If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a dog training client tell me, “My veterinarian said not to take my puppy into the world until he’s four months old because he could get sick.” or “My vet said that my dog is dominant because of how he reacted during his exam,” I’d be rolling in cash.
Not a single word of this blog is intended to badmouth vets. We need vets and their knowledge of physical health should not be undervalued. But as with any other service, you should contact a professional that is qualified and has expertise in the area you need help with. Most folks have been ingrained to take a vet’s advice about dog behavior as the “end all be all”, just as they would a doctor. If I have been suffering from chronic pain in my knee, I’m going to seek out a primary care doctor who will refer me to a specialist doctor. If I have ANY physical ailment, I’m going to seek out a medical doctor. If I’m in psychological distress, I’m going to a psychologist, not a medical doctor. Realistically, you’re not going to be taking behavioral advice for your psychologically special needs nine-year-old child from his pediatrician, or at least you shouldn’t.
Pet owners should see things the same way for their dogs. If your dog has a physical problem, take it to a vet. If the issues are behavioral, consult a professional dog trainer. Vets know the body, trainers know the mind.
Physical and psychological health are equally important. Unfortunately, there are still many vets who are quick to tell clients to never take their puppy into the world until it is four months old (when they are fully vaccinated.) I have even heard numerous times, not until 6 months of age, which was the previous age rabies was required. The psychological and social deficit that a puppy is going to have from no exposure to the world during the critical imprinting period can be just as detrimental to its overall well-being as the risk of contracting something from the environment. Guess which happens more frequently? The majority of dogs that come to me with behavioral issues is due to lack of experience and lack of exposure to the world when they were puppies. Each owner has to balance introducing their young puppy to new sights, sounds, and experiences and preventing them from getting sick. This is relatively easy to do; simply pick your puppy up and carry it in places like Petco or Petsmart, or dirty areas of the sidewalk. Natural exposure to the world in short amounts will boost your puppy’s confidence AND immunity.
The fact that some vets so commonly recommend keeping a puppy indoors for its entire imprinting stage is telling of just how little they were educated on behavior and psychological development. I understand what they are trying to prevent — contraction of illness — but the fact is proper socialization is our first line of defense in preventing a mentally unstable adult animal. Lack of health in both departments can lead to death.
Additionally, while working in rescue I have had numerous vets tell me certain dogs should be euthanized because of how they behaved at the vet’s office. It is completely unfair to make a behavioral analysis as to whether an animal lives or dies based on its behavior while it is being restrained, examined, and poked with a sharp object. Most veterinarians simply do not have the behavioral education background to talk training with you. The exception, of course, would be the veterinarian that has indeed trained dogs and can show you documentation, including before and after results, as well as explaining how they train to you.
All professionals should know the boundaries of what information to share with clients. I don’t talk about medical issues with my training clients. Please don’t take to heart any BEHAVIORAL evaluations your vet may offer you of your dog, especially when the only space they are observing them from is in a very stressful environment like a vet’s office. They should know better than that.