As a pet sitter, one of the times I cringe most is when people ask me what I think about waiting to socialize. I recently had to decide how to approach socialization and exercise when I adopted my puppy, Kayia, in March. As a first time puppy owner, I was astonished at all of the risks associated with socializing her before the 16 week mark that most veterinarians will agree is a safe time to relax a bit and allow your puppy to run freely. At the same time, as a pet sitter, I knew the risks associated with waiting to socialize my pup. For those who don't know Kayia, she is a very special girl in that she was feral when I adopted her. I knew that the socialization period for my girl was important because we had a seemingly insurmountable task of socializing her, and the idea of waiting to do so was daunting,
Being a pet sitter, I started asking some clients and colleagues their thoughts on the subject. From them, I have now heard some sad stories of puppies contracting parvo, kennel cough, etc. Recently, I heard first hand about another pet sitter's real-life personal experience with her daughter's puppy who came home with parvo. Thankfully, Kim knew the risk of parvo and what cautions she had to take when visiting her pet sitting clients. She was extremely cautious in her approach, and not only did her daughter's puppy, Bella, survive after the big scare, but none of the other animals in Kim's care were effected. Read about Bella the Parvo Puppy
These stories were enough to tell me that I needed to brush up on knowledge and develop a new plan for the first few months of Kayia's life. Through much careful consideration, I found a very conservative way to keep Kayia safe, as well as to expose her to the signts, sounds and smells of the world. I want to share my strategy with other new puppy owners because I want you to realize there is no exact method of approaching this, but you can develop a plan that fits your family, life-style and pup.
I did a lot of research and came up with the following best practices for our household during this initial period of Kayia's life
- Have everyone take off shoes before entering the home
- Train puppy to go to the bathroom in a specific area outside to minimize risk of exposure
- Use a stroller to take puppy out on walks
- Avoid letting other dogs 'nose' up to your puppy in the stroller (nose to nose contact is a big risk for exposure to diseases)
- Always wash hands immediately after petting a different animal
- Allow puppy to only play with other pups who's owners have a similar list of best practices
Find out more great uses for pet strollers here.
Consult a Veterinarian
Below is a sample schedule of vaccinations. It is usually recommended that you wait to socialize and allow puppy to explore new places until after the third round of vaccinations, which is typically during week 12-14. This number can vary based on when you brought home your puppy. For example, because of the age she was rescued, Kayia's veterinarian recommended that we wait until 17 weeks, which was 1 week following her last round of vaccinations.
Get Everyone on Board
The way to make sure your puppy doesn't fall ill is to create a plan and make sure everyone who handles your puppy and comes into your home knows why it is important to follow it. Get your pet sitter on board! Your kids, spouse, friends, neighbor and family! Start setting boundaries during this period, a skill that will come in handy throughout your pet's life!
Research, research, research!
I encourage you to do much research as well, and come up with a plan that everyone in your family can get on board with. Realize that no one is going to be absolutely perfect, and at times you may forget to wash your hands after petting a friend's dog, or take your shoes off before going inside. However, just knowing that by making the effort to reduce risk, you are being realistic about common threats in your puppy's environment, and you will most likely be able to avoid illness.
Good luck with your new puppy! This is the beginning of a unique and wonderful relationship.