The Great Debate: Puppy Vaccinations & Socialization
Updated: Nov 30, 2020
Before bringing home Amidi, the first puppy I brought home at 8 weeks old, I talked to my vet. She wasn't the vet at the clinic I usually saw, but was filling in last minute. After she checked over Anubi for his yearly exam, I asked about puppy vaccination schedule and how she would recommend handling socialization. I already had my own game plan but I was curious what she would say. She told me that I should vaccinate every two weeks until my puppy turn 16 weeks and that I really shouldn't even take my puppy outside until that point. She went so far as to suggest potty pads instead of pottying outside.
Now, much of motive for asking was rooted in the understanding that this is often routine advice given to new puppy owners. I constantly have clients come to me telling me they never socialized their dog until they were 4 months old because their vet told them not to. The problem with that advice, however, is that a puppy's sensitive window for learning and socialization (when you can have the most impact (positive or negative) on your puppy with the least effort on your part) closes around 16 weeks. Puppies without proper socialization are more prone to developing behavioral issues and require rehoming. This means, if you follow some of the advice you receive about vaccinations, then it's possible you aren't adequately socializing your puppy.
This a big topic and one where you’re always going to find disagreement. Firstly, I want to provide a link to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior’s and the American Veterinary Medical Association’s positions on puppies and vaccinations:
I also want to point out that the number of behavioral euthanasia instances in the country (about 300,000 a year according to NAIA) is one of the most common reasons pets were euthanized. That is not to say distemper and parvo aren’t problems, they are incredibly deadly and require caution, but the chances that any given dog will be euthanized is higher than compared to catching parvo or distemper. The conclusion being, yes, taking them out is a risk, but I feel keeping them in is a bigger one.
So be intelligent about how you take your puppy places. Carry them or use a dog stroller. Use blankets and mats and wipe off their feet after they’ve been on the ground outside. Don’t take them to dog parks or pet
stores, where you have no idea what dogs have been there. Instead utilize puppy classes and daycare where the training facility requires age appropriate vaccinations and fecal tests.
With my own puppies, my daily routine doesn't change at all. The puppies come to work with me, to trials, on vacations. I want my puppies to instantly get used to the bustle of my daily life. I find this is particularly important for primitive and guarding breeds. If you don't teach those breeds what is a threat and what isn't while they're still impressionable, they are going to be much more likely take it upon themselves to solve problems (often problems that aren't truly problems at all (people visiting the house, etc)).
Where I do make adaptations is how my puppy gets around. I do a lot of carrying my puppies around or sticking them in wagons. Once they get too big to carry around practically I utilize wet wipes and washing off their paws as much as I can. When flying home with my puppies I put down potty pads instead of having them use the disgusting public dog areas. I do my best to be sensible while also still exposing my puppies to as much new and novel as I possibly can.
I also want to talk about how vaccinations in young dogs work, because there is overall a huge misunderstanding about how puppy vaccinations work. In human children, they receive a series of vaccines and boosters in order to boost their immunity to the point where it is effective. That’s not how puppy vaccinations work.
In short: when puppies are first born, their intestines are still permeable. This means they absorb their mother’s immunity straight into their bloodstream by drinking their mother’s milk (colostrum) in the first 24 hours of life. That immunity protects them for a given (and variable) amount of time until it wears off. If you vaccinate before the immunity given by the puppies’ mother wears off, then that vaccine is ineffective. That means that veterinarians have to make an educated guess about when the mother’s immunity will wear off. So that touted puppy vaccination schedule is actually an educated guess trying to make sure a puppy is vaccinated often enough that one of the vaccinations happens after their mother's immunity wears off.
This is ultimately why you see “fully vaccinated” six-month-old puppies who catch parvo. It’s not that the vaccinations didn’t work, it’s that the final vaccination in the puppy series happened before the mother’s bestowed immunity wore off, so the puppy was effectively never vaccinated.
If you’re lucky, your breeder did a Nomograph on the puppies’ mother. A Nomograph is a new form of titer test, which tests a dog's blood for the level of vaccine granted antibodies. With a Nomograph, the blood is drawn and tested two weeks before the mother dog whelps. The results then tell you a reasonably accurate window as to when the mother's bestowed immunity will wear off in her puppies. This takes the guesswork out of the puppy vaccination schedule and allows you to socialize your puppy as much as you’d like without risking a period where your puppy is unsafe.
Unfortunately, at this time, use of Nomographs is still uncommon, so most of us must make do with an educated guess on vaccines. More on Nomographs: https://www.avidog.com/wp-content/ebooks/Canine-Nomograph-Ebook.pdf
The balance between socialization and keeping your puppy safe from disease can be a tricky line to walk, but there are ways to socialize your puppy while keeping their risk to a bare minimum.