Wednesday, January 12, 2011

What is Puppy Wellness?

We were so excited to read the Striving for puppy wellness article in the APDT Chronicle of the Dog, we had to make it today's post.

Let us begin by defining the term wellness. Here is Doglando's definition of wellness:

"The quality and state of a being's mental and physical state defined by its diet, exercise regimen, physical health and mental enrichment."

Wellness when referring specifically to puppies, is not just limited to following the vaccination protocols for puppies.

Contrary to popular belief, and contradictory to veterinary belief, puppies require much more. A puppy between the ages of 8-16 weeks of ages is growing fastest during these weeks, than it will ever in its entire lifespan. This period of time is so vital in providing the wellness that will allow the puppy thrive, enrich, grow, and flourish to a stable, confident, secure, sound adult dog.

Traditionally (and even still now) puppy parents are discouraged to begin training and socialization for their puppies until they have at minimal completed their initial vaccinations; by which time the puppy is almost 5 months of age. The window of opportunity for your puppy to develop strong social skills with people and dogs, falls long before the age of 5 months.

Lack of early socialization and improper training programs cause significant delays and presenting risks of major behavioral problems in dogs.

"Research shows that lack of early socialization increases the likelihood of behaviour problems such as fear and aggression.,"
says Dr. Messer, DVM.

Taken from Striving for Puppy Wellness by Dr. Jennifer Messer, DVM.
The Value of Early Socialization
Mother Nature designed dogs to be especially receptive to interactions with novel people, dogs, places and new experiences, while very young, so that they grow up to be comfortable with the everyday elements of their environment.1 This prevents them from wasting energy by responding fearfully to the common events and encounters of their day-to-day life.
Puppies are programmed to be most accepting of new experiences until the age of about 12 weeks. Mother Nature decrees that anything the puppy hasn’t encountered by 12 weeks old is odd enough to warrant caution! The period from three to approximately 12 weeks old is called the “sensitive period,” whereby puppies are most able to easily acclimatize to novel stimuli. From 12 to 18 weeks old the window of opportunity to socialize the puppy closes rapidly, such that with each passing week it becomes increasingly difficult to successfully socialize a dog. Once the dog reaches 18 weeks of age the window of socialization closes and it is then much harder—and sometimes impossible—to train a dog to like something new or acclimatize him to something that he finds frightening. Poorly socialized dogs are at much greater risk for responding fearfully to unfamiliar people, dogs, and experiences.

So why are vets opposed to early training and socialization?

It is going to sound very blunt, but it is point blank.... first and foremost veterinarians do not understand behavior. The difference is one of a medical doctor and one of an Physical Therapist or Psychiatrist or Applied Behaviorist.

Second, they are not in the business of training and mental wellness... otherwise they would promote it.

Third, there is truly a lack of knowledge regarding early socialization and training in dogs amongst veterinarians. I have worked with many in the past, and fortunately have very good relationships with several vets... this is because there is no conflict of interest or ego, and we have a mutual understanding and respect for each other's expertise. Many vets, will not allow for such relationships with Dog Trainers and Dog Behaviorists.

Are puppy classes a great way to get started?

Puppy classes were the brainchild of Dr. Ian Dunbar. In his vision for puppy classes, he emphasized the importance of socialization and exposure to large numbers of different people and dogs, in addition to physical handling and restraint exercises.

Today's puppy classes are loosing scope of what the actually puppy needs to develop into a great adult dog. They are more obedience based, and most classes are conducted on leash. This is a major flaw.

For example, Doglando's PRE K9 classes / Puppy Classes, in our unbiased opinion (recommended by several veterinarians in Orlando) has received a big PAWS UP from Dr. Dunbar.

The PRE K9 is the most comprehensive puppy training program, combining an introduction to basic manners, such as sit, down, stay, come, leave it and loose leash walking, as well as enrichment exercises.

