The Importance of Puppy and Kitten Socialization

Did you know January is ‘Train Your Dog Month’??

A crucial part of any puppy or kitten’s development into a happy well-adjusted pet is adequate socialization at the appropriate time. The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) defines socialization as “the process of preparing a dog or cat to enjoy interactions and be comfortable with other animals, people, places and activities. Ideally, socialization should begin during the “sensitive period” which is between 3 and 14 weeks of age for puppies, and 3 and 9 weeks of age for kittens.”

As pet health care providers and as pet owners ourselves, we have seen the difference active socialization efforts can make. The breeder we purchased Hudson, our 5 yr old Portuguese Water Dog from, was a big believer in socialization. Prior to our picking Hudson up at 9 weeks of age, she would keep us updated as to what activities he and his littermates were up to. These planned daily activities involved her taking the entire litter for everything from car rides to visit friends and wading pools to exposure to blow dryers and vacuum cleaners. Once we picked Hudson up, we continued to actively expose him to a variety of people and environments. We believe this had a very positive impact on his temperament. While not always the best mannered dog (that’s on us!), Hudson is a very happy, confident and outgoing dog in almost any situation – he is Mr. Congeniality and we love him for it!

The AVMA offers the following tips for socializing your new puppy or kitten:

Advice to new puppy and kitten owners

Adopting a new kitten or puppy is a wonderful and exciting experience. It is also a time where a little extra planning can help a new pet develop the calm and confident temperament that will help them enjoy life to the fullest. The basics of socialization are outlined below.

• When adopting a puppy or kitten, ask for a pre- and post-adoption socialization plan.
• Create a socialization plan specifically for your dog or cat to prepare him or her for life in your household. Plan exposures to the animals, individuals, environments, activities and objects that will be part of his or her new life.
• Provide regular positive and diverse experiences to encourage your dog or cat to enjoy new experiences without becoming fearful or aggressive.
• Provide praise, play and treats to reward engagement. Allow the dog or cat to withdraw if he or she is uncomfortable. Move at a pace appropriate for your pet’s personality.
• Well-managed puppy or kitten socialization classes are a good way to socialize your new pet within the sensitive period.
• Puppies or kittens that are not fully vaccinated should not be exposed to unvaccinated animals or places they may have been (such as outdoor parks).
• Continue to reward your dog or cat for calm or playful responses to social interactions throughout his or her life.
• For dogs or cats with special behavioral needs, develop a plan with your veterinarian and/or another animal behavior expert.