Times, They are a Changing!

I’ve never blogged before… but what better place to make my debut that the Dog Star Daily.  Despite its little foibles, the web sure is a great way to spread important news quickly. And today I believe that I have something important to announce – so perk up your ears!

For decades now, puppy trainers have been witness to the lifesaving positive impact of puppy classes.  The bummer has always been that the veterinary community, albeit with good intentions, scared the bejebes out of dog trainers and guardians over the potential infectious disease risks of letting pups mingle with each other before they were adequately vaccinated.  

In the early days they recommended waiting until 6 months before enrolling a dog in school  – probably in part because training norms back then bordered on the abusive, and pups were best kept away at any age, and in part because the vaccines for certain diseases, like parvovirus, were not terribly effective. With the advent of modern, dog-friendly training methods, and the increased popularity and accessibility of puppy classes, there was no longer the risk of pups being ruined by heavy-handed training.  And with the development in the mid 90s of more effective vaccines against infectious disease, the risk of allowing otherwise healthy pups to mingle in a safe classroom setting, before the completion of their puppy vaccination series, was greatly reduced.  However, despite these changes, the veterinary community has remained very wary of encouraging group class for pups early in their vaccine schedules for fear of infectious disease transmission.  

A few lone veterinary crusaders did stick their necks out on the line over the past decade, arguing that the benefits of puppy class outweigh the risks so greatly that it is a travesty to discourage attendance.  In North America it was Dr. R. K. Anderson, a board certified specialist in both preventive medicine AND in behaviour, who led the way with an open letter to his colleagues.  In this letter he urged fellow veterinarians to encourage puppy class for pups as young as 8 weeks old, after only their first vaccination, because the risk of infection is so much less than the risk of euthanasia due to behavior problems.  The puppy class program that Dr. Anderson spearheaded at the University of Minnesota Veterinary College ran safely and successfully, as have similar programs at Purdue University, Ohio State University, Murdoch University Veterinary School, and likely many others that I am unaware of, over the past decade.

While I have found myself frustrated with the chronic ambivalence on this subject within the veterinary community, I am sympathetic to what I think is the source of it.  It has been difficult for veterinarians to recommend classes for young pups when doing so carries a degree of risk, especially when the veterinary community has not come to any sort of collective agreement on whether the benefits outweigh the potential for harm.  It is not easy to collect solid data on how many dogs have faced their demise because they didn’t get to puppy school in time – how many dogs that would have lived if they were housetrained, if they liked people and other dogs more, if their guardians had the help of a puppy trainer by their side. As veterinarians we never know with the same certainty if early training intervention would have saved a life as we know that parvovirus ended one… and so by keeping pups out of class many of us were probably winning the battle only to lose the war.  

But it looks like the days of indecision are over, and the verdict is in.  Times, they are a changing!  I am pleased…no… pleased is too mild a word.  I am ECSTATIC to announce to you the position statement on puppy socialization that has just been released by the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behaviour.  I quote:

“In general, puppies can start puppy socialization classes as early as 7-8 weeks of age. Puppies should receive a minimum of one set of vac¬cines at least 7 days prior to the first class and a first deworming. They should be kept up-to-date on vaccines throughout the class.”

“the Amer¬ican Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the stan¬dard of care for puppies to receive such socializa¬tion before they are fully vaccinated”

Go have a look for yourself, and forward the link to all of the dog owners, veterinarians, trainers and related organizations. Let’s get the word out fast, and get those puppies in class, where they belong!

Jennifer Messer, BA Psych (Hons.), DVM