Animal behavior is one of the hardest areas of veterinary medicine. I’ll admit it…it’s not my favorite area and we got virtually no education in the subject during my time in vet school in the early 2000s. While myself and many other veterinarians have gotten continuing education in the field, behavior problems are still the top reason for animals to be surrendered or euthanized. It’s a complicated and gray area but I want to give you one of my top tips to help your pet.
Socialize, socialize, socialize!!!
For dogs & cat, the prime development period where they truly learn to form relationships is between 3-16 weeks of age. Most of the time, puppies & kittens are still with their mothers until at least 7-8 weeks of age and they can learn to develop a hierarchy. They will also start to bond with the people who are caring for them. It’s the time they come home that they can truly start to develop a personality and meet different people. Use this time to start puppy classes or for your kitten to encourage friendly play. Invite your friends over and use the bribery of treats or playtime to let your pet get used to different people. For cats though, it can likely take a longer time and with people who have a quiet demeanor.
Additionally, you want to get your pets to meet other animals. Maybe you have other pets or friends with pets. You want the interactions to be fun and friendly. My own dog Rudy has his own issues. We adopted him when he was 14 months old. He was given up supposedly for his non-stop energy and activity. I’m going to call that out as a lie. He can be a regular couch potato. Yes, he’s got allergies but he’s also a jerk a lot of the time. His problem is he doesn’t know how to greet other dogs. Most of the time he wants to play but to the casual observer he looks like he wants to fight. We have made our best efforts to help him, and he’s improving, but a lot of this could have been avoided through some proper socialization and behavior training.
The last thing that particularly is troublesome is animals who are afraid of somebody giving them a possibly endless supply of cookies. Yeah, I’m talking about pets visiting the veterinarian…and most dogs don’t leave without spoiling their dinner with liver treats. I’m happy when pets are healthy, but I think it’s a disadvantage to them in terms of stress in visiting an unfamiliar place. I want to encourage everyone to start with your young cat or dog, bring them in regularly for visits just to say hi, get a few treats, or hop up on the scale. A visit without any poking or prodding can go a long way to reducing stress during those medical visits. But it doesn’t stop after they become adults. Your pet should visit the vet at least once a year, even if they seem healthy, it’s good to get that confirmation from your veterinarian but also to maintain a friendly relationship between your pet & their vet.
I encourage you to help your cat or dog adjust to their new life with you and to be a role model for other pets. Ask your veterinarian or friends and get references for trainers in your area if you need help. Some of them will use properly updated methods that are more positive for your pet while others use what may be considered archaic or negative reinforcement. Trust me, your veterinarian and their staff will also thank you for having a well behaved pet. By encouraging good social skills, our pets can live happier and healthier lives.
Disclaimer: All blog posts are my own opinion and do not reflect those of any current or former employers.