As a trainer and an employee of a dog care facility, I get to work with a lot of different dogs and a lot of different veterinarians.  Your vet should help guide all of the health decisions you make for your dog, but your breeder or rescue may also have recommendations.  Your daycare or trainer will also have requirements and recommendations.  At the end of the day, you make all of the decisions for your dog and I personally believe that getting all different ideas and opinions from all different sources allows you to distill the best plan for your dog. Blindly listening to any one source may not give you all of the information you want or need.  That being said, here is what we think about puppy vaccines at Perfect Pooch.

The big vaccine everyone knows about it the Rabies vaccine.  In Pennsylvania, it is required by law at 12 weeks of age while some other states may allow you to vaccinate as late as 16 weeks of age. Why the discrepancy?  Well one reason is that Pennsylvania has an active Rabies incident rate, meaning animals are found every year to be infected with Rabies- primarily outdoor cats and wild animals.  Rabies is fatal. Always. Rabies is also a risk to the public as people can contract it from a bite. Once vaccinated, a puppy is considered safe for one year. After an initial booster one year later, they are safe for three years and you only need to vaccinate an adult dog every three years after that initial booster.  I realize how confusing this is, and many veterinarians recommend every other year for adult dogs for two main reasons: one it ensures that by rotating Distemper and Rabies vaccines, they get to see your dog and check for general health issues every year. The second reason is that the vaccine is legally meant to be given every three years but not one day later and giving it every other year ensures that owners don’t miss the critical window by even a few days if they schedule appointments a few weeks or months around that initial date.  Some veterinarians in PA try to wait until 16 weeks or even 6 months to vaccinate for Rabies. Unfortunately this can have unintended side effects for you as the owner: you may not be allowed to socialize your dog in daycare, you cannot go to dog parks, you cannot enroll in a puppy training class, and you can be fined up to $300 per day until you vaccinate your puppy if they are over 12 weeks of age. There really isn’t any benefit in waiting on this particular vaccine, though you may not want to give multiple vaccines within 72 hours of each other. Discuss scheduling with your vet if you are concerned. Here is a link to the PA Rabies Law in case you want to check it out:

The other big vaccine is Distemper, which is generally given as a combination vaccine with a few other diseases similar to children’s MMR vaccine which covers three illnesses in one. Distemper is most often combined with Parvo Virus, Adenovirus, and sometimes Carona Virus or Parainfluenza. The initials you commonly see are DAPP, DHPP, and DLHPP.  All of these variations are versions of the Distemper combination vaccine and given to every dog as a required health preventative.  Generally Distemper vaccines are first given at around 6 weeks of age and then boostered twice before about 16 weeks of age.  This vaccine is often first given by your rescue or breeder so you don’t need to worry about the initial dose, all you need to do is follow up with the booster doses with your veterinarian.  Distemper is also given again at one year then every three years, though some veterinarians prefer every other year.

Aside from Rabies and Distemper, you get to decide which non-core vaccines your dog will need.  Based on your dog’s lifestyle and exposure potential, you may want to vaccinate for any one, all, or none of these diseases.  Some of these non-core vaccines include Bordatella (or kennel cough), Canine Influenza, Leptospirosis, Lyme, and others dependent on your region (for example rattlesnake venom vaccine may be available in some regions).  Bordatella and Canine Influenza protect your dog from airway diseases that can be transmitted from dog to dog. However, similar to the human Influenza vaccine, there is not guaranteed protection from upper respiratory infections with these vaccines, but your vet may recommend them prophylactically if you plan to have your dog enjoy social outings or attend social facilities.  Leptospirosis is most commonly spread by drinking outdoor water that has been contaminated, like stream or lake water, so is most often recommended for dogs who go hiking or enjoy outdoors adventures like camping.  Lyme is transmitted by ticks so is often recommended for dogs that live near deer populations or go hiking/camping.  In general, this group of vaccines is optional and dependent on your dog’s lifestyle and your personal views.

Perfect Pooch is a social facility and we adhere to PA Kennel Laws which require a Rabies vaccine before socializing with other dogs or staying in a Kennel facility for any length of time.  This is not something we take lightly.  In terms of the other vaccinations, we require Distemper, however the rest are up to you as your pet’s guardian and owner.  We generally recommend that you discuss the rest of the vaccines with your veterinarian and even your breeder or rescue to decide what works best for you and your pooch.  As an owner and trainer myself, I follow the recommendations of American Veterinary society of Animal Behavior and socialized my dogs as early and often as possible in safe environments with dogs I know for a fact were vaccinated, unlike those at a public dog park. (

Does this mean my dog contracted a few illnesses as a puppy? In some ways, yes. She had a small upper respiratory infection which cleared up with antibiotics and we both had giardia (believe me you do not want to know), but I took that educated risk to ensure she was mentally healthy, social, and sound.  Some illnesses clear up easily with medication, whereas anti-social tendencies do not.  I also enjoy outdoor activities with my dog and live near tick infested areas like Valley Forge Park. Those facts helped me in my decision to vaccinate my dog, as well. At the end of the day you need to weigh all of the information you can and decide what works best for you and your dog based on everyone else’s guidance. Vaccine reactions do happen, generally mild swelling and sleepiness are all you will see but in some cases it can be more severe (yet another thing to consider with any vaccine). My Bullmastiff had a puppy vaccine reaction so now we give her Benadryl before any injection as a precaution.  There is plenty of information available on the internet as well, but your veterinarian, trainer, and breeder or rescue generally have your puppy’s best interest at heart and can help you as you navigate some of these choices.

Happy Training!

Tamar Paltin

Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch

BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator