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Introducing a New Dog

Author: Ms. Pat Sullivan

We're Getting a Dog for the Kids

Kids and dogs, puppies and kids, all those cute images from dog food commercials and camera ads and old "Lassie" reruns.  Ahh, the power of myth!  A dog will be a real part of the family!Yes, it seems quite natural to think that children and dogs go together.   I've heard it said hundreds of times that "we're thinking of getting a dog for the kids."  For many prospective dog owners, it seems logical to assume that the dog will entertain the children, teach them a sense of responsibility, and be a willing and affectionate companion.

Well, if you're still in that starry-eyed thinking stage, stay there until the idea matures into the realization that you're bringing another living being into your home, and that this new family member deserves an unconditional and lifetime commitment.   Be aware also that not every dog is an entertainer, a teacher, or even a willing companion.  And to top it off, just like people, the new dog or puppy may take an instant dislike to one or all of your children!

Still with me?  Great!  It could very well be that getting a dog or puppy "for the kids" will still turn out to be the best thing you could do for your family.  But understanding your dog's needs and your children's limitations is the key to getting off to a good start.  Understand also that expecting a new dog to fill a void in a child's life caused by divorce or the death of a parent is expecting too much from a canine companion.

While some people are instinctively good with animals, most are not.  I have a gut feeling that the ones who are "good" with dogs somehow learned from the generation before them just how to live with a dog.  Mom and Dad were probably there to supervise the interaction between dog and child from the start, and served as good role models in caring and coping with the new canine member of the family.

Similarly, you must anticipate doing the same for your children if this venture is to succeed.  Assuming that you've done all the right things in searching for the kind of dog you want - reading up on breeds, visiting litters, talking with owners, etc. - and have picked out the dog of your dreams, bringing him home is the first important step in the process.

Bring the animal home when there's not a lot of commotion going on (Christmas, Easter, birthdays are not a good time for this!)  Pick a time when you have a weekend at least or a few days off to spend lots of time with the kids and the dog.   Start a feeding and exercise schedule for the dog, and stick with it.  It isn't as important who does the chores for the dog as the fact that they get done with consistency.  It may help to write the schedule down, stick it on the refrigerator door and check things off when the jobs are done.

The right dog in the right family.Show your children how to play with the new dog.  (We throw the ball 'for' the dog, and not 'at' the dog, Junior"). Dogs have very sharp hearing, and so keep the youthful squealing and yelling to a minimum.  Show them how to pet the dog - easily, gently, with no tugging, scratching or pulling hair.  Step in and stop the child who puts a "bone-crusher" hug on the new pet.

Teach your toddler that dog food is not human food, and to leave the dog dishes alone!  Fido can get quite upset about competition from Junior at his food bowl, and ugly feelings can develop.  Teach all your children not to hand-feed the dog.  It's not good for the dog's diet, and it's certainly not appropriate and possibly dangerous if your toddler tries to mimic this on his own.  Also, it might result in your dog being fed Play-Doh when you're not looking!

Remember, if you have very small children and decide to buy a very small, cute puppy, in six months Junior will still be about 25 pounds.  Rover, on the other hand, could weigh upwards of sixty pounds, all wrapped up in a wiggly, rambunctious package that can make your toddler's first steps an obstacle course!

If you are truly committed to getting a dog for the family, keep in mind these three rules:

1.    Rationally consider the demands of caring for a new pet while taking care of small children, and decide whether this is the right time for you to take on this extra responsibility.

2.    Supervise all dog-and-child interactions so that both children and pet are protected.

3.    Teach by example, and learn how to care for the dog.  Let your children learn from a good role model.

Your Puppies New Home

Houses are made for people - not dogs - and so one of the first steps you need to take when you bring the puppy home to meet the rest of the family is to "puppy-proof" Even a well behaved dog may need some special training your house.  Doing this beforehand can save a lot of frustration with your young canine.

Puppies are forever running into and over things, and your crystal, glass and ceramic knickknacks will be no exception.  Electrical cords and scatter rugs are, from the puppy's perspective, wonderful teething opportunities.  Carpets feel like the grass outside, only better, so why bother to go out to relieve himself?

If you plan to spend your time training and bonding with your pup instead of patching up one disaster after another, then pick up, put away, or restrict the pup's access to carpeting, doo-dads and hanging cords and tassels.

Plan from Day #1 where the dog will and will not be permitted to go, and don't deviate from it.  As a general rule, keep the dog off the sofa, chairs and beds unless you make a commitment to a lot of extra cleaning and refurnishing.  Don't blame the dog!  He would never have curled up on the sofa if someone hadn't either coaxed him or decided not to correct him.  Mind you, I'm not saying it's wrong to let your dog on the bed or sofa - that's where mine stay!  But on a muddy day, I know I'll have a lot of extra work both before and after they come into the house.

