Owning a new puppy or kitten can be great fun but in order for them to grow up to be happy and confident adults it’s important they have a wide variety of positive experiences when they are young
Socialising your pet is one of the most important things you can do for your new four-legged friend so they don’t become nervous or even aggressive adults.
PDSA Vet, Olivia Anderson-Nathan, says: “Socialisation has a really big influence on your pet. When they’re young, they can easily take things they come across in their stride and learn that there’s nothing to fear from new situations. Early experience can help shape their character for the rest of their life.
“A well-socialised pet is more likely to grow up to be friendly and confident. A pet that doesn’t experience everyday sights and sounds, or have positive interactions with strangers and other animals when they’re young, may be fearful and anxious as an adult. Sadly, in some cases this can lead to fear or aggression when they feel so anxious they think their only option is to lash out. Good socialisation can help to prevent these problems.”
While the saying ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ isn’t strictly true, it’s much easier to get pets used to new experiences at a young age.
Olivia adds: “Puppies and kittens up to the age of eight weeks are keen to explore and investigate anything new. After this, they are more likely to be wary of new experiences, though it’s important to continue their socialisation through the first year of their life. It’s important that they have already encountered everyday sights and sounds, pets, strangers and children before this time in order to maximize the chance of a positive response.
“If you’re thinking of getting a puppy or kitten, always look for a reputable breeder that will have started the socialisation process for you. When you take them home, you need to continue to get them used to the sights, sounds and smells of everyday life. Your vet will be able to give you further advice about socialisation and can recommend classes, such as puppy parties, in your local area.”
A checklist for socialisation:
Make sure all the new experiences your pet has are positive and they stay relaxed through the encounter. Below are a list of experiences it’s a good idea to introduce from a young age.
A wide variety of friendly pets – such as healthy, well-socialised, vaccinated pets belonging to family or friends.
Children and young people (always under supervision).
People of different ages and appearances, wearing different seasonal clothes, and specialist or sports equipment (think hiking gear or motorcycle helmets).
Loud or sudden noises, such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, thunder and fireworks. A sound desensitisation CD can be useful for this to make sure you don’t accidentally scare your pet by starting off too heavy.
Walking on different surfaces and in different environments (e.g. countryside trails, city streets, parks, busy and quiet roads). Start this process with your pup in your arms until they’ve had their jabs and the vet says they can walk on the ground outdoors.
Travelling in the car – let them spend time in a stationary car in a safely secured cat carrier/dog harness a few times, then go on a short journey. You can gradually increase the length of journeys.
Being alone - gradually get them used to being left alone at home for increasing lengths of time starting with just a few minutes and building up to a couple of hours. Although, remember that dogs should never be left alone for more than four hours.
It’s best to build up new experiences gradually and for increasing lengths of time. For example, get them used to quieter sounds before louder ones. Praise good, calm behaviour so they develop positive associations
PDSA is the UK’s leading vet charity. We’re on a mission to improve pet wellbeing through prevention, education and treatment. Funding from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information www.pdsa.org.uk