In Defense of Puppy Socialization

In Defense of Puppy Socialization

Don’t hold back when socializing your young puppy. Create as many positive associations as possible before 14 weeks of age.

If you’re a puppy parent searching for guidance on how to socialize your puppy, you risk coming across some concerning misinformation, even from professional trainers. The most worrisome recommendations include ‘Don’t use food during socialization,’ and ‘Don’t teach your puppy to expect good things from strangers.’ This advice is misguided and dangerous. Here’s why:

During the very brief window between 3 and 12-14 weeks of age, puppies can learn that the world is safe, or unsafe, much more easily than is possible later in life.1-4 As I tell my puppy class clients and puppy socialization interns, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure. When it comes to puppies liking strangers, for example, an ounce of prevention translates as a few weeks of introducing puppies to new people in a positive way. A pound of cure? Months or years of work to try to help a fearful adult dog become a little more comfortable with strangers.  

Most studies of puppy socialization have found that deliberate socialization efforts are correlated with good results for puppies. These good results are things most of us care a lot about: less fear and aggression, and increased likelihood of puppies staying in their homes long-term.5-14 Most trainers and scientists agree that these socialization experiences should be positive in nature (rather than neutral or negative) to reduce the risk of future behavior problems.15-20 In practice, dog behavior professionals do this by exposing puppies to new things in a way that doesn’t scare them, and by using food, play, affection, or anything else the puppy loves to create a positive association.

Why deliberately create positive experiences, rather than let a puppy get used to (habituate to) new people and animals? Habituation is going on all the time. But when it comes to things adult dogs commonly fear (e.g., strangers, other dogs, noises), we need to do better than hope puppies just “get used to it”. Fear of strangers and other animals presents real quality-of-life issues for both dogs and their families. There is evidence that fear can be easily acquired in puppyhood, and that a single negative experience can affect the dog for the rest of his life, increasing the likelihood of fear and aggression.21 The most ethical choice for behavior professionals is therefore to tip the odds in favor of puppies liking strangers and other animals by working to make puppies’ experiences positive.  

Puppy genetics, environment during gestation, and early life experiences can all work against us in our mission to create a well-socialized puppy.22-23 This means that even if we socialize perfectly, we might not be able to teach the puppy in front of us that new people and animals are safe. So why would a behavior professional urge owners to limit or even avoid creating positive experiences with all kinds of people and animals during the precious early weeks of a puppy’s life? The arguments are all over the map, but perhaps the most egregious is the warning that teaching puppies that strangers predict good things (treats, attention, etc.) will create the “Too Friendly Puppy”—a puppy who will be so excited to meet new people that he will be “out of control” and ill-mannered, jumping up and pulling on leash.

For dog trainers to advise limiting positive experiences for puppies in order to avoid potential behavior problems associated with friendliness is akin to a doctor recommending hand amputation to avoid the possibility of future hangnails. It also fails to distinguish between socialization and basic manners training. This is not a trivial error. Any competent dog trainer, and even most puppy parents, can teach a friendly dog to walk politely on leash and sit to greet, relatively easily, at any age. We have very little time to convince young puppies that the world is a good and safe place.

As noted above, the majority of available studies on puppy socialization suggest that puppies who undergo deliberate socialization programs benefit. On the flip side, there is no credible evidence to suggest that socialization programs that actively work to create positive associations with new people and animals cause behavior problems or harm puppies in any way. And we know that insufficient socialization can be disastrous.

Behavior professionals who work with fear and aggression in companion dogs know first-hand just how terrible the results of poor socialization can be. Please pause a moment to reflect on the sad, short lives of dogs euthanized every year in animal shelters because they are fearful and aggressive. Sit with the family whose hearts break as they make the decision to euthanize their beloved dog, whose fear and aggression has made him unsafe. This is the potential cost of cautioning puppy parents to limit their puppies’ positive interactions with the world around them. What if every stranger these dogs had met before they were 14 weeks old had given them treats? What if they’d met friendly new dogs every day during that period? Might a positive regard for strangers and other dogs be worth the small cost of teaching a friendly puppy to sit to say hello and walk politely on leash?

So please, if you have a young puppy, teach her to love all people and other animals while you still can. Use food and play to create positive associations, and do your best to make sure your puppy is comfortable and having fun. If your 8-week-old puppy develops into a 4-month-old who is enthusiastic about all strangers, congratulations! Your hard work has paid off, and count your lucky stars that there weren't any overwhelming genetic factors or early bad experiences that made this result impossible. It is a relatively simple matter to teach your friendly, socialized puppy to greet people politely (use that “sit” you learned in puppy class!), or pass people and dogs on leash when greeting isn't appropriate. If you struggle with this on your own, reach out to a credentialed positive reinforcement trainer to help (click the links below to conduct a trainer search):

The Academy for Dog Trainers

Karen Pryor Academy

The Pet Professional Guild

Trainers love to get calls about friendly dogs who just need a little manners tune-up!

