Ask the Vet: How to Socialize a Puppy Before Shots
Dr. Ivana Crnec
Understanding how to socialize a puppy before shots is important because, on one hand, you want your puppy to grow into a sociable canine, and on the other hand, you don't him to get sick from potentially life-threatening diseases. Veterinarian Dr. Ivana Crnec shares ways to socialize a puppy before shots.
The Importance of Socializing Puppies
Usually when someone mentions dog socialization the first thing that comes to mind are dogs playing together. We even use the terms well-socialized with well-behaved interchangeably when referring to a dog’s personality. This is because we misunderstand the concept of socialization.
A well-socialized dog does not equal a well-behaved dog. For example, my 8-months old beagle loves playing with other dogs and cats, but she could not be further from well-behaved. The fact that we do not truly understand what the concept of socialization means triggers an inadequate approach when it comes to socializing our dogs.
There is one more problem with socialization. We teach dog parents that young puppies should be quarantined until fully immunized (vaccinated). On the other hand, we accent the importance of early socialization which is impossible without mixing pups with other pups and dogs.
Once again, we do not fully understand how socialization works. Namely, the process of socialization begins much earlier than we assume, and contrary to popular belief, there are safe ways of socializing a puppy before shots.
The Early Social Life in Puppies
When it comes to a pup’s mental and social development the first days of life are crucial. The pup’s first important relationship is with its mother. Its social life with its littermates, and with us, really begins only when the pup's senses are mature enough and puppies can communicate by voice, posture, body language and activities.
A pup needs its mother for survival, so its relationship with her is marked by dependency and care-seeking. At first, the newborn pup whines and noses around its mother, searching for food and warmth. As the senses develop, it learns to wag its tail, yelp, jump and lick its mother’s face, paw her, or simply follow her like a shadow.
These care-seeking actions provoke different responses from different mothers. Some mothers lick or nibble their pups to control them. Others threaten with their mouths, growl, or give inhibited bites to stop their pups from pestering them.
This is the pup’s first experience with compromise. Benign mothers are more likely to paw their pups into compromise, grooming them afterward as a reward for obedience.
More aggressive mothers bite their pups with less inhibition and may continue to discipline a pup even after it has withdrawn from her. These pups grow into dogs that are less socially gregarious with people than pups raised by benign mothers.
In mental tests, such as "fetch the tennis ball", these pups perform less well. The care-seeking behavior of puppyhood eventually evolves into the subtleties of submissive behavior and affects the pup’s overall socialization.
Puppies' Relationships With Littermates
From the security of the womb, where all needs were met, the pup must now find its food by searching its mother’s teats. Its littermates compete with it for this vital resource and this is the first active experience of living in a pack society.
At the same time, however, the pups care for each other by huddling and sleeping together, providing warmth and contact comfort. In this way, pups start to learn about the importance of relationships and develop their particular position in their social groups.
The dog litter is a fascinating but temporary society. By playing with each other, the pups create their own social bonds and learn how to communicate. In addition, each pup’s social status first becomes apparent, which is in part, based on the relationships it develops with its littermates.
For most family dogs, the seven to ten weeks it spends with its mother and littermates will be the only time in its life during which their particular position in their social groups are allowed to develop, flourish and mold the dog’s socialization process.
Later, when we intervene more actively in the pups’ life, they will apply the knowledge they acquired in this environment to their relationships with their new human family. This is a whole new stage in the process of socialization.
How to Socialize a Puppy Before Shots
As a dog parent you are responsible for your pup’s final stage of the socialization process. You need to make sure your pup is exposed to new people, places, animals, noises, smells and experiences while keeping it safe.
When it comes to experiences, it is quality over quantity. As long as the exposures are of high-quality you do not have to over-expose to achieve an adequate level of socialization.
Here are some useful tips on how to safely socialize your pup before it has received its shots.
- Allow your pup to play with other pups and dogs that are healthy and fully vaccinated. Even if your pup is not interested in playing, the presence of other dogs influences its socialization process.
- Introduce your pup with other animals like cats, rodents or birds. Young pups must learn that other pets are not a threat.
- Improve your social life by inviting friends to your house. By doing this you are also socializing your pup through allowing it to meet new people.
- Take your pup with you when visiting friends. This way your pup will be exposed to both new people and new environments.
- Put your puppy in a stroller and take him out for a nice walk around the block. Young pups can enjoy the outdoors as long as they do not come into contact with dogs with unknown histories and other animals’ feces and urine.
- Go on a picnic with your dog. Put your leashed pup on a blanket and spend some quality time in the local park. That way your pup will be exposed to a plethora of new experiences while enjoying the safety of its blanket.
- Take your pup with you going out for a coffee. Just make sure to carry it in your arms while outside.
- Visit your trusted vet’s office even if there is no real need. While you are there you can have your pup weighed. Before leaving give your pup a treat. This way, your pup will associate the vet’s office with positive experiences and will not show fear when you are visiting for a treatment.
- Enroll your pup in a puppy class. Well-organized and reputable puppy classes take extreme precaution measurements when it comes to disease protection. Plus, your pup will receive some basic obedience training.
Make sure your pup always feels safe, comfortable and relaxed. Pups that feel relaxed are more open to new experiences. Sometimes your mere presence is enough for your pup to relax and sometimes you might need to include a calming praise or a tasty treat.
About the Author
Dr. Ivana Crnec is a graduate of the University Sv. Kliment Ohridski’s Faculty of Veterinary Medicine in Bitola, Republic of Macedonia.