Three very harmful myths that have been negatively impacting so many dogs.
I love meeting new puppy “owners” because most of them are not unlike “human baby” parents. They worry about their firstborn because everything is new and exciting, but also a little scary. First time parents also have a difficult time distinguishing between good and bad advice.
One piece of bad advice that drives me crazy is
that people are told not to socialize their puppies with other dogs until all three vaccine boosters are done, which is the age equivalent of an 8-year-old child! Imagine not letting children play with other kids until then!
But is this really true?
There is no doubt that puppies need to be socialized from an early age in order to be well adjusted, and less fearful or aggressive. And while this may seem like a real dilemma, I have an easy and effective solution that has not failed in 30 years!
Let me explain.
Whenever I am faced with a difficult choice, I ask one simple question: What does nature do?
In nature, pups receive maternal antibodies (protection) mostly from colostrum, the initial “milk fraction” during the first 24 hours of life.
Colostrum is a nutrient-rich, clear, sticky, milk-like substance that the mother produces right after giving birth. It’s packed with immunoglobulins - antibodies against the most common diseases that dogs may carry, such as parvovirus, distemper and leptospirosis.
There are other diseases that dogs are often vaccinated against, such as parainfluenza, canine coronavirus (not COVID), and infectious tracheobronchitis (kennel cough) but they are much less serious and less common, therefore you don’t need to be too concerned about them.
And what about rabies?
Unfortunately rabies is different, because the antibodies cannot be effectively transferred from the mother to her offspring. However, for the rest of the common diseases maternal antibody transfer generally takes place.
How does natural immunity work?
In fact, nature’s plan works so well that I feel very comfortable proposing that puppies can safely be around other dogs as early as 8 to 12 weeks of age. It is also clear that not socializing puppies early can negatively affect many aspects of their life.
I hear some people saying, “But, but…my veterinarian says that I have to do three sets of shots before I introduce my puppy to other dogs! Are they wrong?” I don’t necessarily like using the word “wrong”, but how about misinformed?
Vaccine companies, and the veterinary school teachers who don’t question what they are being told by the vaccine manufacturers enough. For them, the ultimate goal is to sell as many vaccines as possible, and they also have a long history of false claims and exaggerating the number of vaccines necessary to keep canines immune.
For decades we were told that dogs needed yearly boosters, but we now know that antibodies for most of the dangerous pathogens can last for years, or even a lifetime.
Follow the money and the picture is clear.
How to keep your puppy immune and well socialized
When puppies receive colostrum they are protected until their immune system matures, and is capable of producing their own antibodies against the most common diseases. The only time they would not be protected is if the mother didn’t have sufficient antibodies at the time of birth, or if the puppy didn’t receive colostrum. In such cases, puppies may not be protected.
Follow this step by step plan:
This can be done very easily by collecting a blood sample if the pregnancy is planned, or even after the puppies are born, as it is easier to do a test on the mother than on a squirmy little puppy. The blood sample needs to be sent to the laboratory, and I usually check distemper/parvovirus antibodies as these are the most concerning pathogens. Leptospirosis titre can also be done, but the disease is less common in most regions.
Even if the mother tested positive for antibodies, you will need to check your puppy’s antibody levels too. This can be done as early as 8 weeks, but the best age is 12 weeks.
Note: If you know that the mother had positive antibody tests, it is safe to assume that 8 week old puppies will be still protected; hence socializing your puppy with a small group of dog friends should be okay until the titre test is done.
If the antibody test is positive (good), you can continue socializing your puppy with other gentle well behaved dogs, and other puppies.
If the antibodies are negative, then I suggest you give a parvovirus/distemper vaccine, and avoid major combo vaccines that have more pathogens and can unnecessarily stress the immune system.
Note: At the end of this article, I will provide a list of the vaccines and protocol.
Avoid dog parks, because…
Even if your puppy has sufficient protection, I suggest that you avoid dog parks. Not necessarily because of concern about diseases, rather the issue of safe socialization.
