Puppy Socialization, and Kittens Too! How to Do It and Why It Matters
There aren’t many moments greater than welcoming a new baby animal into the family. You think of all of the fun times you’re sure to have together as your puppy, kitten, rabbit, or other animal grows up.
But to your baby animal, you’re essentially a stranger, and the world is a big (and sometimes scary) place. In order for your new friend to fit into your family and society and to grow into a happy, healthy adult, you need to socialize it.
Read on to discover why kitten and puppy socialization matters and how to socialize your new furry friend. While we focus on cats and dogs here because they’re most likely to be around a variety of new people, animals, and environments, other animals—like rabbits, horses, etc.— can benefit from socialization too!
Why is socializing important?
Socializing your baby animal will have a huge impact on the quality of life for both you and your pet. Kitten and puppy socialization gives your pet the tools it needs to adapt and adjust to new people, other animals, and new and different situations and environments. When you socialize your pet, it develops into a happier, healthier, and calmer animal and will have better experiences when interacting with other humans and animals.
What happens if you don’t socialize your pet?
If you don’t socialize your pet, it won’t know how to handle new people, animals, places, or things. This can lead to growing up to be fearful and anxious, not to mention at risk of developing severe behavioral problems, like aggression.
When should an animal be socialized?
The most critical time for socialization is at the beginning of an animal’s life, when you can lay a foundation for its future personality and behavior. For kittens, the most critical period is between 2 and 14 weeks. For puppies, it’s between 8 and 12 weeks.
Before you begin socializing your animal, it’s imperative that it is properly vaccinated. Just like human babies, baby animals have weaker immune systems and are more prone to picking up common infections and diseases from other animals.
How to Socialize a Kitten
Remove yourself from the equation.
The first step to successfully socializing a kitten is to give it a little space! When you bring your kitten home, give it a day or so to adjust to its new surroundings before you bombard it with attention—even positive attention. This will allow your kitten to get comfortable and adapt to its new environment.
Once your kitten is settled in, you can start building a bond with it. Speak softly, and move slowly when you approach your new kitten, so you don’t unnecessarily startle it.
Use food as a gateway.
One of the keys to socialization is food. When you feed your kitten, stay in the room, so it begins to connect you with delicious treats. Each day that you feed it, move its bowl closer to you. If it becomes afraid, back off for a day. Eventually, you want to be able to place the bowl in your lap, with your kitten comfortable enough to crawl onto you to get food.
Once it’s comfortable eating out of your lap, you can start petting your kitten while it eats. Graduate to picking it up and holding it close to you. Whenever you pet or hold it, give a treat as a reward.
After you’ve gotten to the point that your kitten allows you to hold it, do so as much as possible. You can also introduce it to friends, family, and other pets. The more interaction your new kitten has with humans and animals during this period, the more comfortable it will be with those types of interactions as it gets older.
How to Socialize a Puppy
Puppy socialization is a bit different than socializing a kitten. Most puppies are naturally more affectionate than kittens, so petting and cuddling them will be a lot easier. It’s important to pet, stroke, and cuddle your new puppy as often as possible. Pet it in a variety of ways:
- Rub its nose.
- Scratch behind its ears.
- Stroke its belly.
- Scratch its back.
Varying the way that you pet your puppy will make it comfortable with different types of touching, which is important, since not all people pet animals in the same way.
You want your puppy to get comfortable with the variety of sounds that it will be exposed to on a daily basis. Leave the television on, have your puppy in the kitchen with you while you empty the dishwasher and cook dinner, or pet it on the porch while a noisy firetruck drives by. Don’t overwhelm your puppy with too many noises too quickly, but do acclimate it to the day-to-day sounds of your home.
Approach the food bowl.
Just like with kittens, food is an important part of socializing your puppy. Dogs can get very territorial over their food, so it’s important for your puppy to get comfortable with people approaching its food dish. One great way to do this is to approach your puppy while it’s eating, and pop a treat in its bowl. Then it will associate people approaching its food bowl with getting an extra-special goodie!
Introduce your puppy to new people and new animals as often as possible. As with socializing kittens, the more people and animals your puppy interacts with, the more comfortable it will be with those interactions as it grows.
Leave your puppy alone.
The last major component of socializing your puppy might sound counterintuitive, but it’s really important that you leave your dog alone for a short period of time every day. Dogs that are never left alone can develop separation anxiety, which can cause them to get anxious or depressed when you leave the house, and they may act destructively in your absence.
The key to successfully socializing your baby animal is to be patient. Socialization doesn’t happen overnight. It takes dedication and daily practice to make your kitten or puppy comfortable around you, your family, other animals, and the world in general! But remember that socialization is an absolute must for the long-term happiness of your pet.
The Team @ Cinco Ranch Veterinary Hospital
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