Interactions between people and companion animals have become increasingly important to society, providing physiologic, psychological, and social benefits for the humans involved.1 Much less research exists on the benefits of the human-animal bond to companion animals, and although it is generally believed this bond is good for companion animal welfare, it can also sometimes adversely impact welfare.2 In addition, development of behavior problems in dogs is a leading cause of breakdown in the human-dog relationship3 and is a risk factor for relinquishment to animal shelters.4 Indeed, 34% to 49% of owners cite behavior problems as a reason for relinquishment.5,6 Early socialization of dogs is believed to be important to the prevention of behavior problems and retention of dogs in the home. Much existing information regarding puppy socialization is based on previous research,7 in which 5 breeds of dogs were observed over a 13-year period. The investigators suggested that a critical period exists for socialization for puppies, beginning around 2 to 3 weeks of age and extending to 12 to 14 weeks of age, during which exposure to other animals and people is necessary for the development of normal social behavior. A lack of exposure to these stimuli during this period is suggested to result in fear of members of the same or other species. In another study,8 puppies raised in fields and exposed to humans only after 14 weeks of age were too fearful to approach humans, even after attempts at habituation.
One venue available to owners for puppy socialization is puppy classes. Typically, puppies and owners attend a series of classes during which owners are provided with information on puppy care and behavior, and puppies are provided with opportunities for exposure to various stimuli and socialization experiences. For example, attendance at puppy classes offered by a humane society from which puppies were adopted increased the retention rate of dogs in the adoptive homes by 14% in 1 study.9 However, no standards exist for puppy socialization activities and understanding is lacking of the factors that make owners more likely to attend. Given that new puppy owners commonly visit a veterinarian when their puppy is young, veterinarians have the opportunity to play an important role in informing owners of the benefits of socialization and attendance in puppy classes.
The objective of the study reported here was to characterize the owner-reported experience of puppies attending puppy socialization classes and the approaches the owners took to socialize their puppies. Another objective was to identify factors that affected owners' attendance of puppy classes and the influence of class attendance on owners' response to signs of fear in and misbehavior by their puppy.
Supported by the Nestle Purina PetCare Canada Chair in Communications.
Presented in abstract form at the 52nd Annual Conference of the Animal Behavior Society, Anchorage, Alaska, June 2015.
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