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How Can I Balance Puppy Socialization with Safety?

We adopted our dog from a breeder (a Chocolate Lab) about a month ago. He will be 3 months old soon. He had his first...

Dr. Eric Barchas  |  Sep 5th 2008


We adopted our dog from a breeder (a Chocolate
Lab) about a month ago. He will be 3 months old
soon. He had his first distemper shot when he
was at the breeder. He had his second shot a few
weeks ago at our new vet, and he will have his
third next Thursday.

We really would like to take
him out to lakes to spend his energy and have
him swim but people keep telling us he needs to
have shots to even do that. How long do we have to
keep him running around inside the house? Thank
you!

Mike
Bergen County, NJ

With puppies, one must strike a balance between socialization (introducing them to new sights, sounds and animals) and protecting them from infectious diseases.

Puppy shots protect against two main diseases: parvovirus and distemper. Of these, parvovirus (also known simply as parvo) is more common. Parvo causes weakness, appetite loss, vomiting, diarrhea and blood cell imbalances. It can be fatal.

Parvo is ubiquitous. However, it is most common in areas such as dog parks where large numbers of dogs congregate. It can survive in the environment for many months; direct contact with an infected individual isn’t necessary to spread the disease.

Until your puppy has received all of his puppy shots (the last shot usually occurs at four months of age), he is at risk of contracting parvo.

But this presents a conundrum. He is also most readily socialized when he is less than four months old. Dogs older than four months less readily adapt to new situations, sights, and sounds.

In my opinion, it is very important to protect your puppy from parvo and distemper. But it is equally important to socialize him properly. Here is what I recommend.

Continue to vaccinate him according to the schedule recommended by your vet. This will help to reduce the risk of parvo and other infectious diseases. Also, avoid dog parks and other areas where large numbers of dogs (especially unvaccinated or poorly-cared-for dogs) congregate.

However, introduce him to as many healthy, vaccinated dogs as possible while he is still a puppy (for instance, you can introduce him to dogs belonging to your friends and neighbors). Consider taking him for walks on defined routes that are not heavily trafficked by other dogs. If you want your puppy to swim in lakes, then pick lakes that are private or remote.

Any time your puppy leaves the house, he may encounter parvovirus. However, if you keep him confined indoors until he has had all of his shots, he may suffer from a different, life-long problem: poor socialization.