We just got a new puppy and I’m so excited to take her outside! But my Vet told me to keep the puppy inside until it has its rabies shot. I’m so bummed. Do I really have to wait 6 weeks before I can let my puppy explore the outdoors??
This is, unfortunately, common advice from Veterinarians who have not kept up to date with the latest advice from Veterinary Behaviorists, the AVSAB (American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior), and trainers all over the world. Puppies desperately need to be exposed to the world in general and other people and dogs in particular during their first 3 months of life. This is a crucial “socialization period”, which is unique to this time period of their life, where they are accepting of new and novel experiences. After this time period, puppies often enter fear periods where they tend to be more suspicious and/or fearful of new things. This is hardly new information, but some vets still have not assimilated it into their practices. It has been well proven that your puppy is more likely to be euthanized due to behavior issue stemming from lack of socialization than he is to die of a contagious disease that he could be vaccinated against. In their very informative handout, the AVSAB says,
“…the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior believes that it should be the standard of care for puppies to receive such socialization before they are fully vaccinated.”
Now this doesn’t mean that you should expose your pup to unnecessary risk either. There are plenty of safe ways to socialize your puppy. Only allow her to play with dogs you know are healthy, up to date on their vaccines, and behaviorally stable. Make sure your pup meets all your friends during this socialization window, and that they all get to give her treats and coo over her! If you have a party, the simple act of having people remove their shoes will almost eliminate any possibility of contamination from outside. You can also carry your puppy EVERYWHERE outside, since the primary risk of contagion is other dogs and their feces. If you put your pup down outside (and I highly suggest you do!), choose an area that has not been frequented by other dogs. A backyard, friends yard, or out of the way park is perfect. To read more on this topic, see the complete AVSAB handout here.
Get your pup out early and often to experience the world she will need to be comfortable with as an adult. Most importantly, enjoy this time with your new little one!!