This is not meant to be a how-to article on puppy socialization, but there are good resources on how to properly socialize puppies. Here are a few:

 


Citations


1Scott JP, Fuller JL. Genetics and Social Behavior of the Dog. Chicago, IL, USA: University of Chicago Press; 1965.

2Freedman DG, King JA, Elliott O. Critical period in the social development of dogs. Science. 1961;133:1016–1017.

3https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2015/02/why-you-need-to-socialize-your-puppy.html

4https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2017/07/the-sensitive-period-for-socialization.html

5Kutsmi et al. Importance of Puppy Training for Future Behavior of the Dog J. Vet. Med. Sci. 75(2): 141–149, 2013

6Casey et al Human directed aggression in domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): Occurrence in different contexts and risk factors. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 152 (2014) 52–63

7Howell et al. Puppy parties and beyond: the role of early age socialization practices on adult dog behavior.  Veterinary Medicine: Research and Reports 2015:6 143–153.

8Duxbury MM, Jackson JA, Line SW, Anderson RK. Evaluation of association between retention in the home and attendance at puppy socialization classes. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2003;223:61–66

9Vaterlaws-Whiteside et al Improving puppy behavior using a new standardized socialization program Applied Animal Behaviour Science Volume 197, December 2017, Pages 55-61

10Cutler et al. Puppy socialization practices of a sample of dog owners from across Canada and the United States. J Am Vet Med Assoc. 2017 Dec 15;251(12):1415-1423

11https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2017/11/extra-early-socialization-for-puppies.html

12https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2018/03/puppy-socialization-practices-and-how.html

13https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2015/12/make-your-dog-happy-puppy-class.html

14https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/animal-emotions/201903/teach-the-puppies-well-let-them-enjoy-their-childhood

15https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/training/puppy-socialization/  

16https://positively.com/dog-behavior/puppy-knowledge/puppy-socialization/

17https://drsophiayin.com/blog/entry/puppy-socialization-stop-fear-before-it-starts/

18https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reference/AnimalWelfare/Pages/Socialization.aspx  

19McMillan, Franklin D. "Development of a mental wellness program for animals." Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association 220.7 (2002): 965-972.

20https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/LiteratureReviews/Documents/socialization_puppies_kittens.pdf

https://fearfreehappyhomes.com/socialize-new-dog-puppy/

21Serpell, James A., and Deborah L. Duffy. "Aspects of juvenile and adolescent environment predict aggression and fear in 12-month-old guide dogs." Frontiers in veterinary science 3 (2016): 49.

22Dietz et al The importance of early life experiences for the development of behavioural disorders in domestic dogs Behavior 2018 Volume 155: Issue 2-3.

23Bray, Emily E., et al. "Effects of maternal investment, temperament, and cognition on guide dog success." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 114.34 (2017): 9128-9133.

 

 

 

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Why We Need to Modify the Humane Hierarchy

Why we need to modify the Humane Hierarchy

Our guest blogger is Tim Steele, a newly minted Academy graduate and owner of Behavior Matters Academy in Santa Clara CA. 

His post is part of Companion Animal Psychology's Train For Rewards Blog Party 2018.

I love the idea of the Humane Hierarchy. We’ve needed a simple-to-understand graphic which gives people a visual representation of what training and behavior modification techniques are more humane and which ones should be used with extreme caution or never. When the current version of the Humane Hierarchy (“HH”) came out, many dog training professionals heralded it and used it in their marketing materials to make it clearer to the public how they train dogs. And the public deserves that sort of transparency.

So, what went wrong?

Despite the best intentions of the creators, I’ve seen the HH used to justify the use of some pretty awful treatment of dogs because on it, R- is on the same level as P-. People with lesser information (or, if I’m thinking more skeptically, people who are looking for a justification to use force) say, “oh, it’s okay, this method is fine – Susan Friedman said so herself.” Now, having spoken with Susan about this, I know she’d disagree with those people. Here’s why.

While I’m absolutely dedicated to not using any Negative Reinforcement to train dogs, I think we can agree that some varieties of R- are worse than others. At the risk of sounding like I’m endorsing R- methods, I’d suggest that crowding and leaning over your average comfortable, well-adjusted, reasonably-fearless dogs to teach them to back up might be effective and harmless. Sure, they’d back up to seek relief from our crowding, but they may not find it terribly scary or painful. I’d not recommend this approach and I wouldn’t intentionally use it myself – but I wouldn’t be worried about the welfare of a dog being taught that way by a well-meaning dog owner.

