Updated: Nov 20
Many people refer to or make associations to socializing as puppy play dates, doggie daycare, Dog parks, etc.
When it can actually mean many things..
'Socializing' doesn't just mean running and playing with other dogs.
(I don't think people even realize it is possible to socialize a cat)!
Before getting started, I'd like to address a VERY serious topic that most people may be unaware of:
Age of separation from mom!
Puppies and kittens need to stay with mom for a MINIMUM of 8 weeks of age. Many states actually have laws against the buying and selling of puppies and kittens under 8 weeks old.
The environment in which a puppy or kitten is raised in, can make all the difference in adult behaviors! There are so many crucial behavior as and social cues that puppies and kittens learn from not only mom, but their litter mates as well. And they also learn from the ways in which mom handles conflict between litter mates.
Socializing is not just a period of time after adoption in which they play with others and meet people.
We all know what play dates are, so for the purposes of this post, I'll skip that obvious subject.
Socializing also means getting acquainted to people and their environment. As well as other areas of learning such as simply being handled and groomed.
Many pet owners might think that the only way to have a well behaved dog, is to play with other dogs. For cats, I think that most are just left to enjoy their solitude of cat life. Tossing a puppy into a group at a dog park is far from ideal.
In fact, I highly recommend against this for many reasons.
I'm here to say; forced interactions is not proper socialization. It creates and promotes fearful, anxious, and timid behaviors. Sometimes this can even lead to full-on aggression.
Being exposed to various sounds, environmental stimuli, people, and locations is all very important for puppies and kittens to grow up and develop appropriate, and well-rounded social behaviors.
Signs that your dog or cat may be un-socialized include:
Fear of loud noises
Timid around strangers
Aggressive or anxious behaviors (especially in a new environment)
Dislike of being touched or handled
Intolerance to unfamiliar animals
Now, as I said, socializing doesn't always mean providing more play and interactions. It can actually mean quite the opposite.
To put a few perspectives on the table- let's look at a few common behaviors, how we would handle the situation, and why it's important to correct it.
Example 1: Walking a puppy.
He sees another dog and starts pulling and maybe barking. The behavior is discouraged and we teach another, more appropriate behavior. This in turn helps the puppy develop proper social manners, as well as respecting boundaries and space of another dog. He does not need to interact with the other dog to learn this.
Example 2: Dog barks at guests arriving.
Put dog in kennel or 'place' and the dog learns that the proper social behavior in this scenario is to ignore.
Example 3: Dog or cat is afraid of loud noises or sudden movements.
We teach him that life is full of unexpected moments including sights and sounds and we must react appropriately. We can assist in providing desensitization methods to make these stimuli less scary.
Example 4: Your pet is timid and does not allow touching of the feet or being handled.
Various counter-conditioning techniques can be used to 'socialize' and get them accustomed to being handled. This is VERY important in order to provide your dog or cat proper health care by bringing them to the vet, and also give nail trims and medications if needed... Let me tell you; an aggressive, fearful cat/dog is NOT fun to handle. Often times, they need to be sedated which is very stressful for everyone involved.
To avoid the above scenarios as adult pets, early socialization is extremely important.
This is ALL fundamental to having a well behaved companion.
Unknowingly Harming Our Pets
When we allow our own emotions and laziness to get in the way, we do a huge disservice to our pets.
We may smother them in pity, feel bad that they are scared, and blanket their reactions with complete avoidance of the stimuli.
FACT: Cats and dogs that have had limited socialization can become intolerant of other animals, humans, as well as unfamiliar places and sounds. These animals may have a poorer quality of life and may experience difficulty in receiving appropriate care and treatments due to their fears. Many of these animals will be re-surrendered, put on behavioral medications, or even euthanized because they become unmanageable and un-adoptable.
"A study on the relinquishment of dogs and cats to shelters found that 40% of dogs and 28% of cats were surrendered for behavior reasons, with aggression identified as the most common reason in dogs and the second most common reason in cats."
Some dog owners are concerned that puppies cannot be socialized or be in public with other dogs until they are older and have received all their vaccinations. This is false.
"Research has shown that puppies in a socialization class were no more likely to contract canine parvovirus than puppies kept at home."
Unfortunately, many veterinarians are recommending that puppies never go outside until they have had all their vaccinations (at 16 weeks). This is doing great harm, as the critical socialization period is well before this time.
These recommendations are creating an entire generation of dogs that will forever live in a fearful state of mind from lack of socialization during a very critical development period.
