Cats and dogs: Socializing your pet
Adding a new pet to the family can be both exciting and stressful. Taking steps to socialize your pet while they are young or when you first get them will help prevent anxiety or future issues with other animals.
If you are unsure where to start we have some tips.
Know your pet's personality
You know your pet best and you can likely assess to some degree how your dog or cat will respond to the other animals or people. If you want to make an effort to start socializing your pet, ask yourself a few questions to help you determine where to start:
- Has your pet ever been around other animals?
- Does your pet get along with other cats/dogs?
- Is your pet social and friendly towards other people?
- Have you ever seen any signs of aggression or exaggerated excitement if your dog sees a cat on walks?
- Does your dog jump, get aggressive around food or get possessive over toys?
Knowing how your pet might respond can help you prepare. If you have no idea how your pet will respond to other animals, consider asking a friend to bring over their pet and introduce your pet to their animal. You shouldn't just let your pets loose but you can get a good indication of how your pet might respond even by introducing animals through closed doors or while one is in a crate.
Start them young
If possible, begin socializing your pet while they are young. Pets who grow up being exposed to other dogs, people, cats and situations will be better adapted in their adult life. Take your puppy in the car with you as much as possible, take them to the pet store or the park, and expose them to as many other animals and people as possible in their first few months. Kittens should be exposed to other cats and dogs if possible especially if you plan to ever have a dog in the future. If you adopt an older dog that isn't socialized, spend some time assessing their behavior before you consider bringing them around other animals or small children.
Younger dogs will likely have an easier time adapting to new situations and animals, but if your dog is older take small steps. If your dog has a lot of anxiety the best thing may be to expose them to new situations when they have some level of security such as when they are with you or in your home. Take them on short car rides, expose them to different sounds and smells in your home and be sure to give them a lot of reassurance. Taking an unsocialized dog to a dog park and letting them loose could be both terrifying for them and potentially dangerous. But you can keep them on a leash and walk them around on the outside of the dog park fence or take them to a park in general where you expect there will be other animals and people. Continue exposing your dog to different situations and people and you can work up to more interaction. If you bring a scared or unsocialized cat into your family the best thing you can do is be patient and let them get comfortable on their own terms.
Don't combine with other life changes
Avoid adding a new pet to the family during or immediately after or before other big life changes. A move, a new baby or even a major change in your schedule can put your pet in a stressed state and adding a new pet could throw you and them over the edge. Be sure you have the time and energy to devote to making your pets feel comfortable especially if you adopt a dog that has special needs.
Be patient and remember that it takes time to adjust to new situations. Cats can be especially put off by changes in their life. Unless one of your pets shows signs of aggression, wait it out and be patient. In many cases you'll never have any idea about your dog's history or what they have gone through to make them act the way they do. An older dog may take months or even as much as a year to adjust.
What is your biggest concern with adding a new pet to your family?