What is more important: getting my puppy fully vaccinated or getting my new puppy socialized?
New puppies are generally allowed to go home to their new family at about 8 weeks of age. They have had some socialization from their mother and littermates but probably not much else. They have maybe had one vaccine and a dose or two of worm medications but probably little else for preventative medical care. They are still too young, and their immune systems are too immature to be given the rest of their vaccines. Puppy vaccines and preventative medical care are very important at this age to give puppies protection from all of the diseases of the outside world. This is also a critical window for them to get exposed to new sounds, people, dogs, situations so they do not develop phobias later in life. This is a dilemma for many dog owners so we will share the advice from the experts.
The most common diseases for puppies to catch are upper respiratory infections, kennel cough, intestinal parasites and skin parasites. There is certainly some risk of these even at the best run puppy classes, and walking in the nicest neighborhoods. Yes, more serious diseases and infections exist but they are much less common. Puppies actually get some antibodies from their mother before they are born and through nursing. These maternal antibodies linger in their systems until around 14-16 weeks of age. While not foolproof, they do provide some protection against the really bad diseases like Parvo and Canine Distemper. The good news about the more common infections like parasites and upper respiratory infections is that they are very treatable.
Puppy socialization is the act of exposing a puppy to situations that they will encounter in life so they learn appropriate responses in a safe and nurturing setting. Puppies should be exposed to other dogs, people, children, house visitors, sounds of traffic, sirens, thunder, riding in cars, and veterinary visits. Exposure to a variety of situations must occur when the puppy is young enough for them to learn that it is not something scary. Ideally puppies should be exposed to as many life situations as possible before 11-14 weeks of age. Puppy training classes are especially good at getting puppies to learn how to listen while there are distractions. Puppy socialization is essential to having a well behaved dog that can be a member of the family and grow up without developing behavior problems and phobias. Of course any dog can develop behavior issues even if they are raised correctly, but dogs that were well socialized have the best chance of being good dogs. Without a doubt, most of the activities on the socialization list carry with them some risk for disease exposure.
The overwhelming consensus of the experts is that the importance of puppy socialization trumps the need to be fully vaccinated. Yes, your puppy may catch something at puppy class but chances are it will be very treatable. Keep bringing your puppy for vaccine appointments so they can get their shots. Their maternal antibodies will wear off and then it becomes really important to have had all of the puppy vaccines. If your puppy has signs of illness, coughing, sneezing, diarrhea, skip puppy class and call your veterinarian. So go ahead. Take your puppy to the kindergarten or for a stroll through the neighborhood. Your veterinarian fully supports you.