Before your puppy comes home you should have acquired a "crate" or, at the very least, a portable gate to fence off a portion of the house for the puppy.    You should crate the puppy whenever you cannot supervise his activities.

Some people will look at a standard dog crate made of metal or plastic and erroneously assume it's cruel to confine a dog to a small space. In fact, getting your puppy accustomed to a crate has many benefits for both of you.  First, it give a dog a sense of enclosed shelter and security, which it would seek in the wild.  (Many an adult dog still retreats to the relative peace and safety of his open crate when the house is full of noisy visitors.)  Second, it keeps a young dog from getting into unforeseen trouble when you're not around.  And third, it is a tremendous aid in housebreaking.

Socialization of pups must start early.It is not, however, an instant housebreaking solution.  While it's generally true that a dog will not soil the place where he sleeps, it can take a while for a puppy to catch on to that idea.  For that reason, for house training a puppy I prefer a plastic crate with nothing but the puppy in it - no toys, food or blankets.  The plastic cleans up easily, and contains the mess until I can get to it.

As puppies and cleaning are synonymous, so are puppies and staining.   If you're a finicky housekeeper, prepare yourself for extra work.  For help in dealing with assorted stains and disasters, a very good book to read is Pet Clean Up Made Easy, by Don Aslett.  It contains excellent suggestions for preventing , cleaning and controlling any animal mess. 

House Breaking and Other Fun

Once you've arrived home with your puppy from the breeder or the pound, your first lessons will commence almost immediately if this is to be a house dog.  Of course, I'm talking about housebreaking or getting your dog to use the great outdoors for his bathroom rather than your brand new carpet.

But first, a few things to keep in mind.  One is that a seven-week-old puppy already has established Dog Training behavior patterns, and as far as the puppy is concerned, nothing is "wrong" in his eyes.  Another is that it is easier to get a puppy or dog to "do" something than to "stop doing" or "not do" something.  And the longer you are unsuccessful at trying to stop a particular behavior, the more likely it is that you will have to resort to more severe methods of discipline.

So from the very start, while dog training consists of both positive and negative (reward the good and reprimand the bad) aspects, it is to everyone's benefit to stress the positive side.

When your puppy first arrives at his new home and needs to relieve himself, convenience is going to be his only concern.  If it is easier for him to relieve himself inside the house when he feels the urge, then he will take the easy way out.

Stay! Very good boy... I like to think that most situations and solutions in dog training have three elements - philosophy, method, and technique.  Let's apply this to housebreaking.  Your "philosophy" is to have a (relatively) clean house despite the arrival of an exuberant, messy puppy.  The "method", therefore, is to know the signs of when your puppy is about to eliminate - crouching and straining after play, after eating and drinking, or upon waking.  "Technique" comes into play here by getting him outside at the right time by walking him,  kenneling him or even quickly carrying him. 

Our training is only limited by two things - how faithful we are at carrying out our part of this dynamic, and realizing that the puppy part of the team really doesn't care about the outcome!  Remember, the dog cares only about convenience at this point, so getting him to relieve himself to your satisfaction depends on how good you are at being in the right place at the right time.

However, when you verbally praise him for a job well done or even give him a tiny treat, you increase is desire to cooperate.  Repetition with no mistakes is the key to teaching your dog.

Now, for the flip side of the coin.  From the dog's perspective, relieving himself in the house is not a "wrong" behavior.  So to avoid these frustrating accidents (that is, only from your perspective!), then make sure he is contained when you are unable to observe him.  A "crate, " which we have discussed earlier, is wonderful since dogs hesitate to soil the place where they sleep, and even if they have an accident, then the mess is confined to a smaller area.

Another possibility is to attach your puppy to a six or eight foot leash and keep him with you as you go about your daily chores.  If, despite your best intentions, he makes a mistake (remember, by your standards and not his!), then a firm shake on the nape of the neck coupled with a forceful "No!" and immediate removal outside should work.

Common complaints by dog owners often run along the lines that the new puppy barks too much, doesn't come when called, pulls on the leash, and bites.  All of these behaviors, of course, are things a puppy more or less does naturally, depending on his temperament.  We know that some breeds are more vocal than others, more aggressive, more exuberant, more high strung.  There are variations in temperament and noise, too, even among pups in the same litter.

To train a pup to stop unwanted barking, start as soon as you get him by making a forceful correction when he barks, every time he barks.  Give him a sharp shake or a flat-handed slap under the jaw with a verbal correction of "quiet," "no" or "out"  Once your dog has reached six or seven months, if his barking is still out of control and creates a serious problem, it may be necessary to escalate to the use of an electronic "bark collar."

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Located in the heart of Suwanee just a half mile north of the Suwanee City Hall on Buford Highway serving the Sugar Hill, Lawrenceville, Buford, Duluth, Flowery Branch and Johns Creek area Since 1989.