Socialising your pet develops their character and confidence, and enables them to live a happier and healthier life. By showing them there is nothing to fear from other animals or people, they will learn how to pleasantly interact with others. They need to get used to the everyday sights and sounds they may encounter inside and outside of the home. It teaches them to be outgoing and friendly, whereas a lack of socialisation might create a fearful, anxious and aggressive pet. Not only does this impact on their quality of life, it could also make caring for them extremely difficult for the owner.
With puppies and kittens, their social development starts before they leave their mother through interactions with the rest of the litter. This is why they are not supposed to leave their mothers before a certain age, as missing out on this vital time could impact their temperament and behaviour in later life. Before twelve weeks old, puppies are more curious and are naturally compelled to explore everything, so it is important they experience as much as possible during this time. Between two and seven weeks old is the vital time frame for introducing kittens to new experiences, other animals and people. Failure to do so might result in an anxious or scared pet that will struggle in adulthood.
Socialising should continue when you bring your new pet home. Puppies and kittens are extremely impressionable, and what they experience in the first few weeks of their lives will determine the adult they will grow to become. Therefore, socialising from an early age is extremely important if you want a confident, healthy pet.
Once this period is over, puppies and kittens will be more cautious and wary of new people and experiences. That’s not to say socialisation shouldn’t continue, otherwise you will limit your pet’s development. Ensure you continue to introduce them to new experiences after this time to mould them into a happy and emotionally healthy adult.
Exposure to new experiences
The more exposure to other animals and people your pet receives, the more confident they will become. A well-socialised pet can be determined by their reactions to others. Dogs may bark, pull on the lead and exhibit threatened body language or behaviour if they are lacking in social skills, and they could even attempt an attack. Walking your dog in places where you know there will be a lot of other animals and people will show them there is nothing to be afraid of. Begin by taking them to a quieter place where encounters with others will be less frequent, and eventually expose them to a busy area, such as a park. Maintaining control and teaching them not to bark or pull on the lead when they see another dog will show them that such behaviour is inappropriate. Varying where you walk your dog will desensitise them to new places and situations, therefore increasing their confidence.
Don’t bombard puppies and kittens with too many new experiences a day, as this could overwhelm them. Also, if your puppy appears to be anxious or afraid, don’t try to reassure them as this will tell them there was something to be afraid of. Instead, stop what you are doing but ensure you remain upbeat so the puppy can see there is nothing to be worried about.
Introducing new pets to those already residing in a home can sometimes be challenging. Some animals might need a bit of time to get to know each other, whilst others may not simply get on due to personality differences. This can be especially difficult if the original pet is used to being the only animal around. Gradually introduce the pets to one another but always remain close by to begin with. In the case of a cat and a dog, initially carry the cat rather than putting them down so the dog can see them without being able to chase them. You could keep the pets in separate rooms of the house until they are used to one another’s company. To introduce two dogs, try taking them for a walk at the same time so that there are other distractions around but they are still aware of each other. If you have two large dogs, ensure you can control them both at the same time or invite someone else along with you to help.
Spaying and neutering
Allowing a cat to go outdoors will enable them to become socialised with others. However, you need to take spaying and neutering into consideration if this is the case. An unaltered female cat may become pregnant, whilst an unaltered male cat is more likely to roam, contract diseases through fighting or get a queen pregnant with an unwanted litter.
If you want an indoor cat, consider whether getting two is an option so they can keep each other company. Taking them for journeys in the car will familiarise them with travelling, as some indoor cats without much experience outside may become nervous or frightened.
Socialising with people
Providing your pet with a lot of attention and affection will help them to feel confident around people. Dogs generally enjoy lots of human contact, whilst only some cats do. Ensure your pet has the option of engaging with you and others in your home by giving them attention should they venture over to you. Leaving doors open means a wary pet is able to approach you should they want to.
Rehoming a pet
Rehomed animals from rescue organisations can sometimes be challenging to socialise. They may have not been exposed to many other animals, or cruel treatment at the hands of previous owners could have influenced their feelings towards people. A shelter environment can sometimes cause animals to behave in ways they wouldn’t usually, so they might appear withdrawn or aggressive. Patience and commitment are required when caring for such an animal, as they need to be given time to adjust to their new home and trust their owner. Let them come to you on their own terms, and reward them with praise when they do. Although it may take longer to socialise them, each successful step means that it can eventually be achieved.