Behavior problems are the most common reason pets are relinquished to shelters. Not surprisingly, the earlier behavior concerns are addressed, the better the chances of resolving the problem before it becomes serious. And early socialization gives us the greatest opportunity to prevent behavior problems from developing.
Puppy & Kitten Socialization
The critical period of socialization is the first 16 weeks of life. So, there is much work to be done as soon as the new puppy is acquired to provide adequate socialization. The concept is based on the fact that pups are more inclined to be sociable than fearful during the first 12-16 weeks of life. They are the most open and receptive to new experiences during this critical period. By exposing them to a large variety of experiences (with positive reinforcement) during this period, they can be taught the world is filled with good things rather than strange and frightening experiences.
During this period it is ideal to expose them to a variety of people in various circumstances, to other animals and to objects that can be frightening to pets (umbrellas, wheelchairs,etc.). Ideally, the puppy or kitten should have the opportunity to meet people of both genders at home and away and people of all ages. Many animals find children intimidating, so exposure to children of various ages is ideal. It takes a bit of effort to provide proper socialization in such a relatively short period of time, but the payoff while last your pet’s lifetime and make for a better relationship for you both.
Puppy socialization classes are available to assist in the process, but you will still need to do socialization exercises between classes. Gone are the days of starting puppy school at 6 months! Puppy classes may begin 7 to 10 days after the first set of immunizations and deworming, which is typically at 8 weeks of age. The class should require all puppies to have received at least their first vaccinations and remain current on their puppy series during the course.Kitten kindergarten should also require Feline Leukemia Virus testing around 9 weeks of age. Although the emphasis of these courses is socialization, many basic obedience tasks are taught as well. Most importantly, the class helps teach us how to best teach our youngsters how to behave the way we prefer! Unfortunately, it is very easy to accidentally reinforce behaviors we don’t like, so learning how to best modify our pet’s behavior is a critical part of the process. This becomes a skill set we may use consistently throughout our pet’s lifespan.
Many pets are adopted long after the critical socialization period. This doesn’t mean they can’t be socialized, but rather that the process may well be slower and require more effort over a longer period of time. Many fearful pets end up in shelters and then are later adopted by loving families. Time and effort can help reduce the pet’s fearfulness and make for a happier pet. Socialization will take longer and we must be careful not to overwhelm the fearful pet with our attempts to socialize them.
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