If you take your puppy to a busy dog park, it is just a matter of time until a crazy dog comes barreling at your little puppy, tumbling it over, or even hurting it in rough play. I have seen this many times with Pax and it is no fun.
Dogs who are the bullies in dog parks usually have a history of poor socialization themselves, and do not understand how to play nicely. Some dog owners are also in denial about their dog's aggression, which makes dog parks the wrong place to be for a young, vulnerable puppy.
Should we always protect puppies from being "corrected" by other dogs?
The answer is no, because puppies need to learn the ropes by receiving gentle, non-aggressive, but clear corrections from other dogs. This may include posturing by other dogs telling them off with some growling, or gently holding them by the scruff.
Natural immunity without vaccines!
When puppies are socialized they get exposed to pathogens while they are still protected by maternal antibodies received via colostrum. This allows the puppy’s immune system to take baby steps, and gradually start taking over the job of producing antibodies.
Why early vaccines cause more harm than good
Most people are not aware that young puppies are generally unable to respond to early vaccines at the age of 6 or 8 weeks. These vaccines neutralize the maternal antibodies, leaving puppies less protected than if they received no vaccines at all! Isn't it crazy?!
This is one of the greatest mistakes that new dog owners make.
By now you may be wondering why almost all of the veterinary profession recommends giving early 6 or 8 week puppy vaccines, and here is my take on the topic:
because if everyone knew that puppies and dogs need fewer vaccines, their sales would drop dramatically.
Below are a couple of simple charts that explain why most puppies need one or zero vaccines to be protected, with the exception of the rabies vaccine (double click or pinch to zoom in on the images).
After more than 20 years of recommending this protocol, I am confident it is at least as effective as traditional vaccine protocols while reducing negative side-effects of unnecessary vaccination.
Why is it important to minimize vaccines in puppies and adult dogs?
I do not deny that vaccines should be a part of the disease prevention protocol, however, similar to drugs, they should be seen as one of the tools but not the only way of achieving optimal immunity. Ideally, we should allow puppies to go through the natural immunity process whenever possible, as it is the ultimate way of keeping them safe.
Lets talk vaccine side-effects
As with any other foreign substance that is injected into the body, there is a risk of potential vaccine side-effects in puppies and adult dogs. Here is the list of those I have commonly seen in practice:
- Allergic reaction and anaphylactic shock.
- Autoimmune anemia or platelet deficiency due to the body attacking its own blood cells.
- Tumours at the vaccination site.
- Compromised immune system.
- Organ disease.
- Skin irritation and rashes.
- Acute or chronic digestive issues and diarrhea.
Could vaccination be seen as natural?
There are several reasons why vaccines are not the same as natural exposure to a pathogen:
- Vaccines bypass the oral/intestinal/respiratory barriers.
- Dog vaccines often contain a multitude of pathogens. This is different from the real world, where normally only one serious pathogen enters the body at a particular time. Vaccines often introduce six or more pathogens at one time.
Most vaccines include mercury containing Thimerosal, as well as formaldehyde, artificial colours, and other chemicals.
Which vaccines does your puppy or adult dog need?
How to navigate this issue with your veterinarian
Whenever I give the above information and suggestions to dog lovers, they often comment that it is difficult to oppose or disagree with their veterinarian because they feel judged.
I understand this, because the old approach to immunity is very much ingrained in the current veterinary medical system.
I suggest that you remember that you are your dog’s legal guardian and have full authority to exercise your decision making power with your vet gently, but clearly.
No matter what, medicine and disease prevention should always be about keeping your beloved dog safe, while minimizing the negative effects of drugs and vaccines. It is the best way to keep your dog healthy for many years to come.
Continue reading the puppy series:
Puppy series PART 2: 15 mistakes people make feeding puppies
Puppy series PART 3: Behaviour, exercise, and training
Listen to my podcast on puppy socialization and vaccines here.
Learn more about vaccinations and vaccine side effects in puppies and adult dogs here: