Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Puppies, Classes, & Vaccines...Oh My!

I started a new round of puppy classes last week.  Before the class even began, I received more than one text and/or email from a new puppy owner saying that they wanted to take my class, but they couldn't because their puppy wasn't fully vaccinated yet. I had to count to ten before I could respond to these messages as I, quite frankly, thought we dog owners were past this. I find it incredibly frustrating that this issue seems to persist.  Why are new puppy owners still thinking that they have to wait until their puppies are 4 months old (or older if they have some of the immune compromised breeds like Rottweilers, for example) to start puppy classes? 

In an effort to calm myself, and provide these well-meaning new puppy owners with solid information, I did some more research on the topic of puppies, vaccines, and puppy socialization classes.  The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) has published on this topic several times. Their membership is comprised of veterinarians who specialize in or have a unique interest in animal behavior.  Because they are veterinarians, they can speak knowledgeably and with authority on issues regarding vaccines.  As such, their official position is that it is important for puppies to attend puppy training and socialization classes BEFORE 12 weeks of age, and preferably as soon as they take up residence in their new homes, thus at 8-10 weeks of age. Yes, this means that puppies attending puppy classes will not be fully vaccinated; all attendees will have roughly the same vaccine history when they begin their classes.

Here are what veterinarians in the AVSAB are saying:

"Well-run puppy classes undoubtedly provide the basis for happy, healthy dogs and happy owners. The risks of a puppy's exposure to infectious agents always need to be considered, but the risk of being euthanized or surrendered is much greater in unsocialized, untrained dogs than the risk of dying from infectious diseases." Kersti Seksel, DVM

"For puppies, the single most important part of a behavioral wellness program is proper socialization during their critical developmental period, which ends by 16 weeks. Owners must begin socialization the day they bring their new puppies home, and the clock is ticking."  Brenda Griffin, DVM

"The risks associated with attending puppy classes are minimal to nonexistent and the benefits are positively huge: Puppies learn 1) bite inhibition through puppy play and 2) proper interaction with people during off-leash play and while being handled by strangers. And owners learn to train their puppies in a controlled setting in which training is integrated with play. In this setting, a puppy's reward for training is play with other dogs." Ian Dunbar, DVM

"Relatively few risks and enormous benefits exist in allowing puppies to interact in a well-run puppy class before they've completed their vaccination series. Canine parvovirus transmission is the main risk, as the other infectious agents we vaccinate against are either comparatively rare in prevalence and the vaccines are highly effective, or the agents cause relatively minor illness in otherwise healthy puppies. The risk is relatively small, but it can't be ignored, and it must be balanced against the serious behavioral risks of holding puppies back from class until they are fully vaccinated. Specifically, poorly socialized puppies are at greater risk of behavior problems." Jennifer Messer, DVM

I am hoping that this post generates some good discussion among the behaviorists, dog trainers, and veterinarians that I know.  I wholeheartedly believe that puppy classes, held in a safe, clean, controlled, well-maintained environment for puppies 8 weeks of age and up are incredibly important and should be available to every new puppy owner so that they can know that they are doing what is best for their family's newest addition. No guilt. No fear.  Just good science.

Ozzie had the hardest time staying awake for all of puppy class!

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