Puppy Vaccination and Socialization Should Go Together

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Robert K. Anderson DVM

Diplomate ACVB and ACVPM

Professor and Director Emeritus, Animal Behavior Clinic and

Center to Study Human/Animal Relationships and Environments

University of Minnesota

1666 Coffman Street, Suite 128, Falcon Heights, MN 55108


Puppy Vaccination and Socialization Should Go Together


TO: My Colleagues in Veterinary Medicine:

Common questions I receive from puppy owners, dog trainers and veterinarians concern: 1) what is the most favorable age or period of time when puppies learn best? 2) what are the health implications of my advice that veterinarians and trainers should offer socialization programs for puppies starting at 8 to 9 weeks of age.

Puppies begin learning at birth and their brains appear to be particularly responsive to learning and retaining experiences that are encountered during the first 13 to 16 weeks after birth. This means that breeders, new puppy owners, veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists have a responsibility to assist in providing these learning/socialization experiences with other puppies/dogs, with children/adults and with various environmental situations during this optimal period from birth to 16 weeks.

Many veterinarians are making this early socialization and learning program part of a total wellness plan for breeders and new owners of puppies during the first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life — the first 7-8 weeks with the breeder and the next 8 weeks with the new owners. This socialization program should enroll puppies from 8 to 12 weeks of age as a key part of any preventive medicine program to improve the bond between pets and their people and keep dogs as valued members of the family for 12 to 18 years.

To take full advantage of this early special learning period, many veterinarians recommend that new owners take their puppies to puppy socialization classes, beginning at 8 to 9 weeks of age. At this age they should have (and can be required to have) received a minimum of their first series of vaccines for protection against infectious diseases. This provides the basis for increasing immunity by further repeated exposure to these antigens either through natural exposure in small doses or artificial exposure with vaccines during the next 8 to 12 weeks. In addition the owner and people offering puppy socialization should take precautions to have the environment and the participating puppies as free of natural exposure as possible by good hygiene and caring by careful instructors and owners.

Experience and epidemiologic data support the relative safety and lack of transmission of disease in these puppy socialization classes over the past 10 years in many parts of the United States. In fact; the risk of a dog dying because of infection with distemper or parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem. Many veterinarians are now offering new puppy owners puppy socialization classes in their hospitals or nearby training facilities in conjunction with trainers and behaviorists because they want socialization and training to be very important parts of a wellness plan for every puppy. We need to recognize that this special sensitive period for learning is the best opportunity we have to influence behavior for dogs and the most important and longest lasting part of a total wellness plan.

Are there risks? Yes. But 10 years of good experience and data, with few exceptions, offers veterinarians the opportunity to generally recommend early socialization and training classes, beginning when puppies are 8 to 9 weeks of age. However, we always follow a veterinarian’s professional judgment, in individual cases or situations, where special circumstances warrant further immunization for a special puppy before starting such classes. During any period of delay for puppy classes, owners should begin a program of socialization with children and adults, outside their family, to take advantage of this special period in a puppy’s life.


Robert K. Anderson DVM, Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Diplomate of American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

Dogs Like Us

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

February 13, 2006

Op-Ed Contributor


Dogs Like Us




Kelly, Wyo.


THE 130th Westminster Dog Show comes to New York today, with its thousands of contestants, ranging in size from two-pound Chihuahuas to 120-pound Great Danes. As the highly groomed dogs prance down the runways of Madison Square Garden — the floor-length coats of the Afghan hounds swaying, the teased coiffures of the poodles bouncing — it’s hard not to think of a fashion show.


In the case of dog shows, a given breed’s parent club sets the standard for the breed’s look or style. These standards describe an ideal specimen and are supposed to relate a dog’s form to the original function it performed. But given that dogs are the most plastic of species, and people are inventive, some remarkable varieties of dogs have been created to serve our notions of beauty, novelty, companionship and service.


