These days, children all over the world are answering that familiar question: “what do you want to do when you grow up” more than ever with answers like “fireman”, “policeman”, and “hero”. And if puppies could talk, they would probably say the canine version of the same. Both would agree that what they want most is to grow up in a loving and supportive family to whom their loyalty will lie for the rest of their lives.
The responsibilities of raising a puppy are much like those of raising a child. As with a child, there are hard times and frustrations, hurts and messes, outweighed by the rewards of companionship and unconditional love. Not everyone should have dogs, and it takes some preparation and thought before em-barking on life as a dog-owner.
In our book, “Puppy Parenting: Everything You Need To Know About Your Puppy’s First Year”, we discuss big dogs, little dogs, fancy dogs, pound dogs, what to expect and how to deal with behavioral issues, so that the first year can pave the way to a lifetime of loyal companionship. It is most important to first understand your needs and limitations when looking for the perfect pet, be there issues of limited space, other animals, small child, or time constraints.
Should I have a dog?
Sometimes the idea of having a pet is different from the reality. Puppies are not impulse purchases. Puppies should never be bought because they’re “so cute”. That irresistible little bundle of fluff with the limpid brown eyes may grow up to be pounds of dogs galumphing through your house. You must be sure that your home would be suitable not only for the puppy today but for the full grown dog tomorrow.
Before we help you choose the right breed or breeds and the right breeder or shelter for you, we want you to know that having a dog is a big responsibility, as well as a great joy. Dogs are loving, loyal and intelligent. Dogs still love you if you pack on a few too many pounds or lose a lucrative account. But, in return, you must be willing to give up your time and to give up your life as you knew it pre-puppy, to give this little ball of fur your love and support. A puppy doesn’t stop needing attention just because you’re tired or busy. Come rain or shine, he needs to be exercised. Away from his mother and litter mates, he will look to you to teach him right from wrong. If you want a perfectly behaved dog, we suggest a stuffed one. If you don’t have the patience to teach your dog manners, maybe you should think about getting a cat or tropical fish. Some people just aren’t meant to be dog owners.
Bringing baby home
This may sound crazy, nut the first thing you need to do in preparation for your pup’s arrival is to get down on your hands and knees and crawl around your house. We call this puppy-proofing. It means checking every square inch for anything that might hurt your puppy, as well for anything of value that your puppy might destroy.
Puppies are by nature inquisitive. They will sniff and chew everything. If the door is left open, they will dash into the street. A good rule of thumb when puppy-proofing your home is to scrutinize it just as carefully as though you were letting a toddler loose because that is, in effect, what you’re doing.
Puppy-proofing your home
From floor level you’re going to see all the intriguing, but dangerous, things your puppy will see, such as uncorralled electrical cords. As with toddlers, puppies’ insatiable curiosity often gets them into trouble –“oh, that looks really neat. Let me go chew on that wire plugged into that socket.” It’s a good idea to unplug all the appliances when they’re not in use, run cords behind cabinets, and affix the cords to the baseboard with duct tape. Unless a cord is frayed, it’s safe to run it under the carpet. If you live in a carpet-less house, you can anchor cords on the floor with wide strips of duct tape or you can encase those wire in hollow plastic tubing available in hardware stores. Because puppies are smaller and more active than babies – and have sharp teeth and claws – lamp cords plugged into sockets are a real hazard and many a pup has been on the receiving and of a nasty electrical shock. We place furniture strategically in front of sockets. Baby shops sell plastic gadgets that cover open sockets. And don’t forget your computer. You may want to avoid a blackout by placing the computer power strip high on a shelf out of your puppy’s reach. If your home office has no door, a bay gate can save you a lot of grief.
The puppy crazies
One day your puppy will suddenly jump up, around, chase his tail, pounce on your sofa, bounce off your bed, toss his toys into the air and growl at them, grab your shoes and dash with them from room to room as if running a puppy 500. We call the puppy crazies. Your dog is not possessed. This is simply puppyspeak for “I want you to play with me.”
You may want to growl back. We do a lot of puppy growling because that’s what the pup’s mum does. It’s a form of canine communication. There’s our playful growl, and there’s our enough-of-that growl. A puppy can tell the difference and knows that the enough-of-that growl means, “Ooh I guess I shouldn’t be doing this.” We also smile at our dogs, and they smile back. That may sound weird but it’s true. Their little puppy lips go up on the sides and we get a show of teeth. Puppies need to play, but you must teach your puppy to play on your terms. A puppy uses his mouth to play and may sometimes get too rough. You can stop this by holding the puppy firmly, but gently, by the loose skin under his ears, looking him directly in the eye, and saying, “No!” That means no biting, no rough stuff. An no playtime until he can behave. Like kids, puppies love attention and will act up to get it. If the pup misbehaves, the best thing to do – within reason – is to ignore the transgression. Pretty soon the pup will figure out that his little scheme isn’t working. Conversely, you’ll want to lavish him with praise when he does something that pleases you.
Making puppy behave and what to do when he doesn’t
Puppies are like the proverbial nursery rhyme child. When they are good, they are very, very good, but when they are bad, they can be horrid. Don’t despair. Puppies do naughty things. You just have to deal with it and move on. Things will get better as your dog matures. And there are ways to put a stop to behaviors such as jumping up, excessive and inappropriate barking, and destructive chewing.
We do not believe in whacking a puppy with a newspaper of physically punishing him in any way. Hit a dog and the dog will remember it forever. Kick a dog once and he will never forget. Treat him with kindness and he will never forget. So what do you do when your dog does something like ripping up your tax return hours before the filling deadline? You grit your teeth, that’s what. And you say, looking directly into the puppy’s eyes, “I am very disappointed in you.” Truthfully, that’s mostly to make you feel better. But he will know by the tone of your voice that you’re not whispering sweet nothings to his ear. A puppy also watches your facial expressions, just as he watched his mother’s face to see is she was smiling or growling.
It’s futile to reprimand your puppy after the fact. If he is chewing your shoe and you catch him in the act, fine. Take it out of his mouth while repeating, “No!” But if it’s even seconds after he’s done the naughty deed, he’s just not going to make the connection between the chewed shoes and the angry tone in your voice.
When multiple family members are trying to teach the pup proper behavior, the poor dog can get terribly confused. You say “Sit!!” I say “Down!” It’s a good idea to agree which commands you’ll be using and to post these alongside a list of dog duties for family members. Puppies are just like children. If Mommy says no, they’ll try their luck with Daddy. You both have to stick to your rules.
A puppy that is raised with firm rules and caring is certain to be the lifelong companion that enhances a family and household. We hope that “Puppy Parenting” will help you to instill in your puppy loyalty, obedience and love – some of the stuff that heroes are made of.
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