Our Position Statement on Exposing Puppies to Dogs as Early as 8 Weeks of Age
Doglando seeks to maintain appropriate balance between keeping dogs healthy and active (mentally, emotionally and physically) and protecting them from serious harm. We feel we need to assess value and risk by putting as much concern into long-term health and fun as we do safety and space.
An increasing amount of evidence supports the idea of exposing puppies as young as eight weeks of age to other puppies and adult dogs. The timing of this exposure is critical. The period from 3 weeks to approximately 3 months of age is the puppy’s sensitive period for socialization, a “window” of time during which the puppy actively absorbs new experiences and incorporates those experiences into a framework which it will use to guide future interaction with the world. It is vital during this time to expose the puppy, safely, to as many new experiences as possible. The greater the extent of the framework installed during the sensitive period, the greater the confidence of the adult dog, as it will have far more background from which to draw when it encounters a new or unsettling experience.
“If a puppy is shielded from new experiences and people…he’ll likely grow up to be timid and possibly frightened of new things. Also, an under-socialized dog is more likely to react defensively around new people and in new situations and this is potentially dangerous.” (Dunbar, 2007).
Today, many veterinarians continue to discourage pet parents from investing in enrichment programs or exposing their new puppies to other dogs, people and novel environments. These concerns stem from the fear of toxic effects on puppies whose immune systems are still weak and developing. This kind of restricted lifestyle, as immunologically safe as it may feel, does not adequately prepare puppies behaviorally for the life they will encounter as adult dogs. “No matter how you train a dog, he won’t behave well absent a proper lifestyle. Many behavior and health problems are attributable to a poor lifestyle.” (Nora Vamosi-Nagy, 2012).
Of course, care must be given to the kind of dogs, people, and environments your puppies are exposed to. For example, you would not take your puppy to socialize at your local animal rescue or shelter or make a field trip to a landfill for the sake of exposing your puppy to as many dogs or smells as possible. Caution must be taken not only to protect a puppy’s medical health but also behavioral health; which is why dog parks and ordinary dog daycares, which can feature under-vaccinated, under-socialized or under-restrained dogs, are not recommended for young puppies. However, there is no reason a puppy cannot meet other puppies of similar vaccination history, or fully vaccinated and properly socialized adult dogs, in a safe and stimulating environment.
For this reason, the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization even before they are fully vaccinated (http://avsabonline.org/uploads/position_statements/puppy_socialization.pdf).
It is the University of Doglando’s considered opinion that early socialization and training ensures companion dogs with a varied background full of happy experiences, prepared for the many things they will encounter in life, lessening the probability of abandonment and owner surrender.
Environmental enrichment programs like the one offered at the University of Doglando provide stimulating environments for species typical behaviors, allowing dogs to exercise control or choice over their environment, ultimately enhancing their well-being. These experiences in Doglando’s safe environment are prevention protocols for behavioral problems such as fear, anxiety, aggression and learned helplessness that apply to interspecies and intraspecies interactions. They provide a framework of confident learning experiences upon which a dog can rely when it is confronted with the outside world, helping to produce dogs that are happy, safe, and socialized to other dogs, to their families and communities at large.