Every puppy spends one full day a week on campus, amongst other puppies its age, as well as 5-10 stable, confident, well mannered adult dogs. Puppies learn the rules of play, down time, grooming skills, off leash dependability, and are exposed to numerous kinds of sound, sight and tactile stimuli. Each week gets more challenging, but the puppy develops such strong coping skills that the exercises become a breeze and nothing to sweat about!

Early socialization and puppy training can be looked as a risk benefit analysis, and research proves the benefits outweigh the risks.

This type of training can not be introduced at a later age. By then the dog will have already learned to use its body, teeth, strength and mind against the human, making it much harder to work with.

If you are interested in learning more about facilitating your puppy's core wellness, please feel free to contact us.

As pet parents, it is your responsibility to help educate your veterinarians... to foster healthy discussions on this subject. Feel free to print this post and accompany it with Striving for Puppy Wellness article, as well as the following letter from Dr. R.K. Anderson, DVM.

TO: My Colleagues in Veterinary Medicine:
Common questions I receive from puppy owners, dog trainers and veterinarians concern: 1) what is the most favorable age or period of time when puppies learn best? 2) what are the health implications of my advice that veterinarians and trainers should offer socialization programs for puppies starting at 8 to 9 weeks of age.
Puppies begin learning at birth and their brains appear to be particularly responsive to learning and retaining experiences that are encountered during the first 13 to 16 weeks after birth [Dr. Anderson is saying that the prime time for puppy socialization stops somewhere between 13 and 16 weeks, although more socialization occurs after that time]. This means that breeders, new puppy owners, veterinarians, trainers and behaviorists have a responsibility to assist in providing these learning/socialization experiences with other puppies/dogs, with children/adults and with various environmental situations during this optimal period from birth to 16 weeks.
Many veterinarians are making this early socialization and learning program part of a total wellness plan for breeders and new owners of puppies during the first 16 weeks of a puppy’s life -- the first 7-8 weeks with the breeder and the next 8 weeks with the new owners. This socialization program should enroll puppies from 8 to 12 weeks of age as a key part of any preventive medicine program to improve the bond between pets and their people and keep dogs as valued members of the family for 12 to 18 years.
To take full advantage of this early special learning period, many veterinarians recommend that new owners take their puppies to puppy socialization classes, beginning at 8 to 9 weeks of age. At this age they should have (and can be required to have) received a minimum of their first series of vaccines for protection against infectious diseases. This provides the basis for increasing immunity by further repeated exposure to these antigens either through natural exposure in small doses or artificial exposure with vaccines during the next 8 to 12 weeks. In addition the owner and people offering puppy socialization should take precautions to have the environment and the participating puppies as free of natural exposure as possible by good hygiene and caring by careful instructors and owners.
Experience and epidemiologic data support the relative safety and lack of transmission of disease in these puppy socialization classes over the past 10 years in many parts of the United States. In fact; the risk of a dog dying because of infection with distemper or parvo disease is far less than the much higher risk of a dog dying (euthanasia) because of a behavior problem. Many veterinarians are now offering new puppy owners puppy socialization classes in their hospitals or nearby training facilities in conjunction with
trainers and behaviorists because they want socialization and training to be very important parts of a wellness plan for every puppy. We need to recognize that this special sensitive period for learning is the best opportunity we have to influence behavior for dogs and the most important and longest lasting part of a total wellness plan.
Are there risks? Yes. But 10 years of good experience and data, with few exceptions, offers veterinarians the opportunity to generally recommend early socialization and training classes, beginning when puppies are 8 to 9 weeks of age. However, we always follow a veterinarian’s professional judgment, in individual cases or situations, where special circumstances warrant further immunization for a special puppy before starting such classes. During any period of delay for puppy classes, owners should begin a program of socialization with children and adults, outside their family, to take advantage of this special period in a puppy’s life.
If there are further questions, veterinarians may call me at 651-644-7400 for discussion and clarification.
- Robert K. Anderson DVM, Diplomat, American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine and Diplomat of American College of Veterinary Behaviorists

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