Unfortunately, in some breeds, form has trumped function. The Pekingese and the bulldog, whose flattened faces make breathing difficult, are two examples. Such design flaws — often perpetuated by breeders trying to produce a dog with a unique look — have enduring consequences for individual dogs, their progeny and the people who love them.


Of the 180 breeds listed on one popular Web site for choosing purebred puppies, 42 percent have chronic health problems: skin diseases, stomach disorders, a high incidence of cancers, the inability to bear young without Caesareans, shortened life spans. The list is as disturbing as it is long, and poses a question: dazzled by the uniqueness of many of the breeds we’ve created, have we — the dog-owning public — turned a blind eye to the development of a host of dysfunctional animals?


Fifteen years ago, I was just such a starry-eyed dog buyer, poring over dog magazines and litters of pups registered with the American Kennel Club. Fate intervened. While kayaking on the San Juan River in Utah, I met a 10-month-old pup roaming free and making his own living in the desert. He wore no collar and looked to be a cross between a yellow Lab and who knew what — a golden retriever, a redbone coonhound, a Rhodesian ridgeback — a dog who seemed to shape-shift before my eyes. It was love at first sight.


He jumped into my truck at the end of the trip, and I brought him home to Wyoming, named him Merle and gave him his own dog door so he could come and go as he wished. His mixed genes and native intelligence took care of the rest. Merle would never have won a dog show, but his vigor and steadiness demonstrated what good genes can do, whether under the influence of a skillful human breeder or that oldest breeder of all — chance and natural selection.


On the other hand, buying a purebred dog from a reputable breeder is no guarantee of a healthy dog, since the existing guidelines for purebred dogs are highly subjective. Consider the German shepherd. Current American Kennel Club show standards favor those with extremely low-slung back ends. But photographs of German shepherds from earlier in the 20th century show a dog with a high rear end, one that even a lay person would call a normal-looking dog. The makeover was done to create a German shepherd that certain breeders believed would have strong forward propulsion while being aesthetically pleasing. Unfortunately, as many experts have noted, such low-slung dogs have nagging balance problems and look crippled. Dog buyers who want a shepherd — or many other Kennel Club-recognized breeds — must sort through such biomechanical and stylistic disagreements among breeders.


So if the pageantry of Westminster moves you to bring a new pup into the household, here’s a few tips that can save you some heartache and vet bills, particularly if the dog you have in mind is purebred. Investigate the track records of breeders. Meet both parents of the prospective pup. Talk with people who have bought from the breeder. And learn about the idiosyncrasies of one’s chosen breed.


If every dog buyer did such research, it would also help shut down the 5,000 puppy mills that, according to the Humane Society, provide most of the half-million purebred dogs sold through pet stores and the Internet. Poorly regulated, unsanitary factories in which females are imprisoned their entire lives, puppy mills survive because people get charmed by that puppy in the window.


Unlike the wrong computer or an automobile, however, faulty dogs can’t be readily exchanged or resold. They can be “given up” to an animal shelter, and they are, at the rate of about four million dogs each year, this soothing phrase disguising the end of 50 percent of them — a gas chamber or a lethal injection.


We owe our dogs more than this. After all, it is we who have shaped them. Even when we err, they continue to put their trust and their lives in our hands.


Ted Kerasote is the author of the forthcoming “Merle’s Door: How Dogs Might Live if They Were Free.”




Copyright 2006The New York Times Company

Finding the Perfect Dog

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013

Finding the Perfect Dog

There is no such animal. So, stop looking.

By Jon Katz

Americans love animals and know little about them. We are used to convenience and short cuts; we respond to marketing. Meanwhile, the pet industry needs to move a lot of animals, so it promotes the idea that there’s a Perfect Dog for everyone.

The Perfect Dog is an enticing fantasy pooch. It’s the dog that instantly learns to pee outdoors, never menaces or frightens children, plays gently with other dogs, won’t jump on the UPS guy, never rolls in gross things, eats only the appropriate food at the right time, and never chews anything not meant for him. This dog does not exist.  (The Perfect Dog is first cousin to the equally yearned-for Disney Dog. That’s the one who loves you alone, who will sacrifice his life to pull your toddler back from the busy street, who will cross 1,000 miles of towering snowdrifts to find you if you accidentally leave him behind in the Arctic. I want such a dog, but I don’t have one. Mine would make their way to the nearest deli and stay there.)

