How do you know which puppy is the right one when you're looking at a litter in someone's home or at an even larger group of puppies in a shelter? So many choices, and making the right one is very important.
How can you decide? By doing as good breeders and shelters do, by observing the puppies and by testing them. Testing is meant to get an early indication of a pup's aptitude in three critical areas: dominance, sociability and trainability.
People tend to be drawn to the boldest or the shyest pups, even though these are rarely the best choice for most situations. Dominance -- or lack of it -- is important to consider because a dog who's too bossy or too shy is difficult to train and to live with. In the cases where a dominant pup is allowed to become an aggressive dog, the problem is more than "difficult" -- such dogs are dangerous!
Sociability is important, too. Some puppies are more dog-oriented or really don't care much about anything at all. A puppy who's not curious and interested in people -- perhaps because of little or no socialization -- isn't a very good prospect as a pet.
Trainability is related to the other two qualities. It's not really about intelligence as much as it's about willingness. A people-oriented pup who's confident but not too bold is going to be easier to train.
So how do you figure out which pup has the right stuff? Take each of the puppies you're considering to a safe, secure area away from the others. Observe how each puppy reacts to the change. Tentative exploration is OK, but beware the puppy who's so terrified she won't move. Look, too, for how busy a puppy is. Playfulness is fine, but full-out go-go-go is maybe a little too much. After you've watched for a while, try these simple tests:
-- Does the puppy accept authority? Gently roll the puppy onto his back and hold him there with your hand. The pup you're looking for will fuss a little, settle down, and maybe even lick your hand. Bossy pups usually keep struggling and biting, and the shyest ones generally freeze in terror.
-- Is the puppy interested in people? Put the puppy down facing you. Walk a few steps away, bend over and call to him (bending over makes you less intimidating). If the puppy seems a little tentative, crouch and open your arms. You're not "ordering" the pup -- he doesn't know what you want, after all. You're trying to see how attracted he is to a nice person. Call gently, click your tongue, rattle your keys. The puppy you want will probably trot over happily, perhaps after a slight hesitation. The bossy puppy may come over and nip and jump at you, and the shy one may not move except to shiver in terror. The one who doesn't care a bit about people may go investigate a bug in the corner of the room.
-- Does the puppy want your affection? Praising and petting are integral parts of training and communicating with your dogs, and finding a puppy who wants affection is important. Talk to the puppy lovingly and stroke him, but let him decide whether he stays with you or not -- don't hold him. The medium puppy will probably lick your hands and be glad to stay with you. Rolling over is OK, and don't be surprised if he urinates a little. Called "submissive urination," this gesture is kind of a canine compliment, a recognition that you're "top dog." A puppy who bites hard is probably dominant and unsocialized, and the one who wants nothing to do with you probably isn't people-oriented enough. Stay away, too, from the one who's terrified of being touched.
Ideally, you'll be discussing your observations with shelter staff or the reputable breeder whose pups you're considering. It's important at this stage to listen to your head, not your heart. Pick a puppy with a temperament that's likely to produce a good pet for you and your family. The right pup has the best chance to grow up to be the dog you're dreaming of.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Delta Society (www.deltasociety.org) is an organization dedicated to making the most out of the natural bond between people and animals. The group provides information and resources on a variety of topics, including dogs who serve people with disabilities and animal-assisted therapy programs, such as those that take animals into nursing homes or provide therapeutic horseback riding for disabled children and adults. Delta also offers a variety of publications and recognizes groups and individuals with a variety of annual awards. The site is clean, well-designed and easy to navigate, and offers lots to learn on this extraordinary group.
Would you know what to do if your dog became overheated? Frantic panting and glassy eyes are early signs of a dog in trouble, and you need to cool him off and get help. While some sources recommend using ice to cool down a dog, emergency-care veterinarians say that's dangerous. Instead, apply as much cool -- not cold -- water as you can to your dog's body, and rush him to the vet's as soon as possible. Heat can be lethal quickly, so don't take any chances. And don't forget that the best "treatment" for heat-related problems is preventive. Make sure your dog always has a shade and water, and don't push him to exercise in the hottest part of the day. Older or obese dogs, or short-nosed dogs such as pugs or boxers are at the greatest risk, as are those with black coats such as Rottweilers.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I was given a cat to care for by a family down my street when they went on vacation. Four weeks into the deal, I notice a "sold" sign on their door. They had moved!
This little kitten is only about 10 weeks old and loves me to death. I don't know anything about her, her shot records or anything. I don't know if I can even take her to a vet to check her out, because technically, she's not mine. What do I do? -- A.S., via e-mail
A: Would you believe yours was my fourth letter about an abandoned pet in a week? At least the kitten you write about was left in good hands -- yours. Hell isn't hot enough for people who leave pets to fend for themselves.
The laws on abandoned or stray animals vary from community to community. I would call your local animal-control department and humane society to see what they recommend you do. Check, too, with the post office and phone company for forwarding information -- you might be able to contact the kitten's previous owners directly and make sure they intended that you keep the kitten. (I can't imagine they care one way or the other, but knowing for sure is always good.)
In the meantime, take the kitten to your veterinarian for routine preventive care as recommended. I suspect from the obvious affection you have for this little girl, you'll probably be ending up with her. But even if you opt to find her a home, you'll have an easier time of it if you can show that she's healthy.
Q: I am interested in purchasing a round floor-model cage for my pet parrots. Both my parrots have large square cages now, but I would like to keep them in a different part of the house during the evening hours. The room will accommodate a round cage much better than a square cage. It would be only for short periods of time.
I've been told by a woman who has many birds that it is not healthy to house parrots in a round cage. Is there any truth to this? -- B.P., via the Internet
A: Large cages with square corners are indeed a better choice, especially when they are designed to offer nearly as much horizontal as vertical space. Round cages don't offer as much "living room" as similarly sized cages with square corners. Most round cages are also too narrow.
Because your parrots spend most of their time in appropriate cages, though, I don't see any reason why a little time each evening in round cages would hurt them. Indeed, I see advantages, if these additional cages allow them to spend more time with you.
Whatever cage you buy, be sure the bar spacing is proper for your pets. The basic bar spacing for cockatiels is about three-quarters of an inch, with larger spacing for Amazons and macaws. Make sure, too, that connections are smooth and free of obvious welds, which parrots can chew and swallow, and become ill as a result.
An option to round cages worth considering is a large play gym. These come in all sizes, materials and designs, and are widely available from reputable bird shops, catalogs or online retailers, or in the back of bird magazines. A play gym will keep your birds near you while offering lots to chew on and play with -- and that's always good for these busybodies.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies" and "Cats for Dummies," and is affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to WriteToGina(at)YourPetPlace.com.
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