Before a stray puppy came into my home last month, I hadn't spent more than an hour or two at a time in the company of puppies for many a year. The last two dogs to join my family came to me as adults, and both were already house-trained and had some basic training.
Within a day or two of the puppy's arrival, I was reminded both of how much fun a puppy can be and also of how much work. Which is why when Molly went to her new home, I felt both sadness and unmistakable relief. No more puppy crazies, no more puppy accidents. No more puppy fun, either, but at least the house was quiet again.
As adorable as puppies can be, anyone who's raising one will tell you that they can drive you crazy. To get through those sometimes trying months and come out with the dog you want, always remember two things in dealing with puppies: Be patient and be positive.
Every puppy needs to be guided on the road to good behavior, and along the way many a puppy strays off the path into trouble. The best way to avoid problems is to set up your home and your handling of the puppy so his only choice is to do what's right and get praised for it. But what if your puppy makes a mistake?
A verbal correction, properly timed and correctly delivered, is usually all you need. Speak low and sharply, but don't yell at your puppy. Really, all you're doing is providing a distraction to stop and then redirect the errant behavior.
Here are a few more 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 guides the puppy to 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, such as a toy. When he takes it, praise him.
With older puppies, you can stop a bad behavior by asking for a better one. Ask the puppy who's jumping up to "sit" -- and praise or give him a treat for doing so. Tell him once, and if he doesn't mind (to be fair, be sure he understands what you want), gently guide him into a sit, and then praise and treat.
-- The time-out. Puppies thrive on your attention, even if it's negative. The time-out removes this reward. 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 them clam up, pick him up and put him in a crate or other small, safe area for a few minutes. Ignore the cries and whimpers. After a few minutes of quiet, let him out without fanfare and let him hang out with you gently 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 down for a nap in a crate or small area, along with a chew toy. Again, ignore his fussing. Chances are he'll be asleep in a few minutes.
Corrections have their place in puppy-raising, but in general a positive approach is much preferred by today's dog-training experts. If you find yourself resorting to any of these techniques constantly, you could probably do with some help from a trainer to spot what you're doing wrong with your puppy and to make some constructive suggestions.
Better yet, get your youngster into puppy classes once he's had the last of his puppy shots. A well-run puppy class offers your new pet essential socialization and introduces the concept of good manners in a fun and pleasant way for you both.
Don't let your puppy grow up to be a monster. Be patient and positive, and be sparing with corrections. And don't forget: Get help at the first sign of trouble and you'll save yourself a lot of trouble down the road.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Morris Animal Foundation (www.morrisanimalfoundation.org) funds research at veterinary schools and colleges that seeks to cure some of the diseases that claim the lives of companion animals. Founded in 1948 by veterinarian Mark Morris (who founded the company now known as Hill's Pet Nutrition), the foundation has given more than $25 million for more than 1,000 animal-health studies. The foundation's Web site offers detailed information on studies in progress, and on upcoming events.
In the wild, reports Melissa Kaplan in her marvelous book "Iguanas for Dummies" (Hungry Minds, $19.99), iguanas keep themselves sort of clean by rubbing against rough bark or dousing themselves in swimming holes. In captivity, rough bark and swimming holes are rare, which is why Kaplan recommends frequent -- as often as daily -- bathing for these pets.
Fill the bathtub chest-deep to the iguana and let the pet enjoy the warm water -- no soap, please! -- to his heart's content. Blot the animal dry with a towel and return to the enclosure before thoroughly disinfecting the tub.
An important note of caution: If there are children or immune-compromised individuals in the home, use a completely separate bathtub for the iguana. Even with careful disinfecting, the consequences of bacterial infection for immune-compromised folks are too dire to take any chances.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: Have you heard of shorthaired cats shedding tremendously? I have a white part-Siamese cat who sheds wherever he touches. -- T.A., via e-mail
A: Assuming the fur coat looks healthy -- sleek, shiny and full with no bare patches -- your cat is probably shedding a normal amount, which is to say constantly.
It's a myth that longhaired pets shed more than shorthaired ones. The former just appear to shed more because the hairs they lose are more visible. Your cat's shedding may seem more prolific because the fur is white, and thus shows easily on any dark-colored piece of clothing.
You can't stop shedding, nor should you try to. It's a normal process for a healthy cat in which old fur is replaced by new. You can reduce the impact of shedding by grooming your cat daily. After all, the fur you catch on a brush won't show up on your clothes or furniture.
For shorthaired cats, try a grooming glove. These have nubs to catch the fur while you're petting your cat. A couple of minutes a day will collect a large amount of the loose fur that's ready to be shed.
Q: I think you have a cool job, and I want one like it. How does one start writing about pets? -- A.T., via e-mail
A: You start by wanting to, and by caring about animals. I like to recommend taking a class in free-lance writing, which you can often find at a community college. These courses teach you the basics of marketing your ideas, contacting editors and more. You can also find books on the business of writing, including those put out by the publishing arm of Writer's Digest magazine.
A great way to break in is by writing for the newsletters or magazines of nonprofit groups, such as animal shelters, breed clubs or pet-therapy groups. While they generally don't pay, these publications will provide you with the experience and clips you need to show to editors at national publications.
Read the publications you want to write for to get a feel for the subject matter they're interested in. You wouldn't want to pitch an anti-hunting piece to a hunting-dog magazine, for example, or a pro-hunting piece to an animal-rights magazine. You also need to know what has been covered lately, so you don't waste your time or the editor's pitching an idea that's already been done.
Finally, consider joining the Dog Writers Association of America (www.dwaa.org) or the Cat Writers' Association (www.catwriters.org). These groups support and encourage people who write about animals through an annual conference (co-sponsored by both groups) and competitions (held by each). Sorry, there are no groups (at least not yet) for those who write about reptiles, birds or rodent pets.
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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