Dog in puppy class

Q: After a lot of research, we found a breeder we liked who completed the health certifications as part of her package. She raises pups inside and socializes them. All good from what we've read, and we're getting our Newfoundland pup from her in about a month. But in our research we've encountered a dispute: Some sources (mostly trainers) say puppies need to be socialized out as much as possible and attend a puppy class, while other sources (mostly veterinarians) say puppies should never go out until all their puppy shots are done at four months. Who's right?

A: Both, really. It's essential for your puppy to be socialized, and a well-run puppy class is the best place to get your new family member off to the best possible start. Those veterinarians also are correct in saying that your puppy needs to be protected from disease until he is fully immunized.

Fortunately, you can protect your puppy from disease and still socialize in a puppy class. That's because high-quality puppy classes present minimal risk of contagious disease.

Whoa! I can already see readers stopping on the phrase "minimal risk." Perhaps I'd better say "acceptable risk." Or even "comparable risk." I'd better explain.

There's nothing as important in a dog's life as getting off to a good start in terms of training and behavior. Many dogs end up homeless because of poor behavior, often actions that can be traced to a puppyhood without the proper socialization. It's always easier to prevent a behavior problem than to fix one, and that's why puppy classes are worth the "minimal risk."

If you look at it from a lifetime perspective, a dog is more likely to die from behavior problems than from disease. A pup's best chance at becoming a loved member of a family rests heavily on how easy that animal is to live with. The adorable puppy who grows into an out-of-control or aggressive dog is a solid candidate for a trip to a shelter, where he'll be unlikely to land a second chance.

Puppy classes teach youngsters how to deal with any situation. Puppies will learn how to get along with other dogs, be handled by any number of people and learn the basics of proper behavior. Whether teaching to sit on command or greet people on the ground, a puppy class uses positive techniques to teach new pets that learning is fun and people are good. And that's a lesson for life.

That said, heed your veterinarian's advice in one aspect: Keep your pup away from other areas where dogs frequent, such as parks. It's fine to set up play dates in secure yards that have been inhabited by healthy dogs who are up to date on their vaccines. The dogs of your friends and family are great for these get-togethers, and so are their kids. The more your puppy is safely exposed to, the better.