The peddling of Perfect Dogs amounts to a multibillion dollar business in the United States. You’ll never see images of ugly dogs vomiting in the living room or terrorizing the letter carrier on dog food commercials. Those dogs—the ones we want—are always adorable. Their happy owners are not holding pooper scoopers.

Because people have such ill-informed and unrealistic expectations, dogs often suffer when their true hungry, messy, and alien natures are revealed. They get yelled at, irritated by studded chains and zapped by electronic collars, tethered to trees, hidden away in basements and back yards, or dumped at shelters and euthanized.

The most important time for you and your dog is the stretch you spend considering whether, where, and how to get a dog and what sort of dog to get. Unfortunately, that process lasts only a few minutes for most people. Thus, much trouble for both species.


Most Americans acquire dogs impulsively and for dubious reasons: as a Christmas gift for the kids. Because they saw one in a movie. To match the new living-room furniture. Because they moved to the suburbs and see a dog as part of the package. Because they couldn’t resist that wide-eyed puppy in the mall pet store or the poster published by the local shelter.

Even the scant time it will take to read and mull over the following questions (and some answers) might improve your chances of finding the right dog.


1. Why do I want a dog?

Researchers studying human-animal attachments find we have complex personal motives for wanting a dog (or cat) and for choosing a particular one at a given time. It’s important to understand some of those impulses, even if it means picking at psychic scabs. Are you lonely? Sick of people? Unhappy at work? Re-enacting some familial drama? Drawn to the aesthetics of a beautiful purebred? Compelled by the idea of rescuing, but not necessarily training, a dog? Understanding your own motivation doesn’t mean getting a dog is wrong, but it may help you make a better choice of animal—or decide that what you really need doesn’t come on four legs.

2. How can I get a well-behaved dog?

You can’t. You can only create one. Dogs don’t come that way. It’s natural canine behavior to chew on all sorts of things, roll in other animals’ droppings, hump and fight other dogs, menace anything that invades the home. All these behaviors can be curbed, but that takes a lot of work. Trainers say it requires nearly 2,000 repetitions of a behavior for a dog to completely absorb it.

3. Does it matter what kind of dog I get?

There is a kind of canine communism that suggests all dogs are equal and, potentially, wonderfully alike. I don’t think so. It is both foolish and irresponsible to know nothing about the characteristics of the animal that you, your family, and your neighbors will have to live with for years. Last year, more than 400,000 kids were bitten badly enough by dogs to require a hospital visit. Don’t add to the number.

4. Is it wrong to buy a purebred when so many dogs face confinement and death in shelters?

It’s about as wrong as having a baby when millions of poor children suffer. Getting the right dog involves not only moral but practical considerations. Acquiring a rescue or shelter dog can be incredibly rewarding, but when you adopt one, you may also acquire behavioral issues caused by previous mistreatment. You may need to be prepared for even more arduous training than usual. Raising a dog acquired from a good and reputable breeder, who understands the dog’s temperament and the human’s circumstances and can match the two, is much easier. Working with a Lab, standard poodle, golden retriever, or German shepherd—breeds that have worked with humans for centuries and whose behavioral traits are well known—may mean fewer surprises.

5. How should I get a dog?

There’s no one way. Avoid the puppy mills—unscrupulous breeders mass-breed and in-breed dogs and sell them to pet stores. Go to a shelter, rescue group, or experienced breeder (get some references). Whoever provides the dog should be skeptical. A good breeder or experienced rescue agency wants you to prove that you’ll be a capable caretaker. The interrogation and screening can be annoying, but it’s also a sign that you’re on the right track. A breeder ought to know if you work long hours away from home, have a fenced yard, have kids or other animals, or if you have access to parks. Why are there all those mastiffs, Rottweilers, and border collies in Manhattan? It’s what happens when unscrupulous breeders meet thoughtless customers.

