dogs might be
  • Carry your pup in your arms or a front pack (just a backpack worn on your front can work), secured with a lead so they can’t jump out. Click and reward your pup as you carry him around, looking at other dogs and greeting people. This will help him begin to understand that “others” are friendly and not a cause for concern.
  • Dress up in wacky outfits to approach and meet your puppy in your house. For example, put on a mask and snorkel, hat, high vis vest, kids dress-up mask, hoodie and sunglasses etc - anything unusual you can find to help your pup understand that different sorts of people dressed in different ways are all fine. Come in dressed up and have another household member use a clicker to click and reward your pup with food treats as he interacts with you nicely

The long and short of it...

Basically, if your puppy has seen or experienced something before they’re around 12 weeks old, they're probably not going to be bothered by it as an adult dog! The more bases you can cover, the better, so give your pup as many novel experiences as you can. As well as people and other animals, expose them to fireworks sounds (you can play them on YouTube), crying babies, the vet, traveling in the car, loud places with unexpected noises, being touched unexpectedly, having their food interfered with while they’re eating, rubbish trucks etc. Your pup will take it all in and learn that all these things can be part of normal, everyday life!

Why bother?

This socialisation training is really essential to having a happy dog free of serious behavioural issues. Rehabilitating malsocialised dogs takes a lot of hard work and special training techniques - it’s much easier to prevent the issues in the first place.

Best of luck with your new puppy and your socialisation - you won’t regret it!

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