How to Socialize an Unvaccinated Puppy
Socializing your puppy is crucial to creating a happy, confident, friendly dog.
However, there is a dilemma.
You’ve probably heard that the crucial puppy socialization window is between the ages of 3 to 16 weeks.
In other words, you should start socializing your puppy – hopefully the breeder has started that process but it’s important you continue – as soon as they come home, which is typically at 8-10 weeks old.
However, I am also sure you have heard that it’s dangerous to expose your puppy to the world outside of your house, and other dogs and people, until a few weeks after their last round of puppy vaccinations, which is at about the 20 week mark.
Those two messages are definitely contradictory.
How do you socialize your puppy starting at 8 weeks when their immune system isn’t established until around 20 weeks of age?
Lucky you – I’m going to answer that for you.
When Can I Take My Puppy Outside?
Puppies are born with a weak immune system.
Although they do start to build immunity from birth via antibodies in their Mother’s milk, and from being around their siblings, puppies require a round of vaccinations to build up immunity to diseases found outside of the home.
Specifically, puppies start to receive vaccinations around 6 to 8 weeks of age.
Then, a puppy receives vaccinations every 3 to 4 weeks until the puppy is about 16 weeks old.
The specific vaccines that a puppy will receive can depend on the location, breed, and lifestyle, but generally the following vaccines are included:
- Distemper: A virus that affects the respiratory, gastrointestinal, and nervous systems
- Parvovirus: A highly contagious virus that can cause severe diarrhea and vomiting
- Bordetella: commonly called kennel cough, it’s a respiratory disease that leads to coughing and illness
- Adenovirus (Hepatitis): A virus that can cause liver disease and respiratory infections
- Canine flu (parainfluenza): A virus that can cause respiratory infections
- Rabies: This vaccine is required by law in many areas, and it protects against a virus that affects the nervous system and can be fatal
Depending on what area of the country you live in and the level of risk, your puppy may also receive vaccinations for heartworm, leptospirosis, and lyme disease.
It’s believed that a puppy’s immune system is not fully protected until 3 to 4 weeks after their last round of vaccinations.
Therefore, it’s not considered safe to let your puppy outside on the ground in public places until they are 19-20 weeks old.
This also means that your puppy should not meet dogs you don’t know, and trust to be vaccinated and healthy, until after this time either (and even that can be risk.y).
What Experiences Should I Expose My Puppy To?
Contrary to popular belief, socializing your puppy does not mean exposing them to as many dogs and people as you can.
In fact, that is only a small part of the socialization process.
Socialization involves exposing your puppy to sights, sounds, and textures that they are likely to encounter throughout their life.
When doing this, it’s important to be gentle when introducing your dog to new stimuli while ensure that all experiences are positive (ie. rewarding with plenty of treats and never forcing your puppy to do something).
Exposing your puppy at a young age to these things will help them get familiar with them and remain calm and relaxed when they see them again.
Here are some of the things you should expose your puppy to:
- Mobility aids like wheelchairs, walkers, and with crutches
- Different surfaces (wood, gravel, carpet, unstable surfaces, etc)
- Babies and children
- Public transit (bus, train, etc.)
- Plastic bags (blowing in the wind)
- Loud noises
- Vacuum cleaner
- Camping equipment like tents and headlamps
- Water and rain
- Riding in the car
- New dogs and people
- Going to the veterinarian
- Grooming tools (nail clippers, a Dremel, scissors, etc)
- Anything else regularly present in your life
But exposing your puppy to some of these things requires that your puppy leave the house.
So what are you to do?
How to Socialize Your Puppy at Home
Since your puppy should not visit public places outside of the home where other dogs and people frequent until they are around 20 weeks old, but you should start socializing them around 8 weeks when they come home, you’ll want to begin inside the home.
If you wait until it’s safe for your puppy to leave the house to start, you will likely have missed the “socialization window”.
Luckily, a lot of socialization exercises can be accomplished inside of your home where your puppy will remain safe until their vaccinations are finished.
Some indoor puppy socialization ideas include:
- Lay different things on your carpet for your puppy to walk on like a metal baking sheet, a rug if you have wood floors, a piece of wood if your floors are all carpet, a metal grate (the bottom oven rack can work).
