Doing something right in the first place is always preferable to trying to undo and then redo, and that's as true in raising a puppy as with any other endeavor. If you remember never to let a puppy get away behavior you wouldn't tolerate in an adult dog, you're well on your way to raising a well-mannered canine companion.
It's simple in theory, but in truth, time slips away and puppies grow up quickly. That's why so many people end up with a dog who got away with just about everything as puppy and whose brattiness isn't very adorable anymore.
Some people never get the chance to raise their dogs right, since they adopt their pets as adults, complete with errant behaviors and bad attitudes that no one ever bothered to correct.
These dogs typically don't listen and don't consider a human to be in charge -- even if the animals are very good-natured in their lack of respect. Sometimes the situation can become dangerous: A dog with dominant tendencies who doesn't understand his proper role in the family may be on track to attack if his self-perceived authority is challenged.
The good news is that for most dogs it's not that difficult get the situation turned around, with a simple and consistent approach to your family's handling of your pet. (The exception: dogs who are already showing signs of dominance or aggression. For them I recommend the help of a veterinary behaviorist or trainer with expertise in canine aggression, and the sooner the better.)
If your dog doesn't seem to be paying attention, you need to lay the foundation for good behavior by showing your dog with every interaction that he is no longer the boss of the household. Call it "learning by earning," if you will. The bottom line: Your dog doesn't get anything he likes until he does something you want.
Here's how it works. Start with the basics of dog obedience -- sit and stay. Chances are your dog already knows these commands. If not, check out a class, book or video to help you teach him. Once your dog understands and performs these behaviors more or less on command, you're going to use them to reinforce your authority, gently but persistently.
Ask your dog to sit before you put his leash on for a walk. To sit before you pet him (which will also keep him from jumping up) or throw a toy for him to fetch. To sit and stay when his bowl is placed before him, and hold that position until released. To sit and stay before the door is opened, to sit and stay before being let out of the car into the park and so on. Be patient: Your dog will soon catch on to the new world order, as long as you're consistent in insisting on his good behavior before good things come his way.
No sit, no reward, no discussion.
What's the point? A dog who sits for what he wants won't be jumping all over you, knocking over children, guests or your fragile Aunt Sarah. That in itself is worth the effort.
But the real beauty is what's happening deep down. Without raising your voice, jerking a leash, spanking or otherwise roughly handling your dog, you've made it clear to him that you are in charge. And that's going to make everything else about living with and training your dog easier.
PETS ON THE WEB
The Westminster Kennel Club dog show is arguably the best known of all canine events, and it draws a lot of attention from pet lovers who don't know or care much about these sometimes confusing competitions. The telecast always leaves people wondering: How exactly do judges decide which beautiful dog should win?
If you're among those wondering -- or even if you consider yourself a canine expert -- you might enjoy You Be the Judge (www.worldclassdogs.com/YouBeTheJudge.asp), a Web site designed to give you an idea of what it's like to hand out the ribbons. Noted judge and illustrator Robert Cole offers several examples of dogs in many different breeds, and then reveals which dog was his pick at the end, and why.
A bottle of children's bubble solution has always been an entertaining and inexpensive way to get many cats to play. Now a company called WorldWise has gone a step better, combining bubble solution with something else adored by many cats -- catnip. The manufacturer says its SmartyKat BubbleNip is made from non-toxic ingredients safe for both pets and household surfaces, and contains certified organic catnip to enhance feline interest. Each bottle contains 8 fluid ounces and retails from $2.99 to $4.99. You'll find it at many large department stores or grocery chains.
QUESTIONS FROM THE PACK
Q: I had a good laugh at the parrot story in your recent column as it reminded me of one of my own. Years ago, a pet store in Palo Alto, Calif., received a magnificent double-yellow-headed Amazon and hung the bird's cage out on the sidewalk for all to see and hear.
Because the bird had been imported from Mexico, it spoke (exceedingly well and all the time) in Spanish. For a while, all the conversation went untranslated until a graduate student in languages from Stanford passed by and stopped to practice his Spanish on the bird.
After a few minutes he went into the store and told them they had better send the bird back from where they got it, as its vocabulary was made up exclusively of horrifying obscenities.
The upshot of the whole thing was that the pet shop owners upped the price of the bird, advertised the fact that his Spanish was indescribably obscene and sold it in a matter of days after having had it on sale for weeks! -– P.F., via e-mail
A: Great story! Birds, like children, do say the darndest things. When I was working on my book "Birds for Dummies," my co-author and I thought about including a chapter on some of the most incredible things parrots have ever said. We soon dropped the idea because we realized too many parrots have a vocabulary that would not be appropriate for polite society.
Instead, we included a chapter of bird jokes. Here's one of my favorites, which just happens to be on the topic of birds with bad vocabularies:
A lady had a female parrot who wouldn't stop swearing. She tried everything and was constantly embarrassed by her pet's gutter mouth. Her fiance's parents were coming over to dinner to meet her, and she was desperate to clean up her bird's language.
A friend of hers had two male parrots with perfect company manners. One said the rosary all day, and the other repeated Hail Marys. She thought the pair would be a good influence on her bird, so she made arrangements to bring them over for a visit.
The boy parrots settled in and looked over at the girl parrot. "OK," says one to the other. "You can knock off the praying now. We got what we asked for."
Q: Every winter my husband makes fun of me for putting a sweater on our dog, a shorthaired terrier mix. He says it's not necessary, even here in the Northeast, where we get lots of bitter cold and plenty of snow. But Hildy likes her sweater and wiggles into it happily. Where's the harm? -- H.R., via e-mail
A: You're right: There's no harm in a dog sweater. And for some dogs, there's a lot of good.
Dogs who will benefit from the extra warmth -- especially in very cold climates -- include those who are older or shorthaired. Add to the list those of a lean body type such as whippets, Italian greyhounds and greyhounds.
For any of these dogs, a sweater can be a real kindness. For other dogs ... well, what's wrong with a fashion statement, just for fun?
On a winter night outside an ocean-front restaurant on the Pacific Coast, I once ran into a dog who could not have been better or more appropriately dressed. The dog was a beautiful Sheltie, walking up the sidewalk wearing a red plaid rain slicker with a matching leash. The wind was blowing so hard it was pushing the rain sideways, but that Sheltie looked quite content.
Huddled in a cheap, ugly jacket, I envied him his stylish and practical attire.
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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