On the other hand, if someone is pressing a button on a shock collar until a dog recalls, I AM going to worry about the welfare of that dog. And that is a common application of Negative Reinforcement. Likewise, ear pinching to teach retrieve, collar tightening, and pinning a dog to the ground are also common examples of Negative Reinforcement that I suspect the majority of people who the HH was intended for wouldn’t be using.

But the success of the Humane Hierarchy means that it is now reaching people who are new to dog training, who don’t understand quadrants very well, or are balanced trainers who are more comfortable using force to train companion animals. And the Humane Hierarchy provides them the justification they need to continue using pain, fear, and intimidation. How? Because, again, on the Humane Hierarchy, R- is on the same level ethically as P-.

Now, might Negative Punishment be unpleasant for the dog? Sure. As a matter of fact, for it to work, it almost certainly has to be unpleasant. Most dog trainers point to timeouts as the standard P- move. That can be frustrating to dogs. The issue is the same with extinction, which is on the same level as P- and R- on the current HH. It can cause frustration, sometimes in a big way. But here is the thing: Frustration does not equal pain or fear in my book.

The Humane Hierarchy, as written, makes it as easy for a trainer to claim it is OK to shock a dog (at any level of shock, by the way) until they recall as it is to time out a dog for 30 seconds for jumping on a guest.  Or to close your hand in a leave it exercise.

And that’s absolutely not okay.

So, how do we fix it?

The way I see it, we have two options.

First, we could list a wide variety of R- and P- techniques and rank them in terms of invasiveness, pain, fear-inducing, etc. We could color code those we feel are acceptable, caution people about some with yellow, and mark the “really – NEVER use this approach” with red. This takes away from the simplicity of the HH (and that would be a real loss). But the simplicity is causing real harm to dogs now. We have to change that.

Our second option is to completely separate R- from P-. This is the way I’d go. Now, there are arguments against this. Some would say that SOME P- approaches are worse than SOME R- options (so they might like that first ranking idea more than this one). Maybe well-educated professionals are in a better position to do their own rankings and make appropriate choices. But the average pet owner and many self-taught dog trainers aren’t the same – a real understanding of ABA is required for this sort of decision making.

Glenn Pierce of PowerPuppy Dog Training has created an alternative hierarchy which gets us closer to something safe. His version looks like this:

 

I’d add in extinction to this like Susan’s version has it – or at least on the same level as Negative Punishment (they are similar – frustrating, but not painful or scary).

I’d make Negative Punishment come after Positive Reinforcement like in Glenn’s example. But because Negative Reinforcement requires the introduction of an aversive that can be removed for relief, I’d move it farther down in the list because many take the hierarchy quite literally and count any magnitude of Negative Reinforcement as equivalent to any other. I would make Negative Reinforcement equivalent to Positive Punishment to ensure dogs are being treated as humanely as possible by the greatest number of people.

And isn’t that the whole purpose of the Humane Hierarchy to begin with?

Can’t we just educate people better?

I’d love to think so. I feel it is all our jobs to educate better and to educate more people. I recently attended a wonderful three-day training with Susan Friedman with about 150 attendees. It’s going to take a lot of those sessions to counter the spread of “oh, P- and R- are equally humane in any form” that’s being bandied about in Facebook groups containing more than 20,000 members. The admins of such groups can only do so much when someone says, “but the Humane Hierarchy which is supported by experts, says…” In reality, we’ll never get to all those people.

So what’s next?

Before publishing this, I’ve already asked a number of people to review it. Now, I’m publishing it here (with sincere thanks to The Academy for Dog Trainers for allowing me to do so). If there’s sufficient support, perhaps a modified version of the hierarchy can become the standard for dog trainers. I look forward to your input.

 

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Socialisation et vaccination des chiots - Une question d’équilibre

Socialisation et vaccination des chiots - Une question d’équilibre

Vous venez d’aller chercher votre adorable petit chiot, tout frétillant et qui sent bon, et appréciez chacune des secondes passées en sa compagnie. Vous avez tout ce qu'il vous faut: des jouets à mâcher, un parfait petit collier, et bien sûr, son premier voyage chez le vétérinaire est déjà planifié.

Les premières visites du chiot chez le vétérinaire sont amusantes et bourrées d'informations! Dès le premier rendez-vous de 20-40min, votre vétérinaire abordera une plénitude de sujets, tel l'apprentissage de la propreté, l'alimentation, la croissance, le déparasitage, les vaccins, et plus encore. C’est beaucoup d'infos!

