Our pets have sensitive windows of learning, and the most important is the period when they are receptive to socialization, which does not mean puppy play dates or kitten communities, but rather the process of ensuring young pets are exposed early to a variety of experiences so they can grow into well-rounded, healthy adults who are easy to live with. Pets who don’t learn all the nuances of their environments while young can grow up to be confused and fearful adults.

WHAT is socialization?

Socialization is the process of introducing your puppy to the world in a way that will help them be confident and unafraid of all of the people, sights, sounds, and environments they will encounter throughout their life. It’s a big world out there after all. Can you imagine how scared a toddler might be if they had never ridden in a car, met a stranger, taken a bath, and heard a lawn-mower?

WHO needs socialization?

All pups and kittens need socialization as it reduces fear and anxiety, makes for better veterinary exams, gives you more options for exercise, decreases stress at the groomer, decreases dog aggression, and reduces stress for all during travel. The best part is that early socialization is easy and fun and provides you time to bond with your new puppy or kitty. 

WHEN is the best time to socialize puppies?

The critical window for socialization occurs before the age of 12 weeks, and the window is generally thought of as closing by 5 months. If you missed the key socialization period in your pet’s life, don’t worry. While those early months are the most important socialization period, pets can always learn how to interact in a healthy manner, as long as you provide appropriate, low-stress opportunities.

During the socialization period, a young pet’s lack of positive exposure to various environments, new experiences, and different people can be detrimental to his adult life.

WHERE should socialization take place?

Introduce your new pet to unique sights, sounds, and smells. To a puppy, the whole world is new, strange, and unusual, so think of everything they encounter as an opportunity to make new and positive associations. Give your puppy lots of treats and praise! The best place to begin socialization is at home before they finish their puppy vaccines. Begin with body handling—play with their ears and paws and put your fingers in their mouth, as this will make veterinary and grooming appointments easier. Have family members and friends do the same thing so it’s not just you who can handle them. Next, invite friends, their children, and their pups, if possible, to your home (since you know that your friend’s pets are up-to-date on their vaccines). That way your pup can meet people who look and sound differently than you—younger people, older people, people of different ethnicities, etc. Also at home, expose them to the vacuum cleaner, the hair dryer, brooms, and other household items. 

During walks, your pup will be exposed to car horns, trucks, cars, skateboards, motorcycles, wet grass, and possibly other dogs that you know in the neighborhood.  

Because your pet won’t be fully vaccinated until he is close to 4 months old, avoid areas where unknown pets congregate, such as dog parks. Until your pup is finished with his puppy boosters, only hang out with friends who take good care of, and vaccinate, their pets. 

WHY is socialization important?

Socialization is one of the most important things you can do to help your pet live a long, healthy life. But why? 

Socializing puppies and kittens early in their developmental period has been shown to decrease fear, aggression, and anxiety of new people, animals, or situations. Pets not properly socialized are often fearful of people or other animals, including their own species, which can result in avoidance, anxious behaviors, or possibly hostility or aggression.

Socialization is important because:

  • Improper socialization can lead to lifelong behavioral problems. 
  • Behavioral problems are the No. 1 reason pets are relinquished to shelters. 
  • Behavioral issues, not diseases, are the No. 1 cause of death in dogs under age 3.

HOW do I socialize my pet?

In addition to socialization time, schedule downtime, too. Puppies and kittens, as well as newly adopted adult pets, should have time to play alone with their favorite toys, or take naps in safe, quiet places. This teaches pets to amuse themselves, and may help to prevent over-attachment and separation anxiety. 

Puppy training classes, like we provide at Pawlins, are an ideal place to expose your new friend to a variety of stimuli. These classes focus on laying the foundation for your pup to become a well-rounded adult dog who responds appropriately to new situations and people. To keep your pup safe, ensure that proof of vaccination is required for attendance. Pawlins also offers a puppy grooming package for a reduced price that starts with the basics and builds their confidence so they will grow to look forward to their grooming appointments.

Once your puppy is comfortable with other people and dogs, daycare can be a great way to continue their socialization journey! We offer half-day and full-day options for dogs of all ages.

If you have questions about how to socialize your puppy, kitten, or an adopted older dog, get in touch with us. Preventing behavior problems is much easier than trying to treat them, so we’d love to start you and your four-legged family members off on the right paw.