Danville Express

Living - March 23, 2007

The Pet Vet says...

by Dr. Heidi Strand

Q. We have an 8-week-old puppy and would like to take him to puppy class. But our vet said since he's only had one vaccination that he's at risk for parvo and shouldn't be around other dogs. What can we do?

A. You should definitely sign up for puppy obedience class. The risk of a dog developing a behavior problem is way higher than the risk of getting parvo. Most veterinarians recommend keeping your puppy away from dog parks and dogs of unknown vaccination status until he has had two or three vaccinations. However, all of the dogs in puppy class are in the same situation. They will have to have had at least one vaccination so will be at minimal risk of carrying disease. Since the class usually goes on for several weeks, they will get their second or third set of vaccinations during this time, which will bolster their immunity even more.

Puppy class is important for helping your dog socialize. Socialization is the process of accustoming an animal to an experience in a positive (or neutral) way before he has developed any fear of it. Animal behaviorists agree that there is a critical period for puppy and kitten socialization. For puppies the critical period is between 3 and 13 weeks of age. During this time he should be exposed to as many situations as possible - new people, new toys, loud noises and, yes, other dogs. Puppy class is the perfect opportunity for him to have positive interactions with other dogs (and people) in a safe environment.

Almost every day a client tells me their dog must have been abused before they had him.

"He hates other dogs."

"She barks at everyone."

"He won't let kids pick him up."

"She's so shy she pees when you pet her."

If all these dogs were really abused we'd have a whole lot of dog abusers out there! More likely, they simply weren't socialized properly.

If a puppy doesn't get to experience a broad range of people, places and things at a young age, he will forever be fearful in new situations. Similarly, if a puppy has a bad experience during the critical period, for example being attacked by another dog or hurt by a rowdy toddler, he may carry the fear associated with that experience into adulthood.

Fear and its outcomes - shyness, nuisance barking, aggression and the like - are some of the main reasons people surrender their dogs to animal shelters. Your puppy and your family will appreciate your taking the time to make sure he is well socialized at this critical age.

--Dr. Heidi Strand is a veterinarian for the East Bay SPCA in Dublin. She has lived in the Tri-Valley for 10 years with her family and an assortment of four-legged friends. Questions can be mailed to 315 Diablo Road, Suite 100, Danville 94526; or e-mailed to hstrand@eastbayspca.org. Her column runs every other week.

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