Socialization of animals
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (October 2012)|
Feral animals can be socialized with varying degrees of success. Feral children are children who lack socially accepted communication skills. Reports of feral children, such as those cited by Kingsley Davis, have largely been shown to be exaggerations, or complete fabrications, with regards to the specific lack of particular skills; for example, bipedalism.
For example, the cat returns readily to a feral state if it has not been socialized properly in its young life. A feral cat usually acts defensively. People often unknowingly own one and think it is merely "unfriendly."
Socializing cats older than six months can be very difficult. It is often said that they cannot be socialized. This is not true, but the process takes two to four years of diligent food bribes and handling, and mostly on the cat's terms. Eventually the cat may be persuaded to be comfortable with humans and the indoor environment.
Kittens learn to be feral either from their mothers or through bad experiences. They are more easily socialized when under six months of age. Socializing is done by keeping them confined in a small room (i.e. bathroom) and handling them for 3 or more hours each day. There are three primary methods for socialization, used individually or in combination. The first method is to simply hold and pet the cat, so it learns that such activities are not uncomfortable. The second is to use food bribes. The final method is to distract the cat with toys while handling them. The cat may then be gradually introduced to larger spaces. It is not recommended to let the cat back outside because that may cause it to revert to its feral state. The process of socialization often takes three weeks to three months for a kitten.
Animal shelters either foster feral kittens to be socialized or kill them outright. The feral adults are usually killed or euthanized, due to the large time commitment, but some shelters and vets will spay or neuter and vaccinate a feral cat and then return it to the wild.
In domesticated dogs, the process of socialization begins even before the puppy's eyes open. Socialization refers to both its ability to interact acceptably with humans and its understanding of how to communicate successfully with other dogs. If the mother is fearful of humans or of her environment, she can pass along this fear to her puppies. For most dogs, however, a mother who interacts well with humans is the best teacher that the puppies can have. In addition, puppies learn how to interact with other dogs by their interaction with their mother and with other adult dogs in the house.
A mother's attitude and tolerance of her puppies will change as they grow older and become more active. For this reason most experts today recommend leaving puppies with their mother until at least 8 to 10 weeks of age. This gives them a chance to experience a variety of interactions with their mother, and to observe her behavior in a range of situations.
It is critical that human interaction takes place frequently and calmly from the time the puppies are born, from simple, gentle handling to the mere presence of humans in the vicinity of the puppies, performing everyday tasks and activities. As the puppies grow older, socialization occurs more readily the more frequently they are exposed to other dogs, other people, and other situations. Dogs who are well socialized from birth, with both dogs and other species (especially people), are much less likely to be aggressive or to suffer from fear-biting.