L'une des choses les plus importantes dont votre vétérinaire discutera est le calendrier des vaccinations et son interaction avec la période de socialisation de votre chiot. Cela peut être déroutant, et les recommandations peuvent avoir radicalement changé depuis la dernière fois que vous avez eu un chiot. Démêlons tout ça ...

À quoi servent les vaccins de base?

Le plus important des vaccins de base pour les jeunes chiots est pour la prévention des virus parvo et distemper. Ces deux virus sont inclus dans le vaccin DHPP (Distemper, Hépatite, Parainfluenza et Parvovirus).

Le distemper devient plutôt rare dans la plupart des États-Unis. Le virus provoque une maladie respiratoire, systémique, et parfois neurologique. C’est traitable, mais peut être fatal.

Le parvo est un virus malin et très contagieux qui attaque la muqueuse des intestins, provoquant des vomissements et de la diarrhée, souvent accompagné de sang. Cela peut conduire à une déshydratation sévère, faiblesse de l’animal, et parfois même à une septicémie ou une infection accablante. Le parvo se traite bien, mais peut être mortel chez les cas sévères. Le virus se loge dans les excréments, et est très stable, demeurant dans l'environnement pendant au moins 6 mois, ce qui le rend particulièrement risqué, car il peut - et le fait - traîner partout.

La rage est un vaccin distinct, et aux États-Unis c’est obligatoire pour tous les chiens dès l'âge de 4 mois. Il existe également d'autres vaccins tels que bordetella, leptospirose, lyme et grippe, qui peuvent être recommandés en fonction de l'endroit où vous vivez et du mode de vie de votre chiot. Demandez à votre vétérinaire de déterminer lesquels sont appropriés pour lui.

Immunité du chiot

Quand un chiot naît, son propre système immunitaire est faible, mais au fur et à mesure qu’il se nourrit de sa mère, il ingère des anticorps à travers le lait. Ces anticorps le protégeront contre les maladies pour lesquelles la mère a été vaccinée. Ces mêmes anticorps vont également interférer avec les vaccins donnés au chiot et c’est pourquoi il ne sert à rien de donner des vaccins à de très jeunes chiots.

Au fil du temps, les anticorps de la mère commencent à s'estomper, finissant par tomber en dessous du niveau requis pour le protéger et laissant ainsi le chiot vulnérable si exposé à la maladie. Cette période critique où les anticorps de maman ne sont pas assez élevés pour protéger, mais le sont assez pour interférer avec la vaccination s'appelle la « période-fenêtre ». C’est pendant cette période que les chiots sont le plus sensibles à contracter une maladie. Par la suite, les taux d'anticorps tombent suffisamment bas pour ne plus interférer avec les vaccins. Désormais, le propre système immunitaire du chiot peut répondre aux vaccins et le protéger contre les maladies pour lesquelles les vaccins sont destinés.

Il est impossible de prédire avec précision - pour chacun des chiots - à quel moment ces anticorps maternels s’estomperont suffisamment pour permettre aux vaccins de fonctionner, mais nous pouvons être sûrs que c’est le cas pour tous à 16 semaines. Les vaccins sont donc administrés à toutes les 3-4 semaines à partir de 8 semaines jusqu’à 16 semaines inclusivement. Le but est de débuter la vaccination dès que possible après la période-fenêtre, quand le corps du chiot peut répondre aux vaccins. À noter que si nous arrêtons de vacciner avant 16 semaines, il se peut que ce chiot ne soit toujours pas en mesure de répondre aux vaccins par lui-même. À l’inverse, si nous ne commençons pas les vaccins à 8 semaines, nous pouvons avoir une période de sensibilité prolongée lorsque le chiot n'a plus d'anticorps protecteurs provenant de la mère, mais n'a toujours pas reçu de vaccination pour stimuler sa propre immunité.

Période de socialisation

La période de socialisation est un stade de développement propre à tous les chiots qui dure de 3 semaines à environ 14 semaines, parfois un peu plus longtemps. C'est le moment de la vie du chiot pendant lequel il est le plus ouvert aux nouvelles expériences, explorant le monde et apprenant ce qui est sécuritaire et ce qui ne l'est pas. Si pendant cette période un chiot est exposé à toutes sortes de personnes, de chiens, de bruits, d'odeurs, de vues, de sons, de surfaces à marcher, etc., il est beaucoup plus susceptible de grandir heureux et confiant. Les chiots qui ne sont pas exposés à une grande variété de personnes et de lieux, qui sont séquestrés chez eux ou qui vivent de mauvaises premières expériences, auront très probablement peur au cours de leur vie lorsqu’ils se retrouveront dans de nouveaux contextes.  Malheureusement, cette peur peut non seulement être débilitante pour votre chiot, mais elle peut également conduire à des problèmes de comportement très sérieux, y compris l'agression. La période de socialisation est votre chance d'éviter des résultats potentiellement dévastateurs!

