July 30, 2009
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
"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
"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
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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