If you are old enough, you will remember the popular disco tune, "Workin' At The Car Wash" from the 1970s . . . or perhaps you are more familiar with it sung by Christina Aguilera and Missy Elliott in the 2004 animated movie, Shark Tale.
This article is not about that catchy tune. This is the story of how I socialize my kittens in a unique way — by "workin" them at the car wash.
Socializing Our Kittens
As cat breeders, part of what is important to us is the physical appearance and health of the kittens we bring into the world. The other important thing is the temperament we breed for. Perfecting these two "parts" often takes years of devoted work.
This is another critical component in producing the ideal kitten — the socialization process.
Going To The Car Wash
As part of my kitten socialization process, I include a series of visits to our local car wash. This is the first step in my kittens becoming acclimated to a carrier, the car, and the car's movement. It also lets you see which kittens get carsick — something that is much better to discover BEFORE you are on the way to your first show with a perfectly groomed long-hair cat.
And just as importantly, the actual process of going through the car wash creates a short, but intense, noisy experience filled with the visual stimulus of water, soap, flapping belts, swirling brushes and blowing dryers that all help expose the kittens to the same degree of stimulus they might eperience at their first cat show or airplane ride.
A week after the kittens' first shot (barring any complications), I place the mother and her litter in a large carrier inside of my SUV, facing the front window, and we travel the long five minutes to the local car wash.
During this first car wash visit, the kittens are snuggled with their mother and have her for support as the loud noises and rushing water pound the car. The kittens may cry, yell, hide in back of the carrier, or go limp. I tell the kittens how “very good” they are, while their mother cat comforts them as well. Obviously, this works best with a mother cat that has previously been through the car wash drill many times, perhaps during her own socialization process.
As we emerge out of the car wash tunnel, all kitties realize that they will live to tell the rest of the felines at home about thier watery auto adventure.
The quick ride home is usually quiet and uneventful and the kittens breathe a sigh of relief while their mother continues her kisses.
Back at home it may take a few minutes for the kittens to come out of the carrier. Within minutes, however, they are snacking on treats and have.forgotten all about any fear they might have felt.
Three Weeks Later . . .
Three weeks later, we do it all over again — only this time the mother cat remains home.
The kittens are once again loaded in the same carrier and brought to the car wash.
Most often the kittens that were carsick during the first ride no longer exhibit such tendencies. They are slightly older and much more aware at this point.
While their reactions will differ depending on individual personality, they are each learning to handle the experience better. The carrier again faces the front window and I carefully watch their reactions as the water pounds around the car.
Even more than last time their individual characters come to light.
Without “mom” to run to, you see which kitten the others turn to for comfort. Many times the kittens will now view this adventure as if they are alone in the carrier. They may try to get out of the carrier (either to run toward the water or hide). Vocalizations are brief, if at all.
Again we follow up the adventure with kind words, hugs, kisses and treats, even as the cars awaiting their turn honk impatiently for us to leave.
Three Weeks Later, Rinse & Repeat
Finally, we repeat the process three weeks later.
Again, only the kittens are in the carrier. But this time when we pull into the car wash, the kittens are taken out of the carrier and the carrier door is closed preventing them from rushing back into it.
Now is when you will notice real differences in the behavior of the kittens.
Some will run around the inside of the car tapping at the water as it remains just out of their reach.
Some will dig their nails into your body for comfort, while they venture to peek.
Others will try to hide under the seats.
Some may find a perch somewhere in the vehicle to watch whatever unfolds.
Usually there is no vocalization at this stage, far less fear, and in some cases, even shear joy at the ruckus and wonder of it all!
Very little can duplicate the sights, sounds, smells and total experience of a cat show, but these visits to a car wash is one way to expose kittens in a safe manner to the stimulation they will experience at a cat show.
I discovered this by accident and have been doing for years. I invite you to see how it works for your breed. There is a marked difference between the behavior of kittens I have done this with, and those that I have not. I urge you to give it a try.