Socialising Your Pet
Does your cat spend a lot of time hiding under the bed, or does your dog go crazy when they meet strangers? Animals react differently when they’re not comfortable or are frightened of something. Some growl or bite, while others hide or shake and shiver. Have you ever thought, why do they act this way even with all the love you or others give them?
One of the most common reason behind shy, reserved, and sometimes unpredictable nature in pets is them not getting socialised properly from an early age.
Before understanding the importance of socialisation, let's first clarify what is meant by 'socialising a pet'.
What does 'socialising a pet' mean?
Socialisation is a process of preparing your cat or dog to interact with people, places, and other animals. The word socialisation is a bit misleading and sounds like teaching a new kitten or a new puppy how to socialise with other animals, but it's much more than that.
Socialising a pet means teaching them to behave well around humans and animals. It helps your pet to be confident in new situations and be comfortable in different environments. If your pets are relaxed and confident in various scenarios, they’re less likely to become aggressive therefore reducing the risk of injury from altercations with other animals, either domesticated or wild.
When you get a new puppy or a kitten, you want them to be well-adjusted pets, but this doesn't just happen on its own. Socialisation involves gently exposing kittens and puppies to things that they may have to deal with as adults. It helps them to be relaxed and therefore react appropriately and confidently rather than being fearful and anxious. However, it is important to be aware that your pet's breed, personality, and health also affect their behaviour even if they were socialised properly.
Some cats and dogs do not like to socialise and they’re not as outgoing as others. They don’t enjoy spending time with other animals and people around them. Socialisation is not about teaching them to love these interactions but how to handle them and adjust themselves within their environments.
The importance of socialising your pet
A pet that gets socialised properly at an early age will grow into a much happier and healthier adult. Take some time exposing your puppy or kitten to new things, and make sure to reward them, using positive reinforcement techniques such as treats, praise, and play.
Despite the independent nature of kittens, they need their mother's attention. If you take new kittens away from their mothers too early, they can suffer from separation anxiety. Although cats have a more independent nature than dogs, they are similar to puppies when young.
It’s important to begin socialising your cat and dog at the earliest possible times. Here are some benefits of early socialisation of your pet.
Benefits of socialising your pet
Comfort around other animals
Socialising your pet from a young age will allow them to interact with other animals throughout their life without over stepping boundaries and causing upset.
When you have a properly socialised pet, you needn't worry too much about introducing them to new pets or your friends dog down the park.
Comfort around humans
Do not limit socialisation to animals only. Introduce them to a wide variety of people as well, so they won't hide or become aggressive when strangers visit your home. Expose your pet to people of all ages and especially people with beards, glasses, and/or wearing hats. These things can be scary to your pet without proper socialisation.
Well socialised pets are more confident
A well socialised pet will be more confident when dealing with new situations. As a pet owner, it's your responsibility to help them feel safe exploring new things. The safer they feel, the more confident they will be in new situations.
Socialisation makes future grooming easier
Anxious cats and dogs do not like to be groomed, especially by strangers. The anxiety they feel not only makes the activity more difficult, it also puts them at risk of injury.
Regular grooming is a crucial aspect of your pet's life, with most cat and dog breeds requiring frequent grooming to make sure their skin and coat are healthy. However, some non-socialized pets may become aggressive around groomers and won't like to be touched.
Socialisation means more exercise and playtime
Having a properly socialised pet means you can confidently take them out for walks and play without fearing how they will react when they meet other pets or humans.
If you cannot do this then you may find it difficult to keep your pet fit and healthy through exercise.
Socialised pets experience less anxiety and fear
Non-socialised dogs are more likely to suffer from anxiety and fear that can be triggered by just about anything from a stranger at the door to a noisy street or a young child. That’s why it’s important to introduce your pet to different cats, dogs, humans, other animals, sounds, and sights when they are young.
Socialised pets are better at traveling
A well-socialized pet will be easier to manage while traveling, so make sure to give plenty of car rides to your new kitten or new puppy. Even a short trip will be tough if your pet if they are not used to it, causing fear and an upset tummy.
When and how to socialise a pet
Socialising your pets means introducing them to different people, places, things, and other animals. The most efficient and successful time to do this is when they are kittens and puppies.
