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  • Dr Sandy Jameson

Socialization for Puppies and Kittens

What does socialization mean for your new puppy or kitten? Does it include getting your puppy to meet lots of other dogs? Does it mean talking to your kitten?

Well… sort of. Puppies and kittens both have an optimal window of socialization when they are more curious and can adapt to new experiences more readily. For puppies, this is between 3 and 14 weeks of age and for kittens, between 3 and 9 weeks of age. So, if you are acquiring a puppy or kitten, between 3 and 9 weeks of age. So, if you are acquiring a puppy or kitten after this optimal window, it is important to determine what socialization they have received beforehand and understand that it can be much more challenging to socialize at a later age.

Socialization is the process of working with your puppy/kitten so that they can calmly accept everything around them including other animals, people, cars, grooming, the vacuum cleaner, noises, grooming, nail trims, ear cleaning, tooth brushing, etc. When working to socialize your new pet, keep in mind that quality is more important than quantity, in other words, set up your puppy/kitten to have positive experiences. Make sure they are having fun. Food and play can help make experiences positive and keep your puppy/kitten engaged. For example, using a lick matt with canned food can help a puppy or kitten enjoy being handled or having their nails trimmed. Use high value treats when you practice handling their feet, legs, toes, ears, and mouth.

For kittens, it is important to start carrier training and practice car rides early. This can greatly reduce their stress on a trip to visit the veterinarian. Leaving the carrier out with the door open allows your kitten to explore this space at their own pace. It can be made more attractive by

putting their food around and in the carrier or spraying the interior with Feliway. Feliway is a cat pheromone that makes cats feel more relaxed. It is available in spray form or in a diffuser. Feliway in a diffuser is a good idea when introducing a new kitten to your home. The spray can help attract your cat to the carrier or even to a scratching post.

For puppies, a puppy preschool class is very helpful. These classes provide a safe, controlled environment for puppies to learn to be around other people and puppies outside the home. A trainer can provide great tips specific to your puppy and can help supervise new dog interactions. Puppies are required to have some vaccines before enrolling so there is less risk of contracting disease. Obedience training is a great tool to build a relationship between you and your puppy and to build your puppy’s self-confidence- it helps puppies learn to problem solve through challenging situations. Conversely, the off leash dog park is a risky environment to expose your puppy to as s/he may meet aggressive or unvaccinated animals. Another tool that can help young animals learn problem solving skills are food dispensing puzzle toys. As the puppy learns to get their kibble out of a feeding cube, for example, they are engaging their brain, building confidence and learning independence from you. This is also a good way to keep them busy when you are unavailable.

Pheromones and other nutraceuticals can help puppies adjust to new places/experiences as well. Adaptil is a pheromone that comes in a spray or collar form. Like feliway for cats, it helps puppies stay calm. This can facilitate learning as they are less anxious in new situations like puppy preschool or a new home. Alternatively, Zenidog is a gel diffuser with pheromones to help keep your puppy calm. Finally, Composure Pro is a neutraceutical that is given orally in treat form. It contains Tryptophan, the part of turkey that makes us sleepy, and Colostrum, which simulates a puppies’ post nursing relaxation. It can be given daily when your puppy first comes to your home or an hour before a planned outing.

Socialization is so important to develop a confident, relaxed pet that can effectively work through challenging situations. The above information is just a taste of all that socialization includes. Other good resources include a Kitty Kindergarten DVD from, or a book called: Perfect Puppy in 7 Days, also from Cattledog Publishing. Plan ahead and learn about socialization before getting your new pet and then you can set them up for success.

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