Getting a new pet is exciting and a whole new level of responsibility. Just as with children, there’s a big world out there that we need to educate our pets about – and socialising your new pet is one of the most important things you can do for them.
PDSA Vet Nurse, Nina Downing, explains: “Socialisation has a big influence on the behaviour and temperament of your pet. What they learn at a young age will likely shape their character for the rest of their life.
“A well socialised pet will be more likely to grow up to be friendly and confident; whereas a pet that doesn’t experience everyday sights and sounds, both indoors and outdoors, when they’re young may be fearful and anxious as an adult. Sadly, in some cases this can lead to aggression through fear of what they come into contact with – sometimes with devastating results.”
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.
Nina continues: “For both puppies and kittens, the first couple of weeks of life with mum and siblings are precious. Calm and occasional handling, under mum’s watchful eye will often be tolerated, but it’s important not to upset her. Once their eyes and ears are open, puppies and kittens begin to explore and try to find out more about their world, so having normal household noise and activities going on around them, will help them to feel comfortable in a family home from the very start.
“As they get more adventurous, other experiences can be introduced, such as welcoming visitors to their home, seeing the post coming through the letter box, witnessing the vacuuming, being left at home without human company for a short time, will give them broad experience of life. These early weeks are the basis for their future, and after this time they may become more nervous of new experiences and back away, so this grounding is vital.
“This is just one reason why choosing a good breeder is important, as they should have started the process from as soon as the little ones become active. It’s important that they have lots of positive experiences of everyday sights and sounds. Your vet will be able to give you further advice about socialisation and recommend training classes for once they’re vaccinated, in your local area.”
Things your pet should get used to:
- A wide variety of friendly, healthy, vaccinated pets – such as those belonging to family or friends.
- Children and young people (always under supervision).
- People of different ages and appearances.
- Loud noises, such as vacuum cleaners, washing machines, thunder and fireworks. Commercially available CDs can help pets gradually get used to sounds like these.
- Travelling in the car – let them spend time in the stationary car in a cat carrier/dog harness a few times, before going on a short journey.
- Being alone – gradually get them used to being left alone for increasing lengths of time. Once toilet training is established and they’re able to hold themselves for longer, or for kittens use a litter tray happily, you can increase this time alone up to a couple of hours. Remember that even when they are adults dogs shouldn’t be left alone any longer than four hours at a time.
Before you start, remember that these experiences should always be positive ones. If your pet seems anxious or afraid, calmly end the socialisation and move on to something else they enjoy doing.
Build up new experiences gradually and for different lengths of time. For example, get them used to quieter sounds before louder ones. When they are calm and relaxed give them praise and a healthy treat so that they enjoy the experience.
Don’t introduce too many new experiences in one day, instead try and spread them out over a few days, being careful not to overwhelm them, so it’s better to work at your pet’s own pace.
PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information. www.pdsa.org.uk