The best time to begin socialisation is between 3-9 weeks for kittens and 3-20 weeks for puppies. During this time, if possible, try to keep kittens close to their mothers.
Make sure to make socialisation a positive experience for your pets.
Tips on how to socialise a pet
Introduce them to new people
This is an important part of socialising your pet to make your pets comfortable around strangers. Introduce them to people of different ages, sizes, genders, and races and take it slow.
Some cats or dogs might take longer than usual to get comfortable with strangers. Let the animal approach them and give rewards and appreciation to encourage positive interaction.
Introduce them to new places
Just like introducing your pet to new people, introducing new places is also necessary. When you take your new kitten or puppy home, give them a small space to call their own. It will make them feel safe. Then gradually expose them to new places in the home. Once they get comfortable with places around the house, take them out for a walk or to a friend's house.
Introduce them to other animals
Choose animals that play well with cats and dogs to make it a positive social experience. While introducing your pet to other animals, keep them separate at first. Feed them on opposite sides of a closed door instead of side by side where they can make eye contact with each other. Once your pets eat their food calmly, begin face-to-face meetings. Keep it slow until they both get comfortable with each other.
Introduce them to new things
Get your pet familiar with a wide range of objects. Do not introduce them to several things at once and make it a slow process. Introduce them to new sounds, such as sounds from the TV or music playing device. Things that present new sights, sounds, or smells are useful learning experiences for your pets.
Create new experiences
Expose your cats and dogs to situations they will experience in the future. For example, grooming procedures, vet visits, being inside a carrier, car journeys, etc. If your pet becomes scared of new experiences, hold them and scale back to a more comfortable level. You can let them observe such things from a distance instead of participating.
Top tips for socialising your pet
The things your pets experience during socialisation training will stick with them for life. Their brain makes a strong association with what's happening around them and whether it's awesome or downright scary. Preventive training is better than reactive training.
Here are some tips for pet socialization:
- Make it positive: Make sure your pet gets lots of praises and treats. If you make socialisation a fun and rewarding activity, your pet will be much more responsive and engaged.
- Involve your family: While training and socialising with your pet, it's better to involve the whole family. Ensure that everyone is on the same page because it will be confusing for your pet to hear different instructions. It's necessary to have conversations ahead of time.
- Find support: Pet training sessions is a wonderful way to get help and support in socialising a pet. Find positive pet training classes near you for a better experience.
- Take baby steps: Avoid doing so many things at once. For example, when you want to introduce your pet to different people, start with your family. Then take them to close friends and relatives and so on. Taking them to a gathering or crowded areas may scare them.
What should you look out for when socialising your pet?
Look out for signs of aggression and fear in your pet. If you find that your pet's hair is raised, the tail is moving back and forth, and the ears are back, it indicates that they may not be comfortable.
Look out for hunting behaviours while observing your dog. If your dog keeps their eyes on your cat it may mean they’re not ready to be left alone together.
Consider your pets' temperament before exposing them to different people and animals. If you have a violent dog, do not bring the animal into a house they aren’t familiar with. Similarly, if you have an aggressive cat, avoid taking other animals or people into their space.
In addition to the pet's temperament, consider their activity level and age. If you have elderly pets at home, getting a hyper kitten or puppy may be unpleasant for them.
Some pets require socialising more than others
There are some cats and dogs who need more socialisation than others. There are two types of cats, socialised and unsocialised. Both have distinct behaviours that will help you differentiate between them.
For example, socialised cats will approach you and show that they are comfortable with people and things around them. On the contrary, unsocialised cats will never approach you and do not meet with strangers.
Some dog breeds are easy to train and have socialised. For example, Gundog breeds are the easiest dogs to train, and herding dogs are quite trainable too.
On the other hand, Borzoi is an impressive and massive creature, but they’re not super trainable. However, they’re not aggressive with other dogs.
Socialising a cat and dog can be a lengthy and difficult process, but once they’re trained, your efforts will be worth the wait. Some pets will get along immediately, while others will take more time with supervised training and socialisation. Don’t feel disappointed by their initial reaction. By going through the socialisation process gradually, you’re more likely to achieve success.