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07.30.09

Socially Acceptable!

Have you ever taken a brand new puppy on its first walk, or to a dog park with other dogs? This can sometimes be a difficult undertaking, seeing as puppies have yet to be exposed to many humans and animals in their young life. But dogs and cats need to develop social skills just as much as people do! It is important for an animal's health and well-being to become a socially acceptable pet.

"The most important time for puppy socialization is before the age of 12 weeks," said Dr. M.A. Crist, Clinical Assistant Professor at Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine. "Puppies should be handled from birth and exposed to as many new animals, people, surroundings, and stimuli without causing fear, overstimulation, or avoidance behavior. Puppies should be encouraged to survey and investigate their environments and these exposures should continue into adulthood to help maintain an outgoing and sociable dog."

Many cats are easily afraid and spend a lot of time hiding and trying to avoid the things they are afraid of, they also seem to have a lack of socialization.

"Kittens should be socialized before the age of 9 weeks. It seems that many cats are not well socialized," noted Crist. "What is meant by this is that during their sensitive period for socialization, too many young cats are not exposed to a variety of people, unfamiliar places, and other animals. So as adults they can be calm and friendly in a variety of situations, but when confronted with unfamiliar circumstances, they hide. This lack of socialization results not only in a fear of unfamiliar people, but also of anything that is new and different."

If there is a new baby in the family, it is important to socialize your dog by introducing it to the new baby. Sometimes with the addition of a new family member in the household, it can be a struggle to adjust to the new routine that typically results with the addition of the new arrival. The pet will also have to become accustomed to new noises and smells.

"Sometimes practice with a life-like doll and recorded baby sounds will help prepare the dog," said Crist. "Parents need to be mindful or how their dogs will travel with a baby carrier in the car, even how they may or may not jump on the furniture or bed if an infant is present. Teaching the pet to wait for a command or invitation to jump on the furniture can help with this. Dogs must also tolerate a crawling baby when the baby begins to crawl."

It is important to expose your puppy to as many different appearances as possible; such as short, tall, bearded, and short-haired people, with skin of all different colors. Expose them to different sounds and smells, and let them get used to people running, walking, skipping, skating, or other activities such as riding a bicycle. Most households have more than one pet, so it is also important to introduce your current pet to the new pet, in the right manner.

"The trick with kitty harmony is to introduce the felines slowly," said Crist. "It is better to introduce your pets to each other gradually, so that neither pet becomes frightened or aggressive. Do not force the cats to be together and do not allow interactions that cause fearful or aggressive behavior because this can become a habit, and is difficult to change."

"Introducing a cat to a dog can be quite tricky as well. Dogs can kill a cat quickly," Crist adds. "Once the new cat and dog have explored each other's scents, and are comfortable, a controlled face to face meeting is allowed. Allow the cat an escape route and hiding place and always keep the dog and cat separated when you are not present until you are quite certain that your cat will be safe. Sometimes it is best to allow the kitten to become fully grown."

Dog parks are sometimes a good socialization tool, but are controversial. Some dogs function well in these types of environments, and others do not.

"Make sure your dog is completely vaccinated before entering the dog park" said Crist. "Some dogs can become ill from the contaminated soil of dog parks, and dogs with a poor immune system should not be exposed to it. Dogs can have their temperaments ruined, become injured or even killed at dog parks by other dogs. Most problems reported in dog parks are not that common ones, but would not exist at all if people would use their common sense by being careful and considerate."

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