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The Importance Of Socialisation

By Dr Katrina Warren on May 18, 2011 in Other

Each year millions of dogs are surrendered to shelters due to behavioural problems, and sadly, many of these could have been avoided if the dogs were provided with adequate socialisation and training right from the start. While the behaviours of adult dogs are a combination of genetic factors and environmental influences, we certainly know that good socialisation goes a long way to ensuring a family pet has the coping skills to handle every day occurrences such as visitors or meeting other dogs in the park.

Socialisation is the process whereby an animal learns how to recognise and interact with the species with which it cohabits and in the case of the domestic dog this also includes other species such as humans and cats.

Up until sixteen weeks of age is the most crucial time to expose puppies to as many ‘things’ as possible – people, dogs, cats, children and situations. You should go to strange places and expose your pup to road noises, trains, buses, and also introduce sounds around the home such as the vacuum, hairdryer and washing machine.

Handle your puppy as much as possible and make everything a positive experience by rewarding it with lots of praise and treats. Have other people from all walks of life gently handle the puppy. This is a very important time to expose your pet to enjoyable experiences with children. A negative experience at this age may affect your pup for its entire life so active supervision around kids is the key.

Many vets and dog training schools offer puppy classes where pups can safely interact with other puppies and also start learning basic manners. Puppy classes are invaluable for pups to learn important life skills and are also an opportunity for you to ask questions and learn about training. It is a good idea to involve the whole family in puppy class, so that everyone follows the same rules at home.

Training can begin from the moment you bring your puppy home and you would be amazed at how much a puppy absorbs from eight weeks of age. The more effort you put in during these first few months, the greater your reward when you have a reliable, friendly and obedient family pet.

Genetic differences in behaviour also impact on the development of temperament in animals. It is always recommended to meet both the parents of any pet that you may be considering taking into your family and if they have personality traits that you do not desire in your own pet – such as being timid, nervous or aggressive – then avoid their offspring.

You can certainly teach old dogs new tricks with time and patience but to ensure you raise a happy, social dog, it is their start in life that is the most important.

What About Kittens?

Kittens also need exposure to people, other animals, noises and environments. Failure to adequately socialise can result in fearful or timid adult cats. Kittens that have been weaned too early from their mum may also lack social skills as adults.

As soon as you bring your kitten home get it used to being handled by different people and being touched and groomed all over. Take your kitten out for short trips in the carry cage and as with puppies, expose it to as many new sights and sounds as possible.

It is also good to teach your kitten to walk on a harness or lead nice and early. Don’t force your kitten if it seems fearful but reward it with games and treats when it is happy and calm.