Mar
8
2006

Socialization classes educate owners about gracefully introducing and living with pets in society; it’s not about training or play time, said Kersti Seksel, BVSc, MRCVS, MA, FACVSc, DACVB, during a presentation at the Western Veterinary Conference last month. “It’s all about helping pets fit into society,” Seksel said.

From a pet’s perspective, learning appropriate social interaction may be a life or death proposition. The average pet lives to be three and a half years old because many are euthanized for behavior problems, Seksel told audience members.

That statistic as well as a desire to foster positive relationships with “animals that wanted to come in and see me,” inspired Seksel to offer socialization classes years ago.

In addition to creating positive bonds, socialization classes can prevent or diminish common behavioral problems, she said. Citing declawing and devocalization, two illegal procedures in Australia, Seksel criticized practitioners who gloss over underlying causes of behavior problems and focus on the end-result. “In Australia, we work with the bits [instead of] chopping them off,” she said.

Talking to a full room of technicians, Seksel gave specifics on how to run the sessions and referred seminar attendees to the American Association of Feline Practitioners behavior guidelines for additional information.

After listening to Seksel’s presentation, Susie Seiling, a veterinary assistant at Bradshaw Mountain Animal Hospital, wants to add socialization classes to the clinic’s kitten and puppy packages.

“It would be great if more cats thought that coming to the veterinarian could be a good thing,” she said. Referring to training cats, a session that followed the socialization seminar, she said that training could help to ease fears about allowing cats outside. “You want your cat to be able to catch some rays in the sun, and [you want] to be able to call him and have him come back,” she added. “That would be excellent.”

Seksel extolled the virtues of well socialized cats and dogs and stressed that only highly trained individuals should assume the role of teacher.

“We call it preschool because it’s educational,” she added. “The lessons set the stage for a dog’s life.”

Seksel suggested asking a behavior specialist and one other professional to teach the classes, limiting class size to six pets, and charging at least as much as a consultation fee to impart value to clients.

Seksel prefers classes to have a mix of breeds to expose dogs to different sized animals but suggests grouping ages together, and limiting the time to one hour.

Like many behavior specialists, Seksel discourages owners from forcing an alpha structure and said that in some cases, owners should follow their dogs. “We have to get over this [idea] that we have to be dominant,” she said. “It’s a partnership with our pets.”

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