Many new owners are now using puppy pads, and not allowing their puppy outside at all. That only encourages toileting in the home.
Which is disgusting.
These recommendations are also not supported by any reasonable logic, or science:
"...an under-socialized puppy who isn’t taken out until they are five or six months is going to be more apprehensive and pessimistic about novel situations. Sadly, lack of socialization can lead to fearful or aggressive behavior as an adult dog.”
Additionally, even the Hill's website states the following:
American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) recommends that pet guardians begin taking puppies on walks and public outings as early as one week after their first round of vaccinations, at about seven weeks old. The first three months of a puppy's life are the prime time for proper socialization, says AVSAB. Puppies who are kept from socializing until their vaccinations are complete end up with a very short window of opportunity to become socialized. Unfortunately, this often results in behavioral problems that are a much greater threat to a puppy's well-being than the small chance of contracting an illness."
Where are veterinarians coming up with this non-sense of isolating puppies for the first 4 months of their life?
Puppy owners might still have some concerns about socializing their dog before all vaccinations have been completed. And understandably so, when professionals they trust are saying quite the opposite of what's true.
“Behavioral issues, not infectious diseases, are the number one cause of death for dogs under three years of age.”
Still worried about diseases, such as parvovirus?
Please know: the parvo vaccine contains a live virus and is known to shed in feces of dogs for weeks after vaccination. Not only can vaccinated dogs spread parvo, but vaccinated dogs can also get parvo!
There are dozens of studies on this, but you can begin your research here if you'd like.
To ease your mind and keep your puppy safe, you may avoid heavily populated areas with strange dogs, such as dog parks. But play dates with known dogs is a great way to keep your new puppy happy and healthy!
How Can We Ensure a Proper Socialization Period for Puppies and Kittens?
The first 3-20 weeks is absolutely critical for developing proper social behaviors in puppies and kittens. Additional socialization should be provided through the first 12 months of life.
Remember, socializing isn't just about playing with other dogs. Life is a learning experience!
Common environmental stimuli a pet may encounter in their lifetime, much of which they must learn to become accustomed to:
Joggers passing by
Snow and rain
Riding in the car
By no means is this list all-inclusive. As stated above, 'socializing' is not simply playing with their own species. Socializing is adapting to life and being able to cope with stressors.
How Do I Get Started with Proper Socializing?!
Let your puppy outdoors!
A few categories I like to address for desensitization and socialization are the following:
People/ Animal Watching: Sit in the window or go to the park with your puppy or kitten. Do not force interactions but rather watch from a distance. Allow them a simple observation of their surroundings.
New Sounds: Make thunderstorms fun! Shake your keys. Ring the doorbell. Drop a plastic bowl on the floor in the kitchen. Play games and give treats to make these encounters more positive!
Embracing New Surfaces & Objects: Allow exploration. Plastic kiddie pools, yoga mats, and fuzzy blankets- oh my! Expose your pet to various textures and objects. Wooden floors are a very common fear. If you have access to allow your pet some time on a wooden floor, I highly advise it.
Being Handled/ Groomed: Play. with. their. PAWS!! I cannot stress this enough. Nail trims are extremely important to overall health, and one of the things most often avoided because the pet hates their feet touched. Also play with their ears, and tail. Brush them. Look in their mouth. All pets should be desensitized and okay with being touched and handled.
Food/ Toys & Other Enrichment: Prevent picky eaters by rotating food. Offer dry food, wet food, fresh food (a piece of turkey or a strawberry). Offer a variety of toys (squeaky ball, rope, frisbee). Scent is also a large factor in development. You can offer various enrichment activities such as safe herbs (parsley and catnip), cardboard boxes, leaves (crunchy or fresh). Some pets might find it fun to chase bubbles (hint; scented bubbles for pets exist)! Providing different textures, tastes, and smells ensures that a crucial need for mental stimulation is being met.
In order to give our pets the best quality of life, we must take accountability of their physical and emotional well-being.
Proper socializing is the way to do this!
Feel Like You're Needing Some Guidance & Support?
You're not alone! A new puppy or kitten (or even an adult pet) can be confusing, and exhausting!
I want you to tackle homecoming with confidence!
Looking for the perfect way to get your family off to the right start when adding a new pet to your home?! Head on over to this link and learn more about what it takes to be sure your new dog or cat has everything they need to be happy and healthy in their furrever home!
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