Une question d’équilibre

Maintenant que vous savez que votre chiot n'est pas entièrement protégé jusqu'à ses vaccins de 16 semaines, et qu'il y a un chevauchement inquiétant avec sa période critique de socialisation, la question est: Comment le socialiser sans le mettre inutilement en danger d’attraper une maladie? Avec prudence et créativité! Gardez à l'esprit qu'il n'y a aucun moyen d'être sûr à 100% que votre chiot n’attrapera pas le parvo - vous pourriez faire entrer le virus dans la maison après avoir marché sans le savoir sur une matière contaminée. Cependant, le risque d’attraper le parvo au cours d’une socialisation effectuée de façon prudente est beaucoup plus faible que le risque de développer des problèmes de comportement sérieux s’il n’y a pas de socialisation. Voici quelques directives générales pour s’assurer d’une socialisation sécuritaire:


Éviter à tout prix:

  • Parcs à chiens
  • Plages
  • Promenades sur la rue (même si en laisse)
  • Parcs de quartier (à moins de transporter le chiot dans les bras ou dans une poussette, voir ci-dessous)

Alternatives:

  • Porter ou utiliser une poussette pour se promener dans votre quartier ou votre ville.
  • Visiter les magasins permettant l’accès aux chiens. Essayez de porter ou de placer votre chiot dans un panier. Pensez aux magasins de rénovations, aux banques, aux magasins de vêtements, aux magasins de plein air ... quand vous entrez, demander à la caissière si c’est ok. Habituellement, les gens adorent être en présence de chiots!
  • Visiter des amis, avec ou sans chiens, tant que les chiens sont en bonne santé, vaccinés et aimables envers les chiots. Vérifiez également qu'il n'y a pas eu de chiots malades à la maison au cours de la dernière année.
  • Inviter des amis avec des chiens qui aiment les chiots pour une période de jeu à votre domicile!
  • Organiser des fêtes à votre domicile, invitant les gens à rencontrer votre chiot. Vous pouvez même organiser des soirées costumées avec des personnes portant des chapeaux, des lunettes de soleil, des perruques, etc., ou avec des béquilles, des marchettes ou des planches à roulettes. Essayez d'inviter des personnes de tous âges, des bébés aux enfants jusqu'aux aînés. Il est important pour les chiots d'apprendre que toutes les formes et tous les âges d’humains sont sans danger et amusants.
  • Prenez le chiot avec vous à l'école pour aller chercher / déposer les enfants. Gardez-le dans vos bras mais laissez les enfants lui donner plein de gâteries.
  • Demandez à votre vétérinaire la permission d’effectuer des « visites positives » entre les rendez-vous de vaccination afin que votre chiot apprenne à aimer le vétérinaire! Cela permettra à votre chiot d’avoir une meilleure vie et d’être en santé.
  • Si votre travail permet les chiens, pensez à amener votre chiot travailler avec vous ou à vous arrêter à l’heure du dîner ou lors de votre journée de congé pour rendre visite à vos collègues.
  • Dernier point mais non le moindre, les classes de maternelle et les groupes de jeu supervisés entre chiots font partie des meilleurs moyens (et les plus sécuritaires) pour socialiser un chiot. Des cours de chiots bien organisés vous aideront également avec ses pitreries normales - machouillage, propreté, etc. Une fois que votre chiot se fait des amis, vous pouvez également organiser des périodes de jeu entre les classes! Avertissement: soyez difficile sur le choix d’un entraineur pour votre chiot, incluant les cours de groupe. La formation de chien est une profession non réglementée et malheureusement, un mauvais conseil peut vraiment causer des dommages. Consultez cet article pour en savoir plus sur le choix d'un entraîneur, et recherchez un entraineur de l’Académie dans votre région ici.

Il n'y a rien de plus adorable qu'un chiot qui se tortille en se promenant dans votre salon. Profitez-en! Mais n'oubliez pas d’établir un plan - et de le suivre - pour garder votre chiot à l'abri de la maladie et des problèmes de comportement lors de sa croissance. Une bonne socialisation contrôlée est vraiment, vraiment importante. C'est l'un des meilleurs cadeaux que vous pouvez offrir à votre futur chien adulte: le cadeau de la confiance et de la joie.

 

Traduit par Claudine Prud'homme.

This article is also available in English. Cover photo credit: Groomee from iStock.

 

La traduction française de ce blog a été effectuée via "French Connection". L'Académie est heureuse d’annoncer "French Connection"!

Un bon nombre de nos étudiants proviennent de régions francophones, et nous sommes fiers de pouvoir désormais leur offrir un support en français afin de les accompagner dans la réalisation de leurs objectifs d'apprentissage.

Avec French Connection, nous offrirons également des traductions de certaines de nos publications existantes, et à compter d’aujourd’hui, nos nouveaux graphiques éducatifs seront disponibles en français et en anglais !

Si vous maîtrisez l'anglais, mais que le français est votre langue maternelle et que vous souhaitez en savoir plus sur la façon dont ce programme pourrait vous aider, prière de communiquer avec nous à This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. pour plus d'informations.

 

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Puppy Socialization and Vaccination – A Balancing Act

Puppy Socialization and Vaccination – A Balancing Act

You've just picked up your beautiful, wriggling, sweet-smelling little puppy, and you are loving every second of it. You've got everything ready: chew toys, that perfect tiny collar, and of course, your pup's first ever trip to the vet scheduled.

First puppy visits to the veterinarian are fun and packed with information! Your vet will go over so many things in that 20-40 min appointment – potty training, diet, growth, deworming, vaccines, and more. It's a lot of info!

One of the most important things your vet will discuss is the vaccine schedule and how that interacts with your puppy's socialization period. This can be confusing, and the recommendations may have changed dramatically since the last time you had a puppy. Let's hash this out...

What are puppy vaccines for?

The most important of the core vaccines for young puppies are for the prevention of parvo and distemper viruses. These are both included in the DHPP vaccine (Distemper, Hepatitis, Parainfluenza, and Parvovirus).

Distemper is becoming rare in most parts of the US. The virus causes respiratory, systemic, and sometimes neurologic disease. It is treatable, but can be fatal.

Parvo is a nasty, highly contagious virus that attacks the lining of the intestines, causing vomiting and diarrhea, often with blood. This leads to severe dehydration, weakness, and sometimes sepsis or overwhelming infection. Parvo is very treatable, but can be fatal in severe cases. Parvo is shed in the feces, and is very stable, remaining in the environment for at least 6 months. This makes it particularly risky, since it can – and does - hang out anywhere.

Rabies is a separate vaccine, and is required for all dogs in the US at 4 months of age. In addition, there are other vaccines such as bordetella, leptospirosis, lyme, and influenza, which may be recommended depending on where you live and your puppy's lifestyle. Ask your veterinarian to determine which are appropriate for your pup.


Puppy Immunity

When a puppy is born, his own immune system is weak, but as he nurses from his mom he ingests antibodies through the milk. These antibodies will protect him against diseases that mom has been vaccinated for. At the same time, the antibodies will interfere with any vaccines given to the puppy, so there's no point giving vaccines to very young pups.

Over time, the antibodies from mom start to fade, eventually falling below the level needed for protection and leaving puppy susceptible to disease if he is exposed. This critical period where mom's antibodies aren't high enough to protect, but are enough to interfere with vaccination is called the Window Period. During this time, puppies are most susceptible to disease. A little bit later, antibody levels will fall low enough that they will no longer interfere with vaccines. Now the puppy's own immune system can respond to the vaccines and protect him against the diseases the vaccines are for.

In an individual puppy it is impossible to predict exactly when those maternal antibodies will fade enough to allow the vaccines to work, but by 16 weeks we can be sure they have. This is why we vaccinate every 3-4 weeks starting at 8 weeks all the way through 16 weeks. We are trying to catch the puppy as soon as possible after that critical window of susceptibility, when his body can respond to the vaccines. If we stop vaccinating before 16 weeks, that puppy may still not be able to respond to the vaccines on his own. If we don't start vaccines at 8 weeks, we may have an extended period of susceptibility when the puppy doesn't have protective antibodies from mom anymore, but still hasn't received a vaccine to stimulate his own immunity.

Socialization period

The socialization period is a developmental stage of all puppies that lasts from 3 weeks through approximately 14 weeks, sometimes a little longer. This is the time in the pup's life when he is most open to new experiences, exploring the world, and learning what is safe and what is not. If a puppy is exposed to all manner of people, dogs, noises, smells, sights, sounds, surfaces to walk on, and so on during this period, he is much more likely to be happy and confident as he matures. Puppies that are not exposed to a wide variety of people and places, are sequestered at home, or have bad experiences early on, are very likely to be fearful in new contexts as they mature. Unfortunately this fear can not only be debilitating for your sweet pup, but it can also lead to very serious behavior problems, including aggression. The socialization period is your chance to prevent potentially devastating outcomes!

