The socialization period is a crucial time in every young pet’s life, but should also be a lifelong adventure of exposure to new situations. Without proper, positive socialization during the sensitive time for puppies and kittens, your furry pal may grow up fearful and anxious around new people, places, or animals, and may develop generalized anxiety. Pets who undergo proper socialization when young are better equipped to handle changes and novel experiences with a calm and relaxed demeanor later in life.

Remember—socialization is not over once your pet’s magical time frame has ended, but should be a lifelong process, to ensure your four-legged friend maintains excellent coping abilities with new situations. Whether you’re welcoming a young pet into your home, or wanting to brush up on your older companion’s socialization skills, follow these three recommendations for a positive experience.

#1: Stock up on tasty treats for every situation

For people and pets alike, delicious food makes every situation better. When exposing your puppy or kitten to potentially frightening experiences, a large stockpile of tasty treats will go a long way toward changing their mindset. Like rewarding a child with a toy at the dentist, offering your pet a treat for overcoming their fear of a new situation can help create a positive association. Keep a stash of treats handy for the following encounters, to form a positive foundation for your pet:

  • Unfamiliar people — Varying heights, ages, genders
  • Unfamiliar accessories — Hoods, jackets, sunglasses, hats, canes, wheelchairs
  • City environments — Traffic, construction, crowdsRural environments — Farms, parks, bodies of water, woods, beaches
  • Flooring types and ground surfaces — Carpet, tile, hardwood, sand, asphalt, grass, rocks
  • Riding in and being around vehicles
  • Neighborhood objects — Bicycles, strollers, skateboards, benches
  • Animals — Cats, dogs, livestock
  • Body handling — Ears, paws, tail, mouth

With each new encounter, ensure you reward your pet for positive interactions, to build on their comfort level.

#2: Move at your pet’s pace

Never forcing your pet into a scary situation is key for successful socialization. Throwing you in a closet filled with snakes will only heighten your ophidiophobia, and flooding your pet with a frightening trigger works the same way. Instead, allow your furry pal to approach new situations at their own pace. For example, when introducing your new kitten or puppy to your friend, have your friend sit quietly on the ground, avoiding eye contact, speaking loudly, or reaching out to your pet, giving your four-legged friend the opportunity to approach your two-legged friend on their own. Give your pet time to sniff and check out your friend, and back away, if needed. If your pet appears calm and relaxed with loose body language, have your friend offer a treat, and then pet their chest or sides, to prevent reaching over your pet.

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If your pet displays any stress or anxiety signs, such as flattened or tilted-back ears, lowered or tucked tail, or wide, staring eyes, immediately back off, and give them time to relax and recover.

#3: Sign up for puppy class

Enlisting professional help is an excellent idea for properly socializing your pet. While kitty kindergarten classes are uncommon, puppy socialization classes are in abundance. Research carefully to choose the best option for your pet’s socialization needs. Many courses offer small classes, one-on-one training, and supervised playtime. An ideal puppy socialization course will expose your pooch to new items, such as wheeled objects, strange costumes, grooming and handling, and various textures, each session. Under a certified dog trainer’s watchful eye, your pup will learn how to read cues from other puppies, interact confidently with strange people, and calmly handle novel situations.

If you’re struggling to find a kitten socialization or foundation class in your area, don’t despair. You can teach great kitty socialization skills in your own home—check out this article from the Anti-Cruelty Society for quick tips.

Before taking your puppy out to explore the world, ensure they are current on appropriate vaccinations, including parasite prevention. A puppy whose vaccination boosters lapse or fall behind schedule could be exposed to potentially deadly diseases, such as distemper, parvovirus, and leptospirosis.

Whatever trouble your pup manages to find while practicing socialization skills and learning about the world, the Pet Emergency Clinic and Referral Center team is here for you—give us a call if your pet needs emergency care.