Back to School for Your Pet Too
With the scent of fall in the air and school back in session, now is a great time to review the importance of pet ‘socialization’. The word socialization can be a bit misleading when taken literally, assuming we are teaching a puppy or kitten how to socialize with other puppies or kittens. While these kinds of interactions help them learn to how to act like a normal dog or cat, this is only a small part of what socialization means.
What we’re talking about when it comes to socialization is getting puppies and kittens used to people, other animals, and experiences that they will encounter frequently in their adult lives. This involves gently exposing puppies and kittens to new things that they will deal with regularly, so that they can react confidently and appropriately rather than fearfully or with anxiety. These ‘new things’ can include people, car rides, grooming, vacuum cleaners, loud
noises, other animals, and other household pets to list a few.
It’s important to realize though that breed, health, and personality also play a factor in the way a pet behaves with others, even if properly socialized. Some dogs and cats are not as outgoing or social as others, and simply don’t enjoy spending time with big groups of people or animals. Socialization is not necessarily about teaching these pets to want these interactions, but more about teaching them how to handle themselves and communicate appropriately during these interactions.
Knowing this, the best time for socialization, developmentally, is between 3-14 weeks of age in puppies and 3-9 weeks in kittens. During this period of growth they begin to form relationships more easily, and their senses are more developed. During this key socialization period any experiences that occur can have long-lasting effects on their future learning and interactions with their environment- including negative ones. Therefore, it’s critical that this time period be positive and safe for them. Never punish a fearful puppy or kitten if they are anxious during these interactions. This is an important time in their development, and creating fearful situations will only lead to more problems in the future.
Remember that the purpose of socialization is to have the puppy or kitten interact with other people, animals, and things in order to be comfortable with the environment in which they live. When socializing, it’s important to minimize discipline or training. Don’t try to reinforce commands or proper behaviors because that takes your pet’s attention away from the new experiences. It is also important to balance play with these learning experiences. Over the long run this can decrease fear, aggression and anxiety associated with new people, animals, places or other situations. This therefore creates a better life for you and your young pet!