The Balancing Act

So now you know that your puppy is not fully protected until his 16 week vaccines, and that there is some worrisome overlap with his critical socialization period. How do you get him socialized without putting him at unnecessary risk of illness? With caution and creativity! Keep in mind that there is no way to be 100% sure your puppy will not get parvo – you could bring it into the house on your feet. However, the risk of parvo with careful socialization is much lower than the risk of serious behavior problems with no socialization. Here are some general guidelines to safe socialization:


Absolute don'ts:

  • Dog parks
  • Beaches
  • Walking down the street on a leash
  • Neighborhood parks (unless carried or in a stroller, see below)

Alternatives:

  • Carrying or using a stroller to take a walk through your neighborhood or city.
  • Visiting stores that allow dogs. Try to carry or place your pup in a cart. Think home improvement stores, banks, clothing stores, outdoor stores... ask the cashier as you come in if it's ok. Usually people love seeing puppies!
  • Going to friends' houses, with or without dogs, as long as the dogs are healthy, vaccinated, and puppy-friendly. Also check that there have been no sick puppies at the house in the past year.
  • Invite friends with puppy-friendly dogs over to your home for play dates!
  • Throw puppy parties at your home, inviting folks over to meet your new addition. You can even throw costume parties with people wearing hats, sunglasses, wigs, etc., or using crutches, walkers, or skateboards. Try to invite people of all ages from babies and kids on up to seniors. It is important for puppies to learn that all shapes and ages of humans are safe and fun.
  • Take the puppy with you to school to pick up/drop off the kids. Keep him up in your arms but let the kids shower him with treats.
  • Ask your veterinarian about doing “happy visits” in between vaccine appointments so your puppy learns to love the vet! This will set your puppy up for a lifetime of health and wellness.
  • If your work is dog-friendly, consider bringing your puppy to work with you, or stopping by at lunch or on your day off to visit with your coworkers.
  • Last but certainly not least, puppy class and chaperoned puppy playgroups are one of the best (and safest) ways to get your puppy socialization. Well-run puppy classes will also help you with normal puppy antics – chewing, potty training, etc. Once your puppy makes friends, you can arrange play dates between classes, too! A word of caution: be choosy about who your puppy trainer will be. Dog training is an unregulated profession and unfortunately the wrong advice can really cause damage. Check out this article on choosing a trainer, and look for an Academy Trainer in your area here.

There is nothing more lovable than a beautiful squirming puppy toddling around your living room. So enjoy! But don’t forget make a plan—and follow it—to keep your puppy safe from both disease and behavioral issues as they grow. Safe socialization really, really matters. It is one of the best gifts you can give your future adult dog: the gift of confidence and joy.

 

Cet article est également disponible en français - cliquez ici. Cover photo credit: Groomee from iStock.

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Academy Vet Talk: Resource Guarding in Dogs

Academy Vet Talk: Resource Guarding in Dogs

As a veterinarian and dog trainer, I often get asked, “How can I stop my dog from snarling at me when he's eating? It is so disrespectful. No matter how much I yell at him or take his food away when he does it, he still seems to forget that I'm the one who feeds him.” Luckily, disrespect isn't part of the equation, even though it really looks and feels like it is. I can usually make a quick diagnosis: Resource Guarding. Thankfully, it's a problem that is usually straightforward to address.

What is it?

Resource guarding is when dogs exhibit behaviors designed to prevent other animals (dogs, humans, cats, etc.) from obtaining something that is in their possession. They've got a thing they want to keep (the resource), so they do stuff (guarding) to make sure the other animals in the area don't try to take it. Dogs most commonly will guard food, treats, toys, and locations. Sometimes they will also guard certain humans. Guarding is usually directed at other dogs (dog-dog), or humans (dog-human).

What does it look like?

Some guarding is quite obvious: growling, snarling, snapping, biting, lunging/chasing, or even taking an item away to hide. Some is more subtle: tense muscles/freezing, “hard eye” (staring), or eating food or treats faster than normal.

Why do dogs do it?

Because they evolved to want stuff!

It's very important to understand that resource guarding can be a very normal behavior for dogs. The warnings that dogs give—growls, snarls, stares, freezing—are the dog trying to communicate politely, in dog language, that they would like you to back off. If you or the other dog listen to his request and back off, this is likely where the situation will end. It's perfectly reasonable for a dog to say, “I'd rather keep this delicious snack to myself, thank you.”