6. Is it a mistake to buy a dog for your child?

Only if you are unrealistic enough to believe your kid’s promises that of course she’ll take care of the new puppy. Kids have short attention spans. They’ll coo over the puppy, but in a few months it will be a dog. And who will be walking it at 6 a.m. on a winter morning? Don’t surprise your kids with a puppy—they really might prefer a new computer.

Some romantics see the match between a human and dog as kismet; If they’re “right” for one another, or destined to be together, they’ll fall in love at first sight. But most puppies are cute. And few humans like to accept the idea that the affectionate puppy is as drawn by the food he smells on your hands as by some mysterious ethereal connection. Be cautious. Go slow. Think about it.


Jon Katz’s next book, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm: An adventure with three dogs, 15 sheep, two donkeys and me, will be published in October.

Puppy Aggression

Tuesday, July 23rd, 2013


By Kathy Diamond Davis

Author and Trainer


Puppy Aggression

A puppy’s chances of developing aggressive behavior depend both on genetics and on how people handle their puppies. Much of dog behavior is genetically based and will not be overcome by training. Training has great power to change a dog, though. Every experience teaches a pup what to expect from people and from the world, and how to get needs met. The most teachable months in a puppy’s life pass quickly. How can we make the best use of this short time?


What behavior from a puppy constitutes aggression? Broken skin on a human is one cause for concern. If your puppy breaks the skin on a human—whether someone in the family or not, whether in play or not—be sure to get started promptly with a veterinary behavior specialist or other expert who can assess the situation.


The first question is whether there are children in the home or as regular visitors. If so, you need an expert opinion as to whether the pup is safe around kids.


If this pup is not safe around children and is expertly judged as likely to remain high risk even with training, sometimes the best thing is to place the puppy while still little and cute and easily able to transition to a more suitable home. People don’t want to do this, because puppies are cute and bring out our parental, protective feelings. If you wait until a child has been seriously hurt, though, the dog is likely to be a gawky adolescent, now with a bite record, and no real option other than euthanasia.


A responsible breeder will take back pups and provide them with proper care. The breeder is the pup’s best life insurance for a secure future. In the event your puppy doesn’t have a responsible breeder standing ready to help, check first with the source from which you obtained the pup. They placed the pup once (with you) and likely can easily place the pup again while still little and cute. Be totally honest about the reason, so the puppy can be placed in the RIGHT home and no one else’s children will be at risk.


If you decide to work on the problems, the behavior specialist can prescribe a behavior modification program. Some puppies benefit from medication, which only a veterinarian can prescribe. Most of all, everyone in the family has to learn how to handle the puppy properly. It requires long-term commitment, as successful dog parenting always does.




Ideally of course you want to handle your puppy to avoid aggression from developing in the first place. What does this entail? How might it be different from our instinctive human reactions to puppy misdeeds?


1. Create a foundation of training in your puppy. Instead of punishing a puppy for puppy crimes, train for the behavior you desire. Get the help of a class instructor, private trainer or behavior specialist to learn what behaviors your puppy needs to learn (also see Training), and how to help your puppy learn them.


Make training fun for the puppy, and put in the practice time every day. Then when your puppy misbehaves, you can immediately switch into one of the trained behaviors and have the puppy doing the right thing instead of the wrong thing. With consistent practice, your puppy will eventually develop the habit of doing the desired behavior instead of the undesired one. That’s training at its best.


2. Teach your puppy to give you things, rather than manhandling or cornering a frightened dog. When pups steal human possessions and run off to get the people to engage in a chasing game, most people instinctively do the wrong thing and chase the pup. The pup is playing, but the people get angry about damage to possessions, and take their anger out on the pup.


Soon the pup becomes either fearful or aggressive in self-protection when cornered by humans, and more and more situations cause that trapped feeling. At the same time, the people are missing an easy chance to build the pup’s retrieving response. Encourage the pup to bring the item to you by running the other way, and then trade the pup something nice for the item. Before you know it, you’ll have a dog who retrieves to you. And you’ll have fun in the process.


