The socialization of pets, particularly puppies, is the process of exposing animals to the variety of stimuli that they will experience throughout their lives, and the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior suggests that it should be made a part of every puppy’s standard of care in the first few months of life.

Here are some things that you should know about socialization and its importance in every young animal’s life.

Why is socialization so important?

When adult animals are exposed to new stimuli, they often become stressed and may respond in negative ways.  These stress responses are commonly seen in the form of fear aggression and avoidance behaviors (such as hiding under or behind your furniture when guests come to visit). In fact, poor socialization (among many other contributing factors) may be one of the culprits in the rate at which dog bites are being recorded across the U.S.

As adults, dogs tend to be exposed to far more of the outside world than their feline counterparts. For that reason, the socialization of puppies receives more attention than it does with cats.

When should socialization begin?

According to the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB), socialization should begin as early as possible.  From birth, this means that puppies should be handled frequently (by trusted individuals in clean environments, of course), and they should become accustomed to the manipulation of various body parts.  For example, gentle handling a newborn pup’s feet now could make his nail trims significantly easier on the caregiver when he is an adult.

The AVSAB recommends beginning puppy classes around 7-8 weeks of age, which also means that he or she will have had at least one round of vaccines and one deworming by the first class meeting.  It’s important to note the importance of vaccines to the health of puppies, and all socialization should occur in places where the risk of illness can be minimized.

What is involved in the socialization of puppies?

In general, effective socialization involves exposure to a variety of people, other well-behaved animals, and new places whenever possible.  Special consideration should also be taken for the animal’s individual circumstances, as well.  For instance, if the pet is expected to participate in significant travel throughout its lifetime, he or she should be brought along for as many car rides as possible while still young. If the pet is expected to live in a home with cats, he or she should be exposed to cats during the socialization process.

The concept of socialization is heavily built on common sense.  By exposing young animals to new situations while they are still impressionable and curious, you allow them the opportunity to experience these things without fear or reservation. All too often, pets react fearfully to harmless stimuli simply because it’s unfamiliar.  Socialization gives your pet the best shot at a happy, outgoing life, free from depression and anxiety.

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