How to help your puppy or kitten grow into a confident adult
The experiences that young pets have in their first few weeks and months will shape their behaviour and interactions for the rest of their life.
A well-socialised young pet is more likely to grow into a happy, friendly and confident adult with fewer behavioural issues. Sadly, a poorly socialised pet can grow up to be fearful and anxious, which can lead to behavioural problems and even aggression in later life.
PDSA Vet Olivia Anderson-Nathan explained: “Socialisation is all about giving our pets plenty of positive experiences in their early lives of everyday sights, sounds, people and other animals, so that they know these things aren’t dangerous. Their experiences at a young age have a big influence on their behaviour and ability to cope as adults.
“Poorly socialised pets grow up much more fearful of new experiences, which not only leads to them having a difficult time when they encounter anything new, but can also lead to fear-based aggression – when an animal attacks something because it is scared of it. This kind of aggression can have devastating consequences, but it’s avoidable with good socialisation.”
The first 8 weeks of a puppy’s or kitten’s life are key but this will usually be before you welcome them into your home. That’s one reason why it’s vital to make sure they’ve been bred responsibly and in a home environment. The breeder should ensure that young litters are exposed to a range of positive experiences of all kinds of everyday sights and sounds, including strangers, children and other types of animal.
You should continue the socialisation process once you take your new pet home. Here’s a list of things your pets should experience:
- Loud noises, such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines. Video clips or downloads of common noises are available to help pets gradually get used to more uncommon sounds like fireworks or thunder.
- Being alone – gradually get them used to being left on their own for increasing lengths of time starting with a few minutes and slowly building up to a couple of hours. Dogs shouldn’t be left alone for more than four hours, even as adults.
- Meeting people of different ages and appearances, including children and young people (under supervision). Exposing your pets to different mobility aids, such as wheelchairs and crutches can also be beneficial.
- Meeting a wide variety of other pets – until they have finished their primary vaccination course, make sure you only mix your young pet with other pets you know are fully vaccinated. Once fully protected (check with your vet how long after their jabs this will be), they can go outdoors and meet a wider variety of other animals.
- For puppies, your vet might run ‘puppy parties’ to help them learn good doggie manners (and help you get your head around everything too).
- Travelling in the car – let them spend time in a stationary car in a cat carrier/dog harness a few times, and build up to going on a short journey.
Build up new experiences gradually. For example, get them used to quieter sounds before louder ones. When they’re calm and relaxed give them praise and a healthy treat so they enjoy the experience. You will also notice a change with time: younger pets will accept new things more easily but as they start to mature they will need them to be introduced more slowly.
Don’t push too quickly, and make sure your pet is happy with one experience before moving onto the next. Two or three new experiences a day is plenty for a young pet, but work at their pace. Remember these experiences should always be positive ones. If your pet seems anxious or afraid, calmly end what they’re doing, or gently move them away. Don’t try to comfort them as this may reinforce their nervous behaviour or make them think there is something to be worried about.
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