From the editors desk
I remember my first dog; a Border Collie mix named "Boots". He was part of the family before I was born and guided me through my early childhood, protected me from anything he perceived as danger, herded me when I got near the street and was my outdoor baby-sitter as Mom hung laundry. As I recall, most of our neighbors had similar dogs, Goldens, Shepherds, Labs and a host of other "Good Ol' Family Dogs that never wandered off, chased cars or bit the mailman. Let alone jump with muddy paws. It just wasn't allowed. Those great dogs we remember had lots of leadership - someone with them day and night to teach them, show them and expect them to behave. They weren't left alone at home all day to entertain themselves and get into trouble.
My, how times have changed! Parents go to work, then work out, kids go to gymnastics, dance, tennis, soccer and a host of other enriching activities. Dogs go to Doggie Day Camp for exercise and playtime and to training classes so we can teach them to behave. As a dog trainer and groomer I see dogs that run the gamut from quiet, happy, well mannered, docile, to shy, scared, wild and out-of-control. So when Fido comes along, how can we teach him to be that great dog I grew up with and not just another dog bite or shelter statistic?
Mommy, can we pleeeeeeeze get a puppy, please, please, PLEASE??? I promise I'll walk him every day and feed him and I'll keep my room so clean, you'll never have to ask me to clean it up again! Just please let me get that puppy! Look, he loves me!"
The promises made by your children to get you to let them have a puppy have a way of disappearing when the new wears off. Remember that toy they had to have for Christmas that was given to charity 6 weeks later? Puppies are living beings and therefore deserve a lifetime commitment from the family, not used as a lesson in responsibility. Make sure YOU are willing to care for the dog so he doesn't suffer if your kids grow tired of him.
Start with the right breed for your family. Most breeds were developed to serve man's needs based on instinct and physical characteristics. So think about what the dog was bred to do. A dog bred for repetitive tasks like retrieving will likely be good at fetching the ball as many times as you can throw it and NEVER get tired! Plan on becoming a marathon runner with this one. A breed meant for herding & guarding his flock may not let your kids run past him without chasing and may try to protect them if their friends make them squeal. A rodent hunter will bark and chase after every mouse, chipmunk, squirrel, leaf or anything else that moves on the ground. Any person can have the type dog they want successfully with the right training, exercise and expectations. So research breeds including activity levels, health problems, trainability, grooming needs, and how a breed's characteristics will work with your home and lifestyle. Immaculate housekeepers usually can't handle breeds that shed or drool a lot, and avid gardeners usually don't like breeds that dig. Internet websites including AKC.org have tons of information on breed selection, characteristics and realities of having these breeds as pets. So do your research to help determine the right purebred or mixed breed for your family.
Where do you find a good dog? Rescue groups and shelters are overflowing with nice dogs that need good homes. If you're not dead set on a puppy, consider an adult rescue. Trainers and behaviorists are usually happy to help you determine if the rescue or shelter dog you're considering will be appropriate for your family. Find out as much as possible about the dog's history to determine if its personality and temperament are a good match. Responsible breeders sometimes have a wonderful retired show dog that would love to live out its life as an only dog.
If you really want a puppy, interview several responsible breeders. Remember that mixes are mixes regardless of the latest fad so don't get taken by paying purebred price for a mixed breed puppy. National breed club websites are the BEST place to find reputable breeders. You may need to travel a few hours to find a good breeder, but in the long run, you'll be glad you did! Responsible breeders screen all their breeding stock for inherited diseases and have documentation to prove it. They will be there to answer all your puppy raising questions and help you choose the best puppy in the litter to fit your household and lifestyle. If they have no puppies, most breeders will help you find a breeder with puppies on the way so you won't have to wait too long. Good breeders always guarantee temperament and ask that pets be spayed or neutered so that no accidental litters can happen. Dogs that are spayed or neutered tend to live longer and healthier lives than their intact counterparts, show less marking or dominant behavior and don't want to wander in search of a mate. The breeder will also want to meet and interview you to make sure that their puppy is going to a great family. Good breeders would never let their pups go to pet shops or auctions where they could end up in a bad situation.
Experienced breeders know how important it is that puppies be raised in the house being given lots of attention and training. They will constantly be held, loved, and socialized to new people, locations and situations. By the time you bring them home at 7-10 weeks old, a good breeder will have puppies crate and leash trained and started housebreaking. Well-socialized puppies are easier to live with and have fewer problems with new or scary situations later on. Make sure that the puppy has had a vet check within the previous 3 days before you take him home.
