Puppies and kittens are not born loving people or understanding that the dishwasher isn’t an evil killing machine. They learn to accept and trust that they are safe in the presence of people, other animals and everyday items through socialization. Dogs and cats who are not adequately socialized can be fearful in new environments and may become aggressive to unknown people and animals. The deep stress these pets experience is not healthy for their minds or bodies. It is imperative that puppies and kittens be socialized to a wide variety of things before they are 12 weeks of age. This is when the primary socialization period ends; socialization is still possible after this time but will take longer and may not be as successful.
Exposure is not the same thing as socialization. The quality of the interactions must be considered. For example, a puppy could meet five children every day for one week. At the end of the week, if all of the experiences were pleasant, the puppy will probably like children and be friendly to them. However, if many of the experiences weren’t pleasant – his tail was stepped on, the children yelled, he was accidentally hit with a toy truck – he may grow up to be suspicious of children.
To ensure that your puppy or kitten likes people, he needs to meet many of them (100 before the age of 12 weeks is the general rule) and enjoy it. Have visitors feed a few treats to your pet when they enter your home. If your pet isn’t very interested in treats, have guests play with him instead.
Accustom your puppy or kitten to items (brooms, bicycles, balloons) and noises (dishwasher, blender, garage door) by pairing their presence with treats, toys, and praise. Encourage your pet to investigate anything new and praise heavily, telling him how brave he is when he does. Introduce sounds briefly and/or at low volumes first and then gradually for longer periods of time and at higher volume. For instance, switch on the blender, drop a treat, and then immediately turn off the blender. When your pet isn’t afraid of the sound, keep the blender running a few seconds longer, giving several treats while it is on.
Socialization is a process that should last throughout your pet’s life but it is most critical to introduce your pup or kitten to many things and people before he or she is 12 weeks old. Doing so will help your pet to accept changes and new things and people later in life more easily.