Pets Need to Meet and Greet Too
One of the leading reasons for dogs to be given up to shelters is due to a variety of bad behaviors, many of which could be prevented with socialization at an early age in the puppy. I attended the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior's annual meeting in St. Louis in July, and there were a number of sessions focusing on the reasons for pets being surrendered to shelters. Contrary to what many think, the shelters fill up with dogs over 6 months of age that are aggressive, over active, fight with other dogs, or are fearful of people. Cats are primarily given up due to house soiling problems and fighting with other cats in the home.
The fundamental reason that these behaviors happen is that the pet is not used to lots of different experiences at a very young age. For both dogs and cats there is a time period where everything is wonderful, fun to explore and there is no fear. Getting a kitten or puppy out and about to meet people, ride in cars, meet other dogs or kittens, hear the vacuum cleaner, motorcycles and young children in this developmental stage is very important. This open age for the puppy is 3 weeks to approximately 14 weeks of age. For kittens it is about 3 weeks to 8 weeks old.
Many people get a new puppy or kitten and enjoy the pet at home, but do not get that pet in for a veterinary exam or check up often for a few weeks. That first puppy or kitten visit is not just about shots, but most importantly about feeding, training and socialization. Just visiting the veterinary office for a "hi" is very helpful for your pet to be used to riding in the car, getting a leash on or in a carrier, and smelling new smells. The puppy or kitten kit your veterinarian hands out to you is full of great information about socializing your pet as well as health care.
In the past, veterinarians were educated to tell clients to not allow the puppies or kittens to get out and about until the vaccination series was over. Now new research had pointed that there is not any increased risk of a pup or kitten picking up disease while during the young ages as they are going through the vaccination series. Actually, meeting and greeting other people, places and pets helps to strengthen their immunity to disease. If you have a new puppy, the best thing is to take a bag of 100 kibble of food, and have 100 new people give your pup a kibble over the next 2 months. It sounds like a lot but that is one person new per day. Get that pup out of your yard for walks, to the bank, the mechanic, outside the school or park!
The most important life saver is that pets that get to the veterinarian for first care and guidance for socialization are the least likely to end up at a shelter homeless. People get frustrated with that list for dogs because the dog has not been able to learn how to not be afraid of many common things because they did not get to meet and greet so the dog turns to aggression. The cat may be very stressed about the addition of children or moving because they did not get times to go to different places so they mark the house with urine. So, early socialization can save the lives of millions of pets each year, as well as the heartache and frustration to families. Puppy kindergarten classes are very helpful for pups and owners alike. If you have a pup, get them in a class that is focused on socialization, meeting people, other pets and nice play.
- written by Dr. Sally J. Foote