Training and behavior experts recommend that puppies need to stay with their littermates until at least 7-8 weeks old. It is during this time that dogs learn how to understand dog language and pack respect. If they leave before 7 weeks they have a tendency to become over-protective or bond too tightly with humans, resulting in unreliable behavior. One mixed breed litter of 9 puppies we knew that were raised outside and given away at age 5 weeks had ALL been euthanized by age 3 even though the owners of three of the pups took them to classes for the first year. So if you're getting a new puppy, waiting until the he is 7-8 weeks and finding a reputable breeder is best.
Now you've found the perfect dog from a Rescue, Shelter or responsible breeder. What's the next step? Feeding and playing help, but now that he's home, what will you do with this new dog when you're not there? Pups that have too much room to roam can be difficult to housetrain. Most dogs still retain the instinct to "den" and like a small, quiet place where they can be safe at all times. A kennel home or crate can be a great solution. Just remember that this crate is a safe haven, not a place for punishment or being left day and night. If your pup must be crated for longer than half the workday, try to find some way to give him a walk at lunchtime so he can keep clean and stretch a bit. Then prepare for a dog full of energy when you return at night. After all, he's rested up all day in anticipation of your return and a full evening of exercise and activity.
A well-trained dog is a happy dog that enjoys more privileges than his untrained counterparts. Dogs that know how to behave in public and at home are easier to get along with, don't end up having to be "put up" every time your neighbors drop by to visit and are less likely to be surrendered, given away or euthanized. Training classes are appropriate for dogs of all ages and can really help build the bond between you and your new pup plus help teach your dog the rules of the house. Old and young dogs have a need for a pack leader, so assuming the role through training your pet takes all doubt from them about where they belong in the household pack. Working on a constantly changing repertoire of behaviors will also teach your dog to think instead of just following repetitious behavior patterns. This leaves you an endless supply of new things to experience together.
Most training schools and dog clubs offer many different stages of training classes from Puppy Kindergarten socialization and Beginning training through advanced courses, competition Obedience, Tricks, Dog Agility, Rally-O, and more. Most dogs that go through beginning, Intermediate and Advanced training with you will really start to be well behaved and reliable within the first year. If you choose to train at home rather than in classes, be sure you have the self-discipline to be consistent. Remember you wouldn't let your children drop out after first grade, so give your dog a chance by keeping up on his training at least for the first year.
New puppies from 8 weeks to 4 months especially need the socialization and interaction found in most puppy classes. Pups learn their social skills and develop the type of personality they will have forever before age 6 months. Taking them out to visit new places and other people and dogs gives them a good idea about the world. Protecting a dog from new things and experiences will usually result in a shy, timid or fearful dog. Most dog bites are the result of fear, not aggression.
Where can we go for socialization? There are several good avenues for positive social stimulation. Pet friendly stores are fun, and several area parks welcome pets as well as a lovely dog park in Montgomery County. Walking through your neighborhood can be a positive social experience, too. Many pups make friends at training class and can have play dates arranged. Doggie Day Care is a fun option while you're at work or just 1 or 2 days a week. After playing all day, pups will be tired and ready to settle down for the night. Plus it gets them used to being away from you so that boarding when you're on vacation won't be stressful for him.
A tired dog is a well-behaved dog. If your pup is mentally stimulated and gets lots of exercise every day, he will be more likely to come into the house, find his special bed or rug and lie down contentedly to chew his favorite bone. Amounts of exercise needed vary by breed and individual dog just as with humans. Some Labs need a 5 mile brisk run to take the edge off their energy, while others may tire out with just a one or two-mile walk. Some breeds are content to entertain themselves with a toy or chasing leaves while others need your constant interaction. If you want your new dog to be calm and reasonably quiet in the house, then encourage calm behavior there. If your children throw the ball and play chase with your lab puppy inside, then he will think it's ok to run and chase in the house when he's full-grown. Show him (and your children) that running and rough play is outside behavior.
So, give your new pup and his new family the best chance for success by: selecting a dog that is appropriate, showing him leadership and guidance through age-appropriate training, giving him lots of socialization and exercise, but most of all providing a stable, loving, forever home for your new four-footed friend!
Ruth Ann Alrick Training/Groomer
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Last modified: 07/05/2012