You can see in your puppy today what our ancestors saw when this astonishing trans-species relationship was just forming. In the eyes of that wolf cub thousands of years ago was the same thing that anyone who has ever taken home a puppy since can't help but notice: the beginning of a beautiful friendship.
There's no doubt, though, that many of these beautiful beginnings go badly wrong, and experts spend a great deal of time trying to find out why in hopes of stemming the flow of half-grown dogs into the nation's shelters. Wrong choices, bad timing and poor planning all play a part, but in many instances "too little" is the sorry epitaph that marks the end of a once-promising relationship. Too little time, too little training.
You don't want this to happen to you and your new puppy. Your concern is for your puppy and making sure he turns out the way you want him to. You don't want to be living with a canine terror a year from now, and you certainly don't want to be finding him another home because you can't handle him anymore.
You can make up a lot of ground with a puppy who wasn't raised under the best of circumstances before you got him, or you can totally undo the careful breeding and handling of your pup by a knowledgeable and reputable breeder. The decision is completely up to you. Ignore your puppy or raise him wrong, and you'll both be sorry.
Forget everything you ever heard about starting training at 6 months. Your puppy starts learning the moment he's born. By the time you get him, at 7 to 10 weeks of age, he's as absorbent as a bath towel, taking in the sights and sounds of his world and trying to figure out his place in it. The answer he arrives at on his own may be quite different from the one you want him to have, which is why you need to be involved in the process.
It's not that complicated, really. Your puppy wants to be part of your family, and he craves loving leadership. Just keep a few things in mind as you enjoy your youngster.
-- Bond with your puppy. Dogs are social animals. Don't throw your pup into the back yard, however nice the dog house you've put there. Make your pup a member of your family.
-- Socialize your puppy. Be careful with this until all the puppy shots are done -- no parks or areas where other dogs frequent. You don't want your puppy getting sick. But after the veterinarian gives the go-ahead, pull out all the stops. Expose your pup to all the sights, sounds, smells, people and other animals that you can.
-- Never let your puppy do anything you wouldn't want a grown dog to do. Puppies jumping up are cute. Dogs doing the same are not. It's always easier to prevent a problem than to try to fix it later.
-- Teach your puppy using positive methods, and make training fun! The dog-training world has made great strides in developing positive training techniques. Find a book, a tape, a class -- or all three -- that will help you make the most of these exciting new ways to train. And don't overlook a puppy class: They're great for socialization.
-- Realize your puppy will make mistakes, and don't get angry when he does. Puppies are babies! Don't expect perfection and don't be heavy-handed. It's better to distract and redirect puppies than to punish them.
Love your puppy, play with your puppy, enjoy your puppy. But you should always -- always -- be thinking of how you're molding this little baby into the confident, obedient dog of your dreams. Time passes all too quickly in the life a puppy. A couple of critical weeks, once past, are gone forever. So take the time. Make the effort. And don't delay.
Next week I'll give you some tips for house-training that pup.
PETS ON THE WEB
Still struggling with a name? Try the Web site A Zillion Puppy Dog Names (www.puppyshop.com/names/names.htm). Not a zillion, whatever that is, but a respectable amount, in several different categories such as "double names" (Cloak and Dagger), triple names (April, May and June), and names by country of origin (German names for German breeds, Irish names for Irish breeds and so on). Don't forget checking out name books for human babies, too. I have quite a few of them, including a dog-eared one I bought when 13-year-old Andy joined my family. He came within a hair's breadth of being named "Robin," as the scribbles in the margin clearly reveal.
Who knows what pets like to listen to? At the Best Friends Animal Sanctuary in Kanab, Utah, they play New Age music for their feline residents. The natural sounds -- such as those of birds -- keep them entertained, they say. I don't know about that, but I can vouch that the three-CD set of "Pet Music" kept me entertained. Marketed to reduce pet stress and separation anxiety, the collection offers more than three hours of soothing sounds, a nice mix of instrumentals and nature. You can find the collection for $19.99 (and often less) at pet-supply stores, in catalogs or from online retailers.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have a puppy who was born with his back legs paralyzed. He is in need of a dog wheelchair. I have seen a device on TV that lets a dog roam free, but no one has said how to get one. My puppy is suffering. You may have information I cannot get my hands on. Please help. -- D.P., via e-mail
A: The K9 Cart Co. has been making this product for more than 30 years, saving the lives of hundreds of dogs. The carts support and gently cradle the hind end of impaired dogs and allow them to propel themselves forward with their front legs. Prices for the custom-built carts range from $220 to $430 (extra for options such as mountain bike tires for more active dogs). To reach K9 Carts, call 1-800-578-6960, or visit the Web at www.k9carts.com.
You will run into people who will question your decision to put your dog into such a device. Some will think it's silly, or even disgusting, and some will even think it's cruel. That's their problem! Don't let the naysayers dissuade you. I have met a few dogs who use carts for mobility, and they have led happy lives and continue to bring joy into the lives of their human caretakers. Caring for such a dog requires a greater level of commitment, but if you are up to the challenge, let your heart be your guide.
Q: My Siamese cat is ruining my sweaters! She chews big holes in them, and I can't stand to lose any more. How can I get her to stop? - H.M., via e-mail
A: Some cats like to chew and suck on clothes, especially wool sweaters -- a problem behaviorists call wool-chewing or fabric chewing, since some cats are just as fond of cotton or other fabrics. This destructive habit was originally thought to be associated with cats who'd been weaned too young, but now behaviorists believe that the tendency is genetic and more common in some breeds or mixes than in others. The primary culprits are Siamese and other so-called "Oriental" breeds such as the Burmese. No one knows why these breeds and mixes are more likely than others to indulge in this habit.
Increasing fiber in the diet by adding a teaspoon of canned pumpkin daily eases these tendencies, as may offering substitute chew articles such as sheepskin-covered dog toys. Regular, active play sessions will rid your cat of some of her excess energy. A veterinary behaviorist may also be able to help, with the prescribing of anti-obsessive medication and the development of a specific behavior-modification program for your pet. It's a cheaper option than a drawer full of sweaters, that's for sure!
Cheaper still is changing your own behavior. Keep the objects of your cat's obsession out of reach in closed hampers or drawers.
Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also 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)spadafori.com.
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