Bringing home a new puppy or kitten is so exciting! It can also seem a bit overwhelming, but it doesn’t have to be. While there are many factors involved in raising a happy, healthy, well-adjusted cat or dog, here are a few important things keep in mind during those first crucial weeks with your new family member.
Supervision – building good habits
Unsupervised puppies find ways to entertain themselves. Stealing socks and TV remotes, making messes on the carpet, chewing on furniture. Kittens make their own fun too! They may scratch at furniture, doorframes, chew on cords, etc. It’s important to keep our little friends entertained! By keeping an active eye on your new pet, you can help to prevent these behaviors from happening at all, and more importantly, from becoming a regularity.
When you can’t give your puppy undivided attention, it’s best to confine them in a safe, puppy-proofed area like their crate or a playpen where they feel comfortable. Leaving your puppy alone in this type of scenario can initially be stressful for everyone involved. Here are some tricks to make the process easier for everyone.
Spend a few minutes tossing small treats in their crate and letting them go in and out freely a number of times each day. As they become more willing walk in on their own, you can start to play with the crate door, opening and closing while they’re eating treats inside. Build up the time that they’re confined gradually.
Kittens can be confined in a kitten-proofed room (like a bathroom or bedroom) when they can’t be supervised. Provide a litter box, fresh water, climbing opportunities, and a window perching spot in their confinement room to keep them happy during designated times. Plus, cat toys are sure to make the time apart pass quickly!
It’s important to crate or carrier train both kittens and puppies. This will make travel and vet visits go much more smoothly down the road! (Check out why it’s so important for indoor cats to go to the vet regularly here.)
When you need to leave your puppy or kitten in their crate, make sure to leave them with something to do. Try freezing a stuffed Kong (and yes, there are cat-sized Kongs too!) with a smear of something tasty like canned food. A puppy that’s gotten lots of exercise is likely to snack on this and take a nap. Plus, making crate time “tasty treat time,” can help them to think of it as a fun, relaxing place to be.
Puppies go through a critical socialization period from the age of 3 – 12 weeks. This period is much shorter for kittens ranging approximately from 2 – 7 weeks. During this time, your new friend will be curious about all sorts of new things! After that time in their life, it’s more likely that new experiences will be met with caution, at least until they identify the new things as safe. It’s a basic survival instinct. That’s not to say you can’t socialize an older dog or cat to new things, but this early socialization period is critical to taking advantage of their natural curiosity.
It’s important for your new pet to experience different types of people, animals, environments, walking surfaces, noises, handling, weird looking objects, car rides, vet visits, and more. It’s your job to teach your furry friend that the world is safe, and that encountering a variety of new things is fun and normal.
Because they are so impressionable at this age, you also need to be an advocate for your new pet. Ask people, visitors, and friendly strangers to let your puppy or kitten approach on their own time, and respect that choice if they don’t want to. Always pair interactions with new people with your puppy or kitten’s favorite treat.
And remember – puppies are not experts at socializing other puppies. Don’t rely solely on puppy class as your puppy’s only experience with other dogs. If possible, find some friends or a trainer with a well-socialized, gentle adult dog that is more likely to shape appropriate play behavior than to correct it through aggression. Go on walks together, allow short 1-on-1 off-leash interactions, and give them a break if either dog is becoming overwhelmed or tired. When it comes to interactions with other dogs, it’s all about quality, not quantity.
It’s also good to practice not greeting other dogs. It won’t always be appropriate or possible to introduce your dog to another dog in public, so it’s good to instill that understanding early. Set your puppy up for success by enrolling in a training class at a facility that is committed to using positive reinforcement techniques only, like the classes we offer at Lollypop Farm!
When it comes to your new puppy or kitten, you can manage their environment so that each new experience is a fun one. Tuning in to their body language will help you to identify when they need a break or space, and never force unwanted interactions! Forcing an animal to greet, investigate, or do something that makes them uncomfortable can set back their confidence and make them feel unsafe. Finally, remember that exposure alone is not the same as socialization. The best recipe for a successful socialization plan is pairing novelty with tasty food, play, and choice.
It may seem like a lot of work, welcoming home a new puppy or kitten. But it’s a great time to get to know your new little friend, explore with them, and teach them that the world is a fun place!
Learn more about Behavior & Training classes at Lollypop Farm: https://www.lollypop.org/behavior/behavior-training-classes/
Meet puppies and kittens waiting for homes: https://www.lollypop.org/adopt/adoptable-pets/
Trouble at home with your new puppy or kitten? Give our free Pet Peeves helpline a call at 585-295-2999.