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Immunisation verses Sociability

You might think this is rather an odd title because how can there be any conflict between the two. Certainly, both are necessary and immunisation we all know is imperative but it is not quite as crucial as we might think.

I have seen the roaming dogs in Romania none of which are immunised yet why then do they not all die from Parvo or Distemper. We know that for us Rabies is not just a killer of dogs and other species but it also kills humans. You may have read recently that they have now found rabies-infected bats in the United Kingdom.

We know that immunisation against killer and maiming diseases is necessary not just for animals but humans as well but how can animals survive without human intervention. The question is can dogs immunise themselves naturally and only the infected weak ones will die whilst the strong survive because they have produced the antibodies required. I know of puppies that even though they have had their vaccinations they still have died of Parvo.

Certainly, I would have thought that in Romania should Parvo infect the dogs in that country then without protections the problem of roaming dogs should not exist. Why do they all not die off? Imagine should a rabies infected fox move into the outskirts of Bucharest what would be the result of so many dogs with such close proximity, Rabies should spread like ink on blotting paper yet such an event has never happened: Why?

I am not a vet so I do not know all the answers to such questions as to why but I hope to meet the new mayor of Bucharest later this year and maybe learn more as to why the roaming dog population is not decimated by the many killer doggy diseases when no immunisation policy exists there.

For those of us who had dogs in the United Kingdom the vast majority would always go along to their vets to vaccinate their pets against all the known diseases.
When Parvo first arrived in the UK our Vet urgently telephoned us to call in at the surgery with our dogs. This was to vaccinate our dogs with the live cat vaccine. Some weeks later we recived yet another call as they now had the new and improved dog vaccine? This was a new disease and no one wanted our pets to suffer the dreadful diseases effects so immunisation for dogs such as ours was so important because they were at risk from frequently travelling the length and breadth of the UK.

For most dogs, the injections were at 8 weeks followed at 12 weeks and two weeks later so at 14 weeks it was reasonably save to take the dogs anywhere. This did depend on the manufacture as our dog’s recived the fast acting vaccine that did allow us to take our dogs outside much earlier. It was not strictly true that is was safe to do so and it still remained necessary to take some precautions like keeping clear of areas where Parvo was prevalent and suspected unvaccinated dogs.

The belief to have almost guaranteed perfect protection was 20 weeks maximum but most owners used the 14 or 16 weeks restriction. The problem here is in effect, most dog owners following such regimes were literally quarantining them from the outside world, and here lies the inherent conflict.

For the Police and for civilian working trial competitors we needed to have our puppies out socialising much earlier than this. Our Vets knew this and knew the importance of socialisation training and why they always used the fastest acting vaccines.

This system worked very well and I know of no dogs following such a routine ever contracted any of the killer diseases. This raises the question is 14 or 16 weeks being too protective when it is also imperative for dogs have socialisation training so dogs would learn to interact properly with all species.

In addition, the Professionals and Trial competitors soon learned that understanding and using the ways dogs learn that in their early weeks we were able to use this to our best advantage.

If you are interested in the dog’s early learning process then please do read Bruce Fogle’s Book “The Dogs Mind”. This is an excellent book and very easy to read. It does spell out how they learn and why the first 12 weeks are so important.

So, what is the conflict? The problem is in the timing of the dogs need for socialbility training because this is the same as that for immunisation.

We know that puppies must not leave their mother and siblings until 8 weeks. If puppies leave the litter earlier then they will grow up unable to interact with other dogs. If they remain with the litter until about 12 weeks, we find they interact well with dogs but not with humans.

We also find that dogs that leave the litter at 8 weeks and then quarantined for immunisation purposes for 16 to 20 weeks they very often suffer from behavioural problems and cannot interact with other dogs or other humans. Imagine keeping your children at home without adequate schooling until their teens. It is the same for puppies it is just the time span is much shorter in relative terms.

In the litter, the puppies learn from their mother and siblings and there is a built in programme in every dog on using certain games to make them capable of surviving in the wild. Domestication has not stopped this. The games remain the same like “What is the time Mr Wolf” which is the stalking game. We have tag games, which are creating hunting skills, and then there is king of the castle games to teach hierarchical skills. By 8 weeks, most of these skills are normally fully learned.

