UC Davis Veterinary Center to expand dog socialization program

For the past year, the UC Davis Veterinary Center has been holding puppy socialization classes coined “Yappy Hour” for dogs eight to 14 weeks old. The program began expanding in January.

The class, at one time free and just twice a month, now costs $80 for a package of four classes. Classes are Tuesdays and Thursdays at the Center for Companion Animal Health Lobby from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. New puppies and their owners can drop in on the first and third Tuesday of any given month.

The class covers topics such as car safety, “novel substrate” socialization, riding in elevators and a training method called “nothing in life is free,” among other lessons.

Clinical assistant professor of Yappy Hour Tami Pierce explains that it is absolutely vital that puppies get socialized between three weeks to 14 weeks old — a critical socialization period.

“Dogs that aren’t socialized are prone to behavior problems such as fear, biting and anxiety. Dogs down the line will tend to not be as social and this is a huge problem … we give [clients] skills to go out on the rest of their days to teach the puppies to be socialized to people, places, sounds and substrates,” Pierce said.

In general, veterinarians recommend that puppies don’t interact with other dogs until they’ve received all vaccinations. To attend Yappy Hour, however, they only require one examination with the veterinarian and documentation of being dewormed and having received their first DAP vaccine. These regulations have met with some criticism, but according to Pierce, research shows that the importance of socialization outweighs the risk of contracting disease.

“A study came out of UC Davis published by Meredith Stepita that looked at puppies that go to socialization class and risk of parvo. It basically showed that dogs that go to socialization have no more risk than dogs that don’t go. We feel that it’s really an important part of raising a healthy puppy,” Pierce said.

The leading problem of premature death in dogs is not disease but actually social behavioral problems. The goal of the program is to give clients the skills and encouragement to train and socialize their puppies before the critical period has passed. Additionally, as UC Davis is one of the leading veterinary schools in the nation, the program serves as a teaching tool for resident veterinarians.

“Part of the impetus in having the program was expanding to train veterinarians in the importance of puppy socialization. We want veterinarians to offer basic information on behavior and stop behavior problems before they start. It’s the preventative method in the field to teach clients how to address these problems before they start,” Pierce said.

Additionally, one of the biggest problems with not socializing puppies is that it increases the likelihood of an owner surrendering their dog. The Yolo County Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) anticipates this common problem by taking surrendered dogs from the Yolo County Animal Shelter and putting adoptable animals in foster homes.

Kimberly Kinnee, executive director of the Yolo County SPCA, explains that as a foster home based program, the majority of their animals come from people that didn’t have the time or the money to care for the animal, from new litters of animals or more rarely as strays.

“It can be a 10 to 20 year commitment. You have to be ready to have this animal be dependent on you emotionally and financially. You need to be able to provide for the animal for the course of its life,” Kinnee said.

This is a huge problem, Pierce explains, because when an animal is abandoned because someone cannot care for them, it is impossible to resocialize the animal.

“Dogs can’t be resocialized but they can be desensitized and counter conditioned … We have ways of decreasing their fear and anxiety but it’s not as effective,” Pierce said.

What foster animals need, Kinnee explains, is to feel part of the pack and loved. Eva Freel, a fourth-year pharmaceutical chemistry major, adopted her first dog at the SPCA and has been fostering dogs ever since.

Freel has fostered dogs since she got her first dog. Though the job is unpaid, she sees it as a “win-win” situation — the foster dog relearns that it can live in a safe environment, her dog has a companion and she gets to live with as many as four dogs at a time.

“It’s pretty common to see college students adopt an animal, and then give it away within a year or two. The foster system is really easy to get involved in, and it provides a great resource to learn how much work an animal is, and to determine whether having one fits your lifestyle,” Freel said.

Bowen Noack, a second-year biotechnology major, realized how much work taking care of a dog was. He got his German Shepherd-Siberian Husky, Reagan, when it was just eight weeks old; after two months, he realized he had to return the dog to its first owner because it wasn’t the right fit for either of them.

“Caring for another life and being fully responsible for it is a really demanding task … my advice to someone getting a dog in college comes in a series of questions — why do you want a dog?

who can you depend on to take care of it when you need to? Is your living environment suitable for the breed?” Noack said.

This situation is a common one, Pierce said. She said she believes to be successful in owning a dog as a college student, it’s important to research the breed that best matches one’s lifestyle and actually talk to a vet who can give a good recommendation.

“We are a resource for people to pick the right breed. Once they have the puppy, take it to the vet, have it examined, then sign them up for a socialization class, [they can] get some basic socialization training in that critical period,” Pierce said.

And though owning a dog as a college student can be a challenge, Freel believes it can be a good learning experience.

“Adopting is a lifelong commitment to that animal, which I think some people forget. It is not just a furry stuffed animal— you are agreeing to love and care for something for the rest of its life,” Freel said. “However, if adopting is the right thing for you, it is such a beneficial and educational experience.”

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