 

If I had a $1000 bill in my hand, you would not fault me one bit for pulling it away from you as you reached towards it. I might even say, “Sorry, you can't have that!” as I put it back in my pocket. Of course I want to keep my money. I need to pay my mortgage and feed my kids! A dog freezing, staring, growling, eating faster, or even snarling, is doing the same thing. He's saying, “Hey, that's mine! Please don't take it!”

 

What should we do about it?

As with many behavior problems, there are three main ways to go on this one: acceptance, management, and training. In this case, the training would consist of desensitization and counter-conditioning.

            Acceptance—or doing nothing—is appropriate when the guarding is mild, does not inconvenience or scare anyone, and NEVER involves injuries. For example, dog-dog guarding in which the dogs are “talking” but never injuring each other can usually be left alone. It's like Animal Planet in your living room—just sit back and enjoy watching two animals talk in the language of their species!

            Management alone is appropriate when there is minimal risk to humans or animals, and when the type of guarding allows for changing the environment to accommodate the guarder. For example, a dog who growls and practically inhales his food when other dogs are nearby can easily just be fed in another room with the door closed. He will most likely appreciate being able to eat in peace! A dog who growls at the owner when he approaches while the dog is working on a dental chewy can be put in his crate at chewy time and left alone until he is done. Management may also be used in more serious cases either while training is taking place, or if training is not feasible. 

            Training is appropriate when the guarding is more severe, results in injuries, or if it is inconvenient enough to the owner to make the time investment worthwhile. Training can also be done preventatively if the owner wishes (this is highly recommended for puppies!). Rather than focusing directly on changing the behavior (growling, biting, etc.), this training focuses on changing the dog's emotional reaction to having his “stuff” taken from him. Instead of, “Oh crap! Here they come to take my food!” we want, “Oh boy! Here they come to take my food! Yayayayayay!!”

What should we NOT do?

Unfortunately it's all too easy to make resource guarding worse. Punishing the warnings dogs give us, taking items away repeatedly with no reward, smacking or “alpha-rolling” dogs for guarding all actually make the guarding more serious. Dogs that are punished for guarding may stop giving the warning signs, but they still don't want you to take their stuff. And if pushed too far, they are more likely to bite.

 

You see that I have $1000, and you ask me for it. I say ,“No way, that's mine!” You grab it out of my hand and leave. Next payday, you ask for my money again. I yell at you, “NO! IT'S MINE AND YOU CAN'T HAVE IT!” You get right up in my face and yell, “DON'T YOU DARE YELL AT ME!” and then take my money and leave. Two weeks later, you walk up to me when I have my paycheck in my pocket. I don't even wait for you to say anything, I just deliver a knock-out punch right to your nose. Whoops.

 The second scenario is even worse. You take my money, then smack me or yell at me for protesting politely. I tend to be a pretty timid person, so the next 5 times you take my money, I'm silent. You think, “oh good, she learned to respect me,” but inside I'm getting more and more upset. The final time you take my money, I blow up, break your nose, and give you a concussion. Dogs can easily do the same thing when punished for objecting to their things being taken. They learn that they aren't allowed to TELL you they are upset, but it doesn't change the fact that they ARE upset, and they may eventually be pushed too far and end up biting you or someone else with no warning. 

 

How does this desensitization and counter-conditioning stuff work?

Desensitization and counter-conditioning is all about starting where the dog is comfortable (a toy or object he really couldn't care less about), and gradually teaching him to LOVE having his stuff taken by giving him even better stuff than whatever it was we took away. As he learns to love having his stuff taken, we very slowly increase the difficulty towards the stuff he really doesn't want to give up.


Remember my $1000? What if, instead of you taking my whole $1000, you started out just taking a dollar, and then handing me $2 in return. The next time you see me, you take $5, and immediately hand me $10. You gradually take more and more, but each time you give me back twice as much. As I figure out the pattern, I start getting pretty happy when I see you approach. I might even try to get you to take my money.

That's what we want with dogs. We want them to want us to take their stuff. And we get there by paying them handsomely for giving their stuff to us. It may take a while, especially if there's a history of you taking my money with no reward. But if we work on it carefully and slowly enough, we can get there.

 

Hire a qualified trainer!

When working on sensitive issues like resource guarding, the devil is in the details. I highly recommend working with a qualified trainer for this problem. You'll make progress much faster, and you'll be less likely to get stuck or start going in the wrong direction. When hiring a trainer, be sure to ask about their methods and training education. You want someone who will train without pain, fear, or force, and ideally someone with a lot of high-quality education and experience. There is an excellent blog on finding a good trainer here, and you can search for an Academy for Dog Trainers graduate in your area here.

 

Cover photo credit: Jeannie Hutchins Photography

Second photo: iStock Credit Tepepa79

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