When dog owners consider their dog’s health they generally think of nutrition, vaccinations and parasite control. Few owners would flash on behavior and socialization as important for health. In fact, proper socialization is a key element to promoting health and wellness in dogs.
1. Fear and Unhealthy Hormones
Poorly socialized dogs live in a state of fear of unusual circumstances. Their response is either extremely submissive or overly aggressive. Either condition signals various glands of the body to produce “fight or flight” hormones. Adrenaline hormones increase blood pressure, heart and respiration rate in anticipation of a fight or an attempt to escape. Corticosteroid hormones are released to increase awareness and quicken response for action. Unfortunately, these same hormones also increase blood pressure, decrease blood flow to the kidneys and intestines, promote muscle breakdown and suppress the immune system. It is these consequences that lead to the stress related conditions in poorly socialized dogs that are frequently engaged in social interactions, like showing, grooming, day care or boarding.
2. Incomplete Veterinary Examinations
Next to a thorough history provided by a dog owner, veterinarians rely on a complete physical examination to evaluate a dog’s health or determine the extent of an illness. Poorly socialized dogs that respond to fear by aggression make a complete physical exam impossible. Even the simple solution of a muzzle to prevent biting prevents a veterinarian from using gum tissue to assess dental health, red blood cell production, blood oxygen content and an estimation of hydration.
Struggling animals also make it difficult to objectively evaluate the heart and lungs. Palpation of joints, muscles and abdominal organs are very difficult in these dogs. And even worse, fear sensitizes the heart to potential life threating heart arrhythmias if sedation or anesthesia is needed for a more complete physical examination. This risk cannot be determined in these animals prior to drug administration. Professionally, I have been grief stricken by fearful animals that I had to sedate that died as a result of a sensitized heart. And what if these dog’s need hospitalization? How on earth is the staff going to accurately monitor and maintain IV catheter care and administer appropriate medical therapy? It is virtually impossible to provide these animals with proper medical care.
3. Limited Exercise
Owners of poorly socialized dogs are often reluctant to provide their dogs with exercise. This is especially true for large dogs that are strong and could get away from their owners to engage another dog. Such “altercations” could actually end up costing owners of poorly socialized dogs large veterinary bills from the owners of “victim” dogs. By limiting walks, runs and fetching, poorly socialized dogs are at increased risk of health conditions associated with being overweight or obese.
4. Inadequate Grooming
Many breeds of dogs require frequent and detailed grooming to maintain proper skin and fur health. This requires the dog to maintain an even composure for a period of time so the groomer can provide the proper “cut.” Poorly socialized dogs make such a procedure impossible. Either drastic restraint is necessary that might injure the dog or the groomer is faced with an inadequate cut and the threat of their own bodily harm. Neither is an outcome acceptable to most dog owners.
The use of veterinary prescribed tranquilizer in these cases is not an option. The selection of drugs that can be prescribed for these situations has the potential for a “paradoxical effect.” This means the drug can actually make the dogs more aggressive and dangerous. This poses a legal responsibility for the prescribing veterinarian. For this reason, I will not dispense tranquilizers for grooming to owners of poorly socialized dogs.
The healthy solution is to socialize your dog early. The age window for socialization is 3-12 weeks of age. Puppies need to be exposed to people, other puppies and dogs, social situations and car rides early and often. A prudent recommendation suggests 7 new social situations each week until 12-16 weeks of age. Puppy obedience or play classes should be started immediately.
The old veterinary notion of waiting until the puppy has had all of its vaccinations before socialization is completely false. Vaccines are complete at 16 weeks and this is too late for proper socialization. Studies have shown that puppies with one set a vaccines are at no greater risk for parvovirus than fully vaccinated puppies in socialization settings. Proper socialization is a key element to your dog’s health.
Dr. Ken Tudor,
THE DOG DIETITIAN