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How to Socialize Your Puppy BEFORE They're Fully Vaccinated

Updated: Sep 19, 2023

Socializing your puppy early is SO IMPORTANT. “Socialization” only truly happens within a very limited time for puppies, ending at about 12-14 weeks. This time period has huge impacts on how they’ll react to new people, dogs, sounds, and general “new” stuff in the world- for the rest of their lives. That's why we're SO passionate about getting puppies into puppy classes and other socialization activities.

Recently we’ve worked with a number of puppies who were kept isolated until their full vaccination program was completed- and these pups are struggling a lot with fear, anxiety, or reactivity.

The good news is that there are SAFE ways to socialize your puppy! The American Veterinary Society for Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recommends starting puppy classes or other safe socialization one week after the first set of vaccines!! For more info, check out their position statement here.

Why you should socialize your puppy before they're fully vaccinated

Puppies go through a "critical socialization period" until about 12-14 weeks. Lack of exposure to people, dogs, and other new stuff during this time can lead to fear and reactivity later in life. You cannot get this time back by "socializing" later in life!

Keeping your puppy completely inside until they're fully vaccinated (with multiple boosters) can have disastrous behavioral effects. NOTE: When we talk about "fully vaccinated," remember that puppies ideally receive vaccinations like their DHPP (distemper, parvovirus) at about 6-8 weeks old, then a booster at 10-12 weeks, then another booster at 16-18weeks. Once puppies receive this third round, they're thought of as "fully vaccinated" puppies.

Is it safe to socialize your puppy before they're fully vaccinated?

According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), "it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization [puppy classes] before they are fully vaccinated." "Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vaccines at least 7 days prior to the first class."

How to safely socialize your puppy

We are NOT suggesting that you take your brand new, unvaccinated puppy to the dog park and all around town. Disease risks are very real! We recommend avoiding:

  • taking your puppy to places like the dog park,

  • letting them wander around the vet's office or shelter,

  • taking them to busy places with tons of unknown dogs, or

  • letting them meet unknown dogs on leash.

And if your puppy has already been sick or has specific health risks, talk to your vet about safe socialization! Here are a few ways you can safely socialize your puppy:

  • Puppy kindergarten classes (with a certified, positive reinforcement trainer!)

  • Meeting fully-vaccinated adult dogs that you know are great with puppies

  • Having a picnic with friends (bring a blanket to sit on!)

  • Going to Home Depot or Lowes and putting your puppy in the cart (with a blanket or bed!)

Behavioral AND physical health both matter, so these tips will help you protect both. Ready for some personalized help? Contact us!

Want more tips for puppy socialization and training? Get more ideas on our free resources page!

Need other safe socialization ideas? Check out our Puppy Day School option!


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