After 8 weeks, they learn easily to coexist with all other species and learn of the infinite pack that will curtail aggression. The way they learn in these weeks up to about 12 and possibly 14 weeks is that for every new experience will teach it a prescribed response that is branded into a dog’s brain.

We learn or remember in a similar way to a dog. For instance as people drive to work each morning they are thinking about all sorts of things. The reason they can do this is because they are driving on autopilot. If providing the trip was uneventful, once it is over and following a short period of time we will forget it as it is only stored in short term memory. When we sleep, the brain will make very few connections so when filing the journey this is effectively forgetting the trip. If there were something of significance in that journey then the brain would transfer this into long-term memory whilst discarding the rest.

A puppy has one major rule for survival. In order to protect itself from harm it must back away from anything it considered dangerous. Never walk directly towards a puppy, as it will run away until it understands it knows you mean it no harm.

How many people have walked directly up to an older dog and wondered why it initially backs away from you. This will be the learned response from when it was a puppy and when an owner walked straight up to it the first reaction was to back away. As no one possibly corrected this, when it next went to sleep this response became the learned response and so it would repeat this every time until eventually it learns more slowly after the 14 weeks that there is no need to back away.

Such learned responses to everyday events during the period of 8 weeks to 14 weeks become so deep rooted it are more difficult to change them into the correct response.

Take for instance dropping a pan lid creating sudden noise the puppy will often run and hide. If the owners do nothing to correct this before the next time the puppy sleeps, this response will become its normal response.

On the other hand if the owners notices this and then plays with the pan lids like some game and slowly increasing the noise intensity eventually the dog simply becomes bored with it and no longer runs away. The next time it sleeps, it will file that so in future it will not run away again from sudden noises, as it knows there are not in danger.

In puppy training, we must teach them all sorts of every day events when they are most responsive to games and will treat most events as a learning game. This way any we can change any early aversion signs easily when we teach the puppy there is nothing to fear.

One major advantage at this age is puppies are very receptive to meeting other dog’s grown-ups and children. It also works the other way because most dogs, grown ups and children are most receptive to meeting puppies.

An older puppy that was quarantined and showing early signs of territorial aggression will only make people back away and so reinforces, if inadvertently, that the dog is acting correctly in frightening other species away. This sort of display is not what we, as a society, need.

Kathryn Hollings has spent many hours each day showing her dog Osito all the sights and sounds she could possibly find as well as meeting as many people children dogs cats etc. Her puppy was not showing any signs of fear to anything as she progressed and yet he was startled when I blew my nose. He shot off and it took me 20 minutes playing with him by gradually blowing my nose quietly, and building it up until sneezing and blowing, my nose no longer frightening him.

Kathryn has been socialising her dog since he was just under 8 weeks of age and this was under the direction of her vet. Once he had his second vaccinations a week later, he told her it was now time to put Osito on the ground. He also said that, as vaccinations in Spain are much cheaper than in the UK most Spanish owners vaccinate their dogs.

Most vets here in Spain are very much aware for the necessity of socialisation training in order to thwart aggression. His comment was if you kept the dog quarantined for up to 16 weeks or even 20 weeks it was too late for this and knew many dogs following this regime would have behavioural problems later in life.

His view along with many other Spanish vets is that yes, there is a slight risk of infection but it outweighed by the importance that dogs must have socialisation training and to start such training after their second batch of vaccinations. I know this does sound as if we are going against the advice given by the UK vets but we were already following such a policy there and we did not have problems. Kathryn said to me that whilst she was taking her dog everywhere she did over hear a couple of comments that it was too soon for a puppy to be away from its home and it was dangerous as well as cruel.

If this veterinary advice were wrong then statistically you would expect far more cases of puppies infected than is normal throughout Europe. This is not the case so there is no need to change their advice.

An immunised dog is important but also it should be sociable with all species as well as many aspects of our world so we must be aware that enforced quarantining will often produce aggression to all outside of its family pack.

Which would you rather have a dog that likes to meet people or one that is fully immunised but possibly shows fear that may well build up to aggression?

To achieve a well-socialised dog and one that is immune to the deadly diseases we need to make a compromise aware of this conflict and in that way, we can be more careful out there.

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