As much fun as puppies are, there's no doubt they're also a lot of work. Let the opportunities of puppyhood pass you by, though, and you'll end up with a poorly behaved dog. Keep in mind, always, that it's easier to prevent a problem than to fix one, and that's never so true as in raising a puppy.
You want your puppy to love you and respect you, to know his place in the family, and to feel secure and happy in it. Doing so takes training, structure and lots of loving praise.
When your puppy does something right, let him know it. The first time the little lightbulb goes off in his head connecting the word "sit" to the lowering of his rump (if you watch, you can see the workings of his mind in his eyes), be ready to tell him he's the smartest, most perfect, most beautiful and best-loved puppy in the whole history of the world the instant his little butt hits the ground. Croon to him like Bing Crosby. Pat him and stroke him.
At other times, your puppy won't be perfect, and you'll need to correct his behavior. Here are few gentle ways to send a clear message of disapproval:
-- The ol' switcheroo. Especially useful for the young puppy, this technique stops a behavior you don't want and provides the puppy with one that's acceptable. For example, if your young puppy is chewing on your nice leather shoes, make a noise to startle and distract him -- slap the counter or clap your hands -- and then give him something you do want him to chew on, a toy. When he takes it, praise him! (And put those shoes away.)
-- Ask for another behavior. With older puppies, you can stop a bad behavior by asking for a better one. Tell the puppy who's jumping up "no" and then "sit," and praise him for planting his rump on the ground.
-- The time-out. Crates, so useful for house-training, can help give you a break from your puppy, and they send him a message at the same time. Puppies thrive on your attention, sometimes even if it's negative. The time-out removes this reward and gives a pup a few minutes to think things over.
This technique is especially good for a puppy who doesn't want to keep his mouth to himself, a bad habit for any dog to get into where people are concerned. When the puppy starts nipping, tell him "no," and then clam up, pick him up, and put him in his crate for five minutes. Ignore the cries and whimpers. After he settles down, let him out without much fanfare and let him hang out with you quietly for a while.
If your puppy has been running around for a long time and just seems bratty, he may be tired. If that's the case, put him in his crate for a nap, along with a chew toy. Again, ignore his fussing. Chances are he'll be asleep in a few minutes.
If you're finding you need to do a lot of stern corrections, you may be sending your puppy mixed signals: laughing at bratty behavior sometimes, yelling at it other times. Discuss the situation with a trainer -- soon. You may have some big problems developing if you don't learn how to shape your puppy's behavior in an effective way.
And finally, try a puppy class! Puppy classes for dogs as young as 12 weeks offer puppies a chance to socialize, and you an opportunity to work with your pup under the expert eye of a trainer.
PETS ON THE WEB
The headline on the Pet Care Forum's main screen (www.vin.com/petcare) says it all: "Fleas: We hate 'em!" Click on the link, and you'll find my colleagues (at the Veterinary Information Network's pet care site) have put together the best collection on the Internet when it comes to learning more about fleas and how to eradicate them.
On the flea information page (www.vin.com/petcare/Series/Fleas.htm), you can learn about the life cycle of the pest, compare information on most flea-control products and practices, and find out about the diseases credited to these hardy little bugs. Click on "references," and you'll be offered links to veterinary journal pieces, manufacturer's information sites and more.
Most of this in-depth series was written by Dr. Stuart Turner, a longtime VIN contributor who's a critical-care veterinarian in Northern California.
THE SCOOP: Should your dogs share the use of your swimming pool? That depends on your dog, and on your tolerance for dog hair in the pool filter.
With some breeds, you should be as careful as you would be with a toddler, and surround the pool with a low fence to prevent any accidents. That's because some dogs just aren't built for swimming. Primary among them would be the bulldog, a breed that has a tendency to sink like a stone in water, making pools such a hazard that some of the breed's rescue groups won't even consider placing a bulldog in a home with an unprotected pool.
Small dogs may be able to swim just fine, but shouldn't be allowed in the pool unsupervised because they have a hard time getting out. If you have retrievers, though, or another water-loving large dog, you can probably stop worrying. Once you're sure they know where to find the steps to get out of the pool, you can let them swim to their heart's content.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I have a question to you ask about introducing cats and dogs. I have two cats, a Persian and a Siamese. My significant other has a Great Dane. We would like to introduce her dog to my two cats. Our relationship is getting pretty serious, and I would like for her to be able to bring her dog over when she stays the night. What's the best way to do this? -- W.D., via e-mail
A: In a word: slowly. Put the dog on a leash when the animals are first introduced, and be prepared for your cats to freak, especially if the presence of any dog in your home is a new experience. Correct the dog for trying to chase, ask him to sit, and praise him for proper behavior. If you have any doubts, let the dog drag his leash around in the house so you can quickly step on it and correct him if he starts to chase the cats.
Cats can take a long time to get used to having a dog in the house -- a couple of months, in some cases. Be sure that your cats have a place to eat where they can feel secure, such as a tabletop or in a room the dog can't get into. Likewise, take steps to make sure that their litter box is inaccessible to the dog. It's a good idea to move the dishes and litter box beforehand, so your cats don't have to deal with too many new things at once.
Although it doesn't seem fair to our human sensibilities, your cats may prefer to spend the adjustment period sequestered in a small room with food and water, toys, a litter box and a scratching post. A quiet, orderly life in a small, protected area helps many cats ease through the transition. When you open the door after a couple of weeks, let your cats choose how much or how little interaction they want with the new dog. Don't force the animals together, no matter how much you want them to "like each other." They need to work things out on their own. Put a baby gate across the door to the safe room, so you cats can always escape to a dog-free zone.
Most dogs and cats will work things out eventually, but some dogs can never get past the idea that cats make a tasty snack. And some cats leave home over the introduction of new pets, or avoid the litter box as a result of the stress. If that's the case, you may end having to make some difficult decisions.
Q: I have a 4-year-old border collie who is very aggressive and a biter with strangers. He spends a lot of time in the basement when we have company. I can't trust him around kids -- but if he knows you, he is a totally different dog. Behavior therapy has been mentioned, but it is not close to where we live, and I don't think it will help. I have to muzzle him at the vet's. We have a 9-year-old daughter that the dog is fine with. She is the only kid he can be near. Any ideas? -- L.T., via e-mail
A: You are living with a time bomb, and the clock is running out. Your dog has bitten and will bite again. Do not wait to take action until this animal has condemned some innocent child to a lifetime of plastic surgery.
You must find a trainer or behaviorist who can evaluate your dog, and tell you what can and cannot be done to help the situation. Be forewarned: In some cases, the only realistic course of action is to have the dog put down.
As harsh as that solution is even to contemplate, it may be a better choice for both you and the dog. The dog cannot be happy spending his life muzzled or in the basement. And you cannot be happy spending your life waiting for your dog to bite someone.
Aggression is the most serious behavior problem there is, not only because of the threat an aggressive dog poses to society, but because of the increase in anti-dog sentiment whenever a dog attacks someone. Ask your veterinarian for a referral to a trainer or behaviorist who can advise you -- and don't delay.
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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