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    Thursday, April 3, 2008

    Have a New Puppy? Ten Things You Need to Know

    Some friends picked up a new puppy the other night and while I haven’t met Happy Pete yet, I’m sure he is adorable. After all, it’s a puppy!

    When Mark and I adopted Lady, we were lucky that we had close friends who were experienced dog owners, and knew us well enough to give advice. Also, we were somewhat compulsive about reading every book on the market, after more than five years, I am finally felling like I might be able to raise a fairly good dog, if I had the chance to do it all over again. Lady is a great dog and we love her, but face it, we made some mistakes.

    Today I was thinking about what I would tell new puppy owners if given the chance. Here are some of the things that top the list.

    1. Housetrain and put it on cue. More on this later.

    2. Crate train. You don’t have to crate your dog as an adult, but it is a kindness to a puppy. Your home can be an overwhelming place for your pup. The crate gives him a safe place that is his. Also, it helps him be good when he is too young to know better and no one is there to watch over him. Lady used a crate until she was six months old. Then we gradually phased it out.

    3. Teach obedience commands. If needed take a class to learn how to train. Here in Atlanta Ian Ambry of Highland Pet Training Center offers a really good five week class (one night a week).

    4. Bite Inhibition. Your puppy’s mother and litter mates taught him not to bite too hard by yelping when he did. Now he needs to learn that it is never OK to use his teeth on a human. This is easy to do with a puppy. When he starts mouthing you and touches skin with his teeth, hold his mouth closed with your hand – gently and just long enough for him to start to squirm. Dogs do experience the world with their mouths, so if licking is OK with you, praise and reward him when he licks. He will learn to differentiate between biting and licking quickly.

    5. Socialize. Introduce your dog to everything. New sounds, sights, smells, people, places, and most importantly other dogs. Try to make these positive experiences by the use of praise and rewards. Dogs react badly when they are frightened and the best way to ensure that doesn’t happen is for them gain experience with their environment.

    6. Spend time with your dog. Dogs are intensely social creatures. Most dogs would rather be inside with you than outside by himself. While it is true that dogs need exercise and enjoy being outside, opening the door and saying, “go play” in the same old boring fenced back yard by himself, is not the kind of stimulation your pet needs.

    7. Find a good veterinarian. Get your dog vaccinated on the schedule recommended by your vet and then get in the habit of regular wellness visits. Puppies are vulnerable to some life threatening diseases until they are fully vaccinated, so don’t take them to places where they might be exposed to unvaccinated dogs (like public dog parks) until they have the full series – usually around sixteen weeks.

    8. Be your dog’s protector. To new dog owners the line between play and aggression can be hard to distinguish. Some owners think their dog’s bad behavior is “just playing” or say that you should “let the dogs sort it out”. This is nonsense. If another dog plays too rough or your dog seems fearful, you need to intervene. That can mean encouraging your dog to stay away, speaking to the bully’s owner, or simply leaving the area. As your dog matures he will learn to deal with such dogs on his own, but as a puppy, you must deal for him.

    9. Agree on dos and don’ts. Talk with the whole family about what behaviors are acceptable. Make a list and stick to it. It is much easier to teach a dog to stay off the bed before he thinks it OK than after. Make sure that what seems cute now, will still seem cute when the dog is full grown or you have company coming.

    10. Be consistent. Dogs work very hard to please you and to understand what you want. If you don’t want your dog to beg for food, then begging must never work. It is wrong to reward begging with a treat and then punish the dog the next time he tries it.

    11. Be consistent. I can’t say this enough times.

    The best way to accomplish puppy housetraining is to take him outside every two hours, and every time he wakes up from a nap. This will ensure that he never have a chance to make a mistake. When you take him outside, bring treats. Stay close and if you want him to make a habit of going in one area, lead him directly to the section of yard you want him to use. As soon as the dog begins to go, praise him and when he is finished, give him a treat. To put the behavior on cue, select a code word (we use hurry up). Incorporate the code word into the praise, as in, “Good hurry up”. In short order your dog will be reliably housebroken and conditioned to go on command – a great thing when it is late and you want to get to bed. Photo credit: © Anke Van Wyk