The importance of socialization for puppies and kittens

Dogs and cats are similar to human beings, before they start their journey as a member of our family they need time to adapt to their new home and their surroundings. So, in order to obtain a friendly, easy going dog or cat we must understand how and when to being their socialization period.

The socialization period (when it’s a puppy or kitten) is the time when they are most open to learning about their new environment, littermates, mother and other animals of theirs species, human and even different animal species. During this time we should provide them with diverse, positive experiences to prevent the development of fearful responses and subsequent behavioral problems.

Dogs who had more social meetings, contact or attend puppy classes early are less likely to develop fearful and aggressive behavior towards other puppies or kittens. Animals who lacked early non-fearful exposure to a range of environment, people, animals may become afraid and avoid these situations when they grow older.

As pet owners, we must also understand that, in general, animals reared in barren environment (both socially and physically) are unable to deal effectively with environment and activities a normal companion animal will experience. Any socialization meeting may potentially be a risk for disease or injury, so they must be carried out in a safe manageable space.

The Sensitive Period
Puppies and kittens should begin their exposure to relevant stimuli during their 3-week-old sensitive period, and then continue with the owner. Puppies and kittens expose themselves at their own pace, given suitable opportunities, and their brains and behavior will rapidly develop through to least 20 weeks of age. Fearful or shy puppies and kittens should be allowed to experience the world at their own speed, with every social encounter reinforced with rewards such as food and play. With continued exposure to people, places and things, many will continue to adapt their behavior beyond 20 weeks.

Puppies
At 3 weeks, a puppy’s eyes and ears are well developed, they are now able to start bonding with the animals and people around them as well as to recognize features of the environment where they live. From three weeks to 14 weeks old is when they are most responsive to unfamiliar things.

By 7 weeks of age they will actively avoid passive handler, by 8 to 9 weeks most dogs are sufficiently neurologically developed that they are ready to start exploring unfamiliar social and physical environments.

Data show that if they are prohibited from doing so until 14 weeks of age they lose such flexibility and may be forever fearful, early socialization is highly recommended because if it does not occur until 5 weeks of age puppies may be wary on first presentation.

Kittens
Earlier exposure is strongly recommended in kittens, the sensitive period for cats begins at 3 weeks of age, but their receptivity to new experience wans earlier than for puppies.

In order to obtain maximum benefit from early exposure, kittens need to be exposed to people, other animals and new environments by 9 weeks of age. In general, kittens benefit from early exposure to family member, other pets, visitors, grooming, veterinary visits and other life experiences.

Kitten classes may also assist owners in learning about their new pet and thus help prevent future relinquishment of the kitten to a shelter. For these reasons, a plan for the socialization of kittens by owner should immediately be done after taking the kitten home for the first time.

Continuing Socialization
Most owners start to adopt their pets between 8 to 12 weeks old (this should be the minimum age because they require their mother’s care in the crucial first 2 months) where this is the peak sensitive socialization time, so the transition process should be managed carefully. At this point every new owner should always assume that the puppy or kitten has not been socialized prior to adoption, and around this age the puppy or kitten is also very mobile so avoid contact with dogs or cats with unknown temperament, unclear health or vaccination status or surfaces that may harbor disease vectors such as grass at public parks.

After all primary vaccinations have been given, the puppies or kittens should be in an enriched environment with a variety of toys, and structure and play should be encouraged. Socialization should also include regular positive interactions with people, other dogs and cats, other animal species and always make sure that all the interaction during the socialization period are supervised to prevent injury.

Lifelong Socialization
Socialization opportunities should be continued for the first 9 to 12 months because re-enforcement of the lesson is important for them to remember. Every owner should also understand and be aware that some animals have an innately more fearful temperament and need to be managed differently and will need more effort in socialization time for them to remember and adapt.

Adopting An Adult Dog Or Cat With An Unknown Or Limited Socialization History
When we decide to adopt stray (unknown history) animals, we should be aware that habituation of older animals to various stimuli and experiences can be more difficult and challenging but follows the same basic steps as for puppies and kittens.

In the beginning we must also recognize the character of dog or cat we want to adopt, care should be taken to develop a bond with the animal and provide a sense of security for the animal to allow them to cope with new experiences without distress. Animals that are timid or aggressive may need an extended period of introduction to their new environment and new owners must take part in all the activities and also understand their needs. And if the dog or at continues to be fearful or aggressive, consultation with a veterinarian should be included.

An extended period of introduction to their new environment and new owners must take part in all the activities and also understand their needs. And if the dog or cat continues to be fearful or aggressive, consultation with a veterinarian should be included.