3. Whenever you need to get your pup to do something, use your voice and body language to give directions. Don’t manhandle the pup. Make your touch a positive thing.


You want your pup to trust the touch of humans and to relax when touched. This is not the instinctive response of a dog or even of a person—the instinctive response to touch is defensive. A positive response to touch is learned. It takes a lot of good touches to develop this positive response, and it also requires protecting the pup from painful or frightening touches.


4. Instead of grabbing, jerking, and jumping around with your puppy, slow things down so the dog can stop and think. Don’t let anyone encourage your puppy to put teeth on human skin. Teach everyone to treat the puppy in a way that will build your puppy’s trust in people and safe responses to them.


5. Don’t let people pet the puppy when the pup is jumping up on them. Everyone needs to “freeze action” whenever the puppy gets mouthy with teeth on a human or otherwise too wild. As soon as the pup settles down, pet then so the puppy learns that calm behavior is the best way to get human attention.


6. Don’t try to show a puppy you’re the boss. A good leader just IS one, and doesn’t have to go around proving it. Dogs come hard-wired with this understanding as part of their ability to live in a pack. If you act like you need to prove to your pup that you are the leader, the message the pup gets is that you doubt your position as leader. Training, grooming, good handling and care of your puppy are how you establish effective leadership (also see Alpha or Leader?).


7. If your pup reacts inappropriately and tries sassing you, don’t overreact. Instead, stand your ground and give the youngster time to realize those tactics just don’t work with you. Don’t fight with your dog, and don’t back down. Fighting triggers the dog to fight back, and backing down teaches the dog that it is effective to push you. Either of these choices can lead to aggression that escalates over time.


Direct the dog into an appropriate behavior you’ve been working on together. Use your voice and body language, but avoid touching the pup. Touch at this point could trigger a defensive reaction in the pup, while directing the dog without touch gives the pup a chance to choose to acknowledge you as leader.


8. When you must correct your pup quickly to interrupt an unsafe behavior, instantly shift the pup into a desirable behavior you can reward. This helps the dog learn that a correction from you actually means something good is coming. At the same time, the pup is learning that you don’t allow unacceptable behavior to continue. Dogs thrive on learning limits in this manner. It’s great for their mental health, because they were designed to live in a structured pack with leadership clearly defined.


9. Don’t let anyone mistreat your puppy. You can’t wait for a reaction from the puppy to show you when a person’s behavior is out of line, because puppy defense instincts are immature and they do not clearly show how they feel. Instead, the reaction shows up as they mature into defense instincts, after the damage has been done.


It’s up to you to make sure people treat your puppy well. Your goal is for the pup to grow up believing there is no need to defend against people in general. If you want a protection-trained dog, do that later with the right expert help. The puppy needs to first be raised with a stable temperament and attitude toward the general public, whether the eventual goal is family companion dog, police dog, or both.


10. Provide your puppy with lots of positive social experiences. Make these experiences short and pleasant for the pup, especially at first. Overwhelming a puppy causes the dog to feel fearful and defensive about the world, rather than building the confidence and trust that is the goal of socializing a puppy.


11. Condition your puppy that the approach of humans when the puppy is eating or chewing a toy is a good thing, not a threat. Give an extra treat during meals, give the dog a treat for letting you hold the chew toy for a minute and then hand back the toy, and otherwise work on making this a pleasant experience (also see Food Guarding).


Nature or Nurture?


Humans inherit many behavioral traits from ancestors, but humans have more mental capacity to override their instincts with reasoned behavior than dogs have. You can help your pup to be as safe as possible with humans, but genetics impose some limitations on how much good training and handling can achieve.


If at any point you become concerned that your pup’s behavior is taking a dangerous direction, seek the help of a behavior specialist promptly. Appropriate action in the pup’s early months can be the key to happily ever after for you and for your pup.


Date Published: 10/18/2004

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