Is your pet shy or a social butterfly? Many experts say that they key to having a well-behaved dog or cat is socialization — here’s how to get started.
Veterinarians can tell if an animal has been socialized the moment they walk into an exam room.
“Some animals come bounding up and are happy to see me and everyone in the waiting room,” says Bonnie V. Beaver, DVM, professor in the department of small animal clinical sciences at Texas A&M University in College Station, and past president of the American Veterinary Medical Association. “Others hide behind their owner and don’t want to come out. Life is stressful for them.”
And socialization helps make the difference. When puppies and kittens are introduced to a variety of people, other animals, and environments during the first several weeks of life, they tend to do better, and have less stress and fewer problems later on.
Think about everything your pet will be exposed to during life: different people, animals, places, situations, cars, noises, and smells. When they’re puppies or kittens, they take new experiences with stride. But as they get older they quickly start to become nervous and scared when confronted with something or someone new.
Why Socialize Your Pet?
Animals are preprogrammed to become fearful of people and things that aren’t part of their everyday life so they react appropriately when they are in danger. But you can introduce a new dog or new cat to a variety of situations when it’s very young so it doesn’t live its life afraid of straying from its neighborhood or meeting new people.
When you do, your pet will be more laid back and can enjoy life. Pets are also safer once they’re socialized because they’re less likely to react in a fearful or aggressive way when they’re faced with something new.
How To Socialize Your Pet
The key to socializing dogs and cats is to start very young and to introduce your new dog or new cat to as many different things as you can. Here’s what to do:
- Start at a few weeks of age. Puppies and kittens need to be socialized before they are16 weeks old. “We have a tendency to isolate them at that time and expect that at a year we’ll get them used to cars and different environments,” Dr. Beaver says. The ideal time for this kind of pet training is between 3 and 12 weeks of age. The window of opportunity to socialize your pet usually closes around 18 weeks. For kittens it may be even younger, Beaver says. Unfortunately, when you adopt an adult dog you’ve missed the opportunity to socialize. But even adult dogs can get used to individuals they see on a regular basis, Beaver says.
- Set goals. Think about who and what a puppy will be around when it gets older and make a long list the things your pet needs to be socialized to. That means children, adults, men, women, crying babies, people of different nationalities, crowds, people wearing hats, and people not wearing hats, Beaver says. The wider the variety of people you can expose your puppy or kitten to, the better.
- Include different environments. Have your puppy walk on grass, concrete, through buildings like pet stores, on busy streets, quiet streets, areas with other animals — and near cars, trucks, buses, and trains. You can even take your dog for rides in the car through different areas of town, through fast-food drive-thrus, and through car washes. This is also the time to get your dog used to be handled during grooming.
Check out this checklist of things to expose your dog to.
Kittens can also be socialized by having people come to your house or by bringing your kitten to other people’s houses, although it’s better to visit someone who doesn’t already have a cat.
When you’re ready to begin socializing your dog or cat, keep in mind these tips for success:
- Do it daily. Ideally, you should try to socialize your pet every day during the first 16 weeks. When strangers approach, let them pet your dog.
- Get them used to carriers. If you want your kitten to grow into a cat who doesn’t mind going to the vet, leave its carrier out for playtime. Carry the kitten from one side of the house to the other and give your cat treats in the carrier, Beaver says.
- Reward your pet. Make your puppy or kitten feel good about new things by praising it during socialization and giving it small treats (break up a normal size treat into small pieces so your pet doesn’t get too many calories).
- Give it about 75 minutes. Puppies and kittens are constantly learning; they become socialized to new things within 75 minutes of being exposed to them, Beaver says.
- Be gentle. It’s important to keep a close eye on your pet’s reaction to new things. Don’t force it if a situation seems too overwhelming and scary for your pet. Your pet may need to be exposed to that particular thing more gradually.
- Go to kindergarten. If your dog hasn’t received all of its vaccinations, consider signing up for puppy socialization classes at an animal hospital, Beaver says. It’s a safe environment for your dog to be in because it will be surrounded by well-vaccinated dogs, she says. The classes are designed to introduce your pet to a variety of sights and sounds and can even help with obedience training.
- Go for pet training. You can socialize your pet on your own, but if you need help outside of a puppy kindergarten class, consider hiring a pet trainer.
Socializing dogs and cats this way ensures that they’re better adjusted as adults and may be easier to train because they’re less distracted by fear, Beaver says.
Laurelwood Animal Hospital, located near Jesuit High School on Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway offers a full range of companion animal services, including surgery, nutrition and behavior counseling, parasite control and preventative medicine. The hospital also offers advanced imaging through an all-digital spiral CT scanner, a comprehensive dental program and laser treatment.
If you’re looking for quality, compassionate veterinary care in Beaverton, Oregon, come visit us at Laurelwood Animal Hospital.
Laurelwood Animal Hospital
9315 SW Beaverton-Hillsdale Highway
Beaverton, Oregon 97005
Phone: (971) 244-4230
Fax: (503) 292-6808
E-mail: [email protected]