Early puppy socialization classes: Weighing the risks vs. benefits - Veterinary Medicine
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Early puppy socialization classes: Weighing the risks vs. benefits
The American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recently released a position paper outlining the importance of early puppy socialization, preferably before the puppy reaches 12 to 16 weeks old. Four veterinarians with extensive experience discuss early puppy socialization in a roundtable format.


Nothing we do as veterinarians is risk-free. And we routinely make medical and surgical recommendations that carry much higher risks than that of infectious disease transmission in puppy class. A good example is the up to 20% chance that hormone-responsive urinary incontinence will occur at some point after ovariohysterectomy.5 And we often make these recommendations without even discussing associated risks with clients because we think the benefits grossly outweigh any downside. Vaccine administration in general is another good example of a procedure that we carry out with little to no discussion of risks to the dog, and which carries a much higher risk of deleterious medical consequences than that of infectious disease transmission in puppy class.

Given the fact that behavior problems are the No. 1 cause of relinquishment to shelters,4 along with the fact that 56% of dogs that enter shelters in the United States are euthanized,6 and that puppy classes help prevent behavior problems and increase the likelihood of retention in the home, there must be evidence of phenomenal risk of infectious disease transmission associated with early socialization classes to warrant holding puppies back. And there is no such evidence to date. In fact, renowned behaviorist Dr. R. K. Anderson, a longtime advocate for early socialization, has more than a decade of experience and data supporting the relative safety and lack of disease transmission in puppy socialization classes in many parts of the United States.7

It's unfortunate that the behavioral gains from puppy class are under such tight age constraints. The most sound advice we can give clients is to acknowledge the small risk of infectious disease transmission and recommend well-run puppy socialization classes on the grounds that the relative risk is so low. Puppies, owners, and society stand to benefit enormously at the cost of a relatively small risk of exposure to a treatable infection.

Dr. Brenda Griffin
Dr. Griffin: Lack of proper socialization can lead to fearfulness and the inability to cope with environmental change. Pets may be unable to habituate, especially in novel environments, and may display fear aggression. This can make them more difficult to handle for owners and veterinarians alike, and also make them more likely to be relinquished to shelters.

Severely under-socialized dogs often remain fearful for life, suffering from generalized anxiety, and are generally not suitable as pets.

Studies show that 40% of relinquished dogs have at least one problem behavior. Of those relinquished, two of the top three classes of behaviors included aggression and destructiveness. Both of these classes of behavior are sometimes associated with or motivated by fear and anxiety that result from improper socialization.8,9


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