New puppy parents are faced with some daunting challenges, not the least of which is how to reconcile veterinarian advice to protect puppies from illnesses such as Parvo while also giving them the socialization experiences advocated by trainers and behaviorists. Often the puppies are restricted from outdoor experiences and interactions with other dogs until their inoculations have been completed at around four months of age. The problem with this is that the developmental window for early socialization is closed by this time and the puppies are vulnerable to becoming fearful of the stimuli they will encounter in daily life, things like vehicles, strollers, novel people, people dressed oddly or walking strangely, other dogs, etc., etc., etc. Trainers see the results of this approach ALL THE TIME: fearful dogs exhibiting aggressive behaviors and their unhappy owners. Sometimes dogs are relinquished or euthanized because of problematic behavior that developed after early puppyhood seclusion.
There are steps people can take to minimize the behavioral risks while also adequately protecting puppies from illness. First, take puppies to classes designed for young puppies according to recommendations of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior below. AVSAB recommends puppies attend socialization classes after their first round of shots where floors are sanitized and puppies are kept up to date on their inoculations throughout the class.
But socialization is about more than attending classes. It is also about having plenty of positive experiences outside of class with the stimuli with which the puppy is expected to live in harmony. Orchestrating that takes some creativity and planning and diligence. A puppy parent can use slings such as the one pictured below to take the pup into the world without allowing them on the ground. Owners can also use doggie strollers to take their puppies out without risk of contagion. Puppies can go on outings to parks and other areas if they are kept on a blanket on the ground rather than allowed to walk on the ground itself.
Beyond keeping the puppy safe from illness, the trick to socialization efforts is to make sure the experiences the puppies have are positive; that is, that the puppy is not overwhelmed by the experiences it is having. What that typically means is that the pups are kept at comfortable distances from new things and that exposures are not intense. No allowing puppies to be surrounded by kids at the playground. No taking puppies to fireworks displays. No walking them on the street with the most truck traffic. Basically, the pups are observing their world at a safe distance and interacting with it in a moderated and protected fashion. The more those observations and interactions are paired with yummy treats, the better, for building positive associations.
Nothing is 100 percent safe in this world. But we can take steps to minimize potential problems while addressing essential needs.