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Socialization in the study of animal and human behavior (ethology, social psychology, and psychology) is the process by which human beings or animals learn to adopt the behavior patterns of the community in which they live. For both humans and animals, this typically occurs during the early stages of life , during which individuals develop the skills and knowledge necessary to function within their environment, insofar as interaction/coexistence with other members of their species or culture as concerned, but also includes adult individuals moving into an environment significantly different from one(s) in which they have previously lived and must thus learn a new set of behaviors.
Sociologists may distinguish:
- secondary socialization: training for specialist roles in society through education systems and social groups by building on the basic assumed primary socialization.
Feral animals can be socialized with varying degrees of success.
For example, the cat returns readily to a feral state if it has not been socialized properly in its young life. Kittens learn to be feral from their mothers or through bad experiences. It will usually fear humans and people often unknowingly own one and think it merely "unfriendly."
These cats, if left to proliferate, often become "pests" in populated neighborhoods by decimating the bird population and digging up people's yards. They are used in agriculture to help keep rodent and snake populations down. Such cats are often referred to as "barn" cats.
Kittens under six months of age can be socialized by keeping them confined in a small room (ie. bathroom) and handling it for 3 or more hours each day. There are three primary methods for socialization, used individually or in combination. One may simply hold and pet the cat, so that it learns that such activities are not uncomfortable. One can also 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 and larger spaces, but may never again go outside without reverting back to its feral state. This process often takes three weeks to three months for a kitten.
Cats older than six months are very hard to socialize. 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 comforable with humans and the indoor environment.
Many animal shelters foster the kittens to be socialized or kill them outright. The feral adults are always killed or euthanized due to the large time commitment. Some shelters and vets will simply spay/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 take 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 people are much less likely to be aggressive, to suffer from fear-biting, or to interact inappropriately with either species. They are more likely to be calm and interested in even the most unusual situations.
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