Everyone who has a dog wants to be able to take them to dog-friendly events and get them to the vet without it being a dreaded chore. Everyone who has a cat wants them to be part of the action when friends and family come to visit. But we have all seen those nervous dogs at our vet’s office and cats that refuse to come out from under the bed until our guests leave. So how do we, as animal lovers and pet parents, prevent the latter and encourage the former? Two words: early socialization.

The early weeks of a companion animal’s life are a crucial time for them to be socialized and it is our responsibility to do so in order to reinforce positive association and lessen the likelihood of a stress response in daily activities. The sooner they learn that people, animals, and environments outside the home are typically something to be enjoyed and not feared, the easier it is for them to cope with those common experiences. The only way for them to learn these coping skills is through positive and consistent exposure to experiences that will soon be the norm.

When to Socialize Your Pet

There is what’s known as a sensitive period in every animal’s life when they are extremely young and willing to engage in new experiences with little apprehension or fear. This is the best time to expose them to a wide selection of stimuli, as they are naturally playful and adventurous. If the animal is deprived of stimuli during this time, the negative effects are just as profound and difficult to reverse. This golden age for socialization in puppies is 3-14 weeks and for kittens, it is 3-9 weeks. It is highly recommended to begin the socialization process earlier rather than later, as data shows a higher difficulty in achieving optimal benefits as time goes on.

How to Socialize Your Pet

Puppies and kittens that are not yet weaned can begin their socialization journey in age- appropriate ways. At 3-5 weeks of age, puppies and kittens can benefit greatly from interacting with their mother and siblings, being gently handled by humans on a daily basis, brief placement in a carrier, and being provided with toys and other safe materials to encourage play and exploration.

At 8-12 weeks, supervised play dates and socialization classes are a great way to take the next steps in helping your pet learn about their world. Areas where unvaccinated pets may roam should be avoided until your furry friend has completed their own vaccination regimen. When interacting with humans, it is important that these early experiences are as positive and diverse as possible. This is also a great time to start leash training. If your pet appears anxious in a particular situation, allow them to withdraw while also using praise and treats to keep them relaxed. This will promote a positive association with that situation and hopefully make another attempt more successful. Providing consistent opportunities for social experiences is recommended in

the first 9-12 months of your pet’s life and each experience reinforces the lessons being taught so the more often they occur, the more likely your pet is to remember them.

A Social Pet is a Happy Pet—A Happy Pet is a Happy You!

Making the decision to nurture and teach a pet the ways of our world is no small task— it requires patience, commitment, and education. But when we make the effort and really give them the time and attention they deserve, the victories always outweigh the battles. After all, their happiness is our happiness!