It’s a conundrum for the ages: you want your puppy to be well socialized, but you also want to keep her safe from communicable diseases. Behavior experts recommend you begin socializing your puppy beginning when she is around 8 weeks old – but she won’t be fully vaccinated until they are 16 weeks old. So what’s a well-intentioned puppy parent to do?

The answer is to begin socialization in a controlled environment, like your home or another responsible pet parent’s home, before venturing out to public places or parks where your pup might come into contact with strange people and pets.

Most veterinarians recommend that puppy owners limit their pet’s exposure to other dogs and public places until your pup is 16 weeks old. Prior to this time, your puppy’s immune system is still immature, and she is vulnerable to infectious disease. As a very young puppy, she got important antibodies from her mom while nursing, but as she grows, the maternal antibodies will begin to wane. This is why your veterinarian will follow up initial vaccines with booster vaccines every three to four weeks. After 16 weeks of age, your puppy is considered to be protected against the most common communicable diseases.  

Once your pup is old enough, it is important to socialize her to other dogs as well as other people and different surroundings to avoid behavior problems and anxieties as she ages. However, even a vaccinated puppy can still be prone to disease. For this reason, you and your young puppy should stay clear of areas frequented by dogs, including public parks for both dogs and people, and consider enrolling in a dog insurance plan with Petplan for peace of mind.

Instead, set up puppy play dates with people you know and trust. In a controlled environment, like your house, the puppies will be free to romp around and explore without exposure to disease. Before you host a puppy play date, be sure to gate off areas of the house that may be unsafe for puppies, and do a thorough check of the areas where puppies will be allowed to be sure it’s “puppy-proofed.”  That means no choking hazards on the floor, cords or wires within reach – and be sure never to leave puppy playtime unsupervised.

There’s almost nothing more smile-inducing than watching a pile of puppies wrestle (except maybe watching kittens do the same!), so your puppy play date will benefit both you and your puppy. Experts say that 8 weeks of age is a perfect time to introduce your puppy to new friends (provided that everyone has gotten their first puppy vaccines) because this is when she is most receptive to socialization and the least likely to be fearful of new situations.  

If you don’t know anyone in your area that can participate in puppy play dates, talk to your veterinarian, veterinary technician or the receptionist at the clinic. They may already have a play date network set up or a standing weekly puppy play date group. If they don’t, they certainly will know others like you who will be looking to socialize their pups. Perhaps this is a good time to start up a group yourself – you and your puppy can both make new friends!

Nov 1, 2012

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