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Puppies & Agility Shows

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Are they compatible?

Acecliffe St. poodle puppies at 3 weeks oldAgility tests, according to the Kennel Club, are considered to be 'fun events, designed for enjoyment by competitors, their dogs and to appeal to spectators. Informality is encouraged and maximum discretion is granted to societies within the constraints of safety and these regulations.'  One regulation states that dogs, 'aged four calendar months and over are eligible to enter into agility events, not for competition.' Whether a future agility star or much loved family pet, few argue with the concept of early socialisation. The important question is, when should this process start and where? Crufts vet Trevor Turner continues the debate.

Socialisation, without doubt, leads to a far more balanced, well adjusted adult.  It actually starts with the whelps in the nest which should be handled from an early age by all members of the family. However, what comes next? When should puppies go out and where?

Vaccine manufacturers have helped enormously over the last few years by ensuring effective protection against major diseases by as early as ten to twelve weeks. However vaccination does not protect the puppy from all infectious illness. Puppies, like children, are susceptible to many non-inoculatable diseases to which, over time, they acquire natural immunity. Juvenile gastroenteritis is but one example, whether by bacteria or viruses. In Britain there are no licensed vaccines available for juvenile diarrhea which can be fatal to a susceptible puppy on occasions.

At risk
In normal circumstances of extension of socialisation within your locality, contact with other infectious agents is usually gradual,. Shows and similar events are a different ball game. Stress levels run high and these effect immune response particularly in puppies climbing the ladder to solid immunity. In addition bacteria and viruses, like dogs and people, vary with the locality, At shows, in addition to the indigenous bugs, others can be brought from afar, many of which may be unfamiliar to the puppy’s developing immune system. By the time the puppy is four to five months old vaccination, plus natural immunity gained gradually will afford reasonable protection.

Prior to that I consider the risk to the puppy unacceptable. In addition, on return home the puppy can pose equal risk to siblings and other susceptible stock.

Thus in my view the four month rule is entirely sensible and really should be respected by all responsible competitors. In the meantime, concentrate on local puppy classes, walks in the park, contact with friends and neighbours’ dogs then, when attending the first show you can be assured that you have done everything to minimise the risks.

About the author
Trevor Turner BvetMed, MRCVS, MCIrb, MABE is the Chief Vet at Crufts.

Photo: Bob Ratcliffe

From Peter van Dongen
I read Trevor Turner's letter on Agilitynet as well as in The Eye and would like to make the following comments. Although I agree with most of what Mr. Turner says, I think the risk of non-inoculable diseases is not as big as it may seem.

  1. Firstly Juvenile Gastroenteritis is a disease mainly affecting very young (days to weeks old) puppies, not the over 10-12 week olds I would suggest people are going to be bringing to agility shows. Secondly I would think people do not bring their puppies to shows to mix with every single other dog, but would mainly leave the pup in the car / caravan or at the camping site.

  2. I would also like to disagree that 'stress levels run high'; after all, these puppies are with their own owners, with the other dogs in the family and in their own now familiar surroundings, like car or caravan. Doesn't sounds like very stressful to me.

  3. My final point is this: why does the Kennel Club think it is up to them to decide what is best of safest for the dogs??? Surely it is up to the actual dog owner to decide this? Most agility people are very responsible dog owners and perfectly capable to make their own decisions! If the Kennel Club was so concerned about all this, why then do they not rule that all dogs must be vaccinated? (03/12/01)