- Lay “strange” objects on the floor for them to explore like a rope.
- Wear a hat, or a sweatshirt hood, and show them that you are safe and not scary (handing out treats with a hat on really helps).
- Invite your friends to bring their dog over as long as they have no illnesses and haven’t visited a public place with a lot of dogs (like a dog park or dog daycare) in the last few weeks
- Use things in the house to mimic loud noises that can be found outside.
You obviously don’t want to scare your puppy, but tapping a glass with a spoon, or gently banging a couple of pots together, will help them be more accepting of unfamiliar sounds.
Go ahead and slam the cupboard door.
It sounds strange but closing a cupboard door hard will help get a dog used to “door sounds” so they are less likely to bark when one closes.
Gently knocking on the counter once in a while can help in a similar way.
- Get out a plastic bag and throw it in the air a few times or drag it around on the floor
If you have a backyard, discuss letting your dog out in it with your veterinarian.
If your vet deems it low risk, they may give their ok for your puppy to go outside.
They are likely to hear strange noises from the street and experience different smells when in the yard.
How to Socialize Your Unvaccinated Puppy Outside
Notice the emphasis above in regard to the vaccination waiting period – it applies to taking your puppy outside and letting them walk around on the ground in public places.
There are a couple of relatively safe ways to let your puppy outside before their vaccinations are in full effect.
One way is to carry your puppy in a dog backpack carrier or sling bag so they are not exposed to germs on the ground.
I carried my puppy on short hikes, took her to dog friendly restaurants, rode the bus with her, and walked around our neighborhood on garbage day.
If people want to pet your puppy (which they will), politely ask them to use some hand sanitizer or wash their hands before touching your pup.
Your puppy will experience new smells, sounds, and be able to encounter strange dog and people from a distance, if you use a carrier to take them out of the house.
Note: I carried a large puppy pad with me wherever we went so, if I had to set her down to go potty, she only came in contact with the relatively sanitized surface.
Puppy socialization classes
Formal puppy socialization classes are usually ok too as the training facility screens the participating puppies for health status and most participating puppies have not been exposed to unknown dogs outside of the house.
Is it Too Late to Socialize My Adult Dachshund?
The short answer to this question is absolutely not.
It’s never too late to socialize an adult dog, but it may take more time and patience.
Also, you may need to adjust your expectations.
An older dog that missed proper socialization at a young age may have developed anxiety and fearfulness.
If this is the case, socialization exercises can help them feel more secure and happy but they may never reach the degree of calmness that a puppy socialized early on can have.
Consistency and repetition are key for training any dog, but Dachshunds sometimes take a little more time to come around.
You can socialize your adult Dachshund the same way you would socialize a puppy.
But if your newly adopted adult has anxiety or fear issues already, you may need to make the process more slowly.
Identify what causes their fear or anxiety, and take that into account when bringing your canine companion on outings and adventures.
If your older Dachshund happens to suffer from severe anxiety, you may consider talking to your vet about options.
There are medications that can be incredibly helpful for nervous dogs who are desperate for some relief.
Personally, I prefer to give my dogs CBD for pets to help take the edge of their anxiety if needed.
When a dog’s anxiety level is lower, they are more apt to listen and learn.
Ideally, a Dachshund should be socialized before 16 weeks old.
Contrary to popular belief, it is possible to socialize your puppy before they are fully vaccinated and without leaving the house.
Be sure to have a lot of high value training treats on hand to reward the desired behavior.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.
How do you start potty training a puppy if you can’t let it be on the grass before it’s 20 weeks old?
Hi Chris. A puppy can be in the grass in your own yard if you have one. If you live in a shared space like a condo or apartment, that can be trickier. You can get a patch of real grass (put sod in a tray or buy a pre-made potty station) and put it in a garage or deck to help your puppy get used to going potty on grass. Also keep in mind that 20 weeks is when vaccines are considered “finished” (fully administered and effective) but puppies start building immunity from birth when they start nursing on the mother. If your puppy has had at least one round of vaccines, finding a spot around your building where you don’t ever see dogs go may be low risk. Talk to your vet about the specific risks if you want more information and tips about that.