In order for puppies to grow into well-adjusted and calm adult dogs they need exposure to all sorts of new environments, people and animals. Inadequate socialisation of puppies commonly leads to behavioural problems in adult dogs, such as anxiety and aggression. Behaviour problems are one of the main reasons that young dogs are given up or euthanased so early socialisation is essential.
Before you grab your young pup and rush them down to the park you need to consider that they might not be fully vaccinated. Young pups that have not had all their vaccines are at risk of contracting Parvovirus, or Parvo. Parvo is a deadly disease causing severe vomiting, diarrhoea and dehydration in dogs. The disease is spread through dog faeces and can last in the environment for a long time. The risk of parvo is a problem when wanting to socialise your puppy, though there are ways to minimise this risk.
For safe puppy socialisation with other dogs organise a play date with a friends dog either in your backyard or theirs. If your friend’s dog is healthy and vaccinated then this should be almost a no risk way of socialising your dog. You can also take small dogs out and about to meet new people by carrying them.
Puppies that are fully vaccinated will also be protected from Parvovirus, but often the puppy vaccine course doesn’t finish until they are 16 weeks of age. It then takes a further 2 weeks for full immunity so your puppy still wont be safe until 18 weeks. There are some vaccines now available that allow for a 10 week final puppy vaccination, meaning your puppy is safe from 12 weeks old. Ask your vet about an early finish vaccine for your pup.
Ideally you want to get your puppy out and about before they are 12 weeks old. No puppy will be fully vaccinated before 12 weeks so you may need to assess the risk of contracting parvo versus developing behavioural problems. If you know that your puppy’s mum was well vaccinated, it may be ok to take your pup out from 8 weeks of age (2 weeks after their first vaccine). I’ve seen far more dogs be euthanased due to social problems than contract parvovirus so I believe early socialisation before 12 weeks of age is vital. The risks do change depending on the area you live in, where you obtained your puppy from and the breed of dog so it is best to discuss it with your vet.
Finally, once you have worked out how and when you are going to socialise your puppy, you need to make sure it is a positive experience for them. For information on how to go about making your puppy’s new experiences enjoyable see trainer Katarina’s article on positive puppy socialisation. Have fun exploring the world with your new puppy!