Like human babies, puppies and kittens are not born with manners or an understanding of how to behave and interact. Proper socialization prepares your pet to enjoy interactions and become comfortable in any situation. Although our canine friends are naturally more social, cats also need social training to ensure they can adapt and remain calm in variable situations. Pets have become used to living in social groups, and they interact with each other through body postures, facial expressions, tail and ear postures, hair raising, vocalizations, and scents. Early in life, pets rely on their mothers for learning cues, but once they move to their human families, their pet parents are responsible for the teaching role. Dogs are most receptive to learning between the ages of 3 and 14 weeks, whereas cats are most learning-sensitive between 3 and 9 weeks old. However, learning is a lifelong process for pets, and without proper, positive socialization, your furry pal may grow up fearful and anxious around new experiences, and develop aggression or generalized anxiety. Follow these six tips from your Caldwell Animal Hospital veterinary team to ensure your pets are pawsitively socialized.
#1: Shower your pet with treats and praise
Food is the perfect love language for people and pets, and a great way to let your pet know you are happy with them and their behavior. During training sessions, or when exposing your pet to new experiences and sounds, including house training, reward them immediately after the desired behavior with praise and plenty of treats. Remember, however, that treats should never comprise more than 10% of your pet’s daily caloric intake to avoid weight gain. Training clickers also work well to signal to your pet that they are on the right social track.
#2: Crate train your pet
Crate training is a great complement to your socialization plan, and provides a safe area for your pet to sleep and rest, especially when you cannot supervise their activities. A crate can also be a safe retreat for your pet when they are scared or nervous. Crate or carrier training for your feline friend is also important, to decrease their anxiety when traveling or going to the veterinary hospital. Animals generally will not eliminate where they eat, rest, or sleep, so begin by acclimating your pet to their crate when you are gone briefly, or cannot supervise them. Put a special treat or toy in their crate, so they will form a positive association with their special place. Crate training can take up to six months, so patience and consistency are important.
#3: Follow a daily play and rest routine for your pet
Provide a consistent daily schedule or routine when socializing your pet. Repetition with exercise or play times, followed by rest, will help your pet understand and learn proper behaviors. Additionally, a consistent routine, with feeding times, for example, will help prevent property damage, as well as house soiling and anxiety from pent-up energy or confusion.
#4: Expose your pet to many different situations
Variety is the spice of life, and a key component in socializing your pet. Never take your pet to public places until they have completed all their vaccinations to ensure they will not be exposed to diseases or illness from unvaccinated pets. Once your pet has completed their vaccine series and received parasite protection, expose them to as many different situations as possible, including:
- New or unfamiliar people — Allow your pet to see, and possibly interact with, people of varying heights, ages, race, and gender. Ensure your pet is always supervised.
- Unfamiliar accessories — Accessories and clothing, such as hoods, jackets, sunglasses, dangling jewelry, hats, canes, and wheelchairs, may be scary to pets, so introduce them slowly to your pet to ease any anxiety.
- City or rural environments — New environments with variable sounds, sights, and smells, such as traffic, construction sites, parks, bodies of water, woods, and beaches, will help prepare your pet for any situation, especially if you plan to travel with them.
- Vehicles — You may not be planning any road trip with your pet, but they should be comfortable in and around vehicles, including for visits to Caldwell Animal Hospital.
- Neighborhood objects — Praise your pet on your daily walks, especially when people and objects, such as bicycles, strollers, or skateboards, pass by, and they remain calm.
- Animals — Allow your pet—always leashed—to meet new animals including cats, dogs, and livestock.
#5: Move at your pet’s pace
Always ensure that your pet is comfortable when learning new sights, sounds, and environments. Never force them to interact with a new person or unusual situation. Your pet’s personality and individual comfort level will vary with each new experience, but brief, slow introductions will help ensure a positive, successful, socializing experience.
#6: Consider behavior training for your pet
If you encounter difficulty with socializing or training your pet, despite your best efforts, consider enrolling them in a professional training or behavior school. Pets have wide ranges in personality and behavior and occasionally need extra help to learn to behave properly. Your veterinarian can guide you on whether your pet needs additional training, and can likely recommend trainers and facilities.
Our Caldwell Animal Hospital team is here to help ensure you have a successfully socialized four-legged friend. Should you have any questions about socializing your pet, or whether they need extra training, contact our office and schedule an appointment. We are always happy to help.