By Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp
Universal Press Syndicate
Puppies constantly try new behaviors to see what pays off for them. In the wild, this early trial-and-error form of learning would be critical for survival. In our homes, constantly trying new things is how a puppy learns to fit in with his new family.
Think about what puppies do from a puppy's point of view and you'll know they're not just trying to be naughty. "If I bang on the food dish, will I get fed?" "If I put my paws on your knees, do I get your attention?" "If I sit under the table when you are eating, do I get handouts?" Puppies are always carefully noting the results of their behavior, and things that work to their benefit will certainly be repeated, for good or bad.
When you let your puppy choose his own way to communicate what he needs and wants, you are more likely to end up with a dog whose rude behaviors annoy you. That's why it's essential to take control of your puppy's peak learning period -- before the age of 16 weeks -- and teach him how to behave on your terms, not his.
We've distilled what you need to know into six easy rules so you can help guide your puppy through the important period of early learning.
-- Supervise your puppy. Punishing a puppy before he knows right from wrong is unfair. The biggest mistake people make in the first 24 hours home is allowing the pup to roam the house freely, punishing him when a mess is found. Instead, supervise your puppy. When you can catch the circle-and-sniff behavior, carry the pup outdoors to the designated potty area. When you can't watch your puppy, limit his roaming to a small bathroom or laundry room with a crate on one end for naps and a doggy potty area on the other with non-destructible chew toys in the middle.
-- Show the puppy what's right. Don't just run around yelling, "No! No! No!" Instead, teach your puppy what's acceptable, and reward him for doing right. Puppies can learn to come, sit, lie down, wait, watch, stay and even do tricks beginning at 8 weeks of age. Reinforce a puppy's good behavior with food, toys and attention, and your pup will become an attentive pupil.
-- Teach your puppy adult dog rules. When large breed dogs are puppies, having them put their paws up is both cute and convenient. But it's unfair and unrealistic to expect a puppy to realize the rules change when he gets larger. If you don't want a 130-pound bull mastiff putting his paws up on people or his big fanny on your couch, the time to teach him is when he's a puppy. It's always easier to teach good behaviors than to correct unwanted ones.
-- Don't hit your puppy, ever. Begin a hand-feeding routine that includes gently massaging him while you feed him. Your puppy needs to learn your hands are powerful but never a threat. Lift your puppy like a toddler, feet dangling, and hug him. Hold your pup tighter if he wiggles, and release him as soon as he relaxes. Teach your puppy a little frustration tolerance, but never allow him to panic or feel pain.
-- Teach your puppy not to bite. During play, teach him gentle mouthing with a cue word such as "gently." Once your puppy knows what "gently" means, you can teach him not to mouth you at all. Provide non-destructible chew toys and praise all appropriate chewing. And don't play tug-of-war games until your pup has learned to sit and give a toy on request.
-- Take field trips. Give your puppy friendly introductions to as many people, other animals, places and things as possible. Give praise for bravery and friendly behaviors you want to encourage. Teach your pup to sit to greet people. Even better: Take your puppy to a puppy socialization class, and consider a reputable day-care program.
Seem like a lot of work? You bet it is! But the effort you put into raising your puppy properly will pay off with good behavior for life.
(Animal behavior experts Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp are members of the Pet Connection team. For more information, visit their Web site at AnimalBehavior.net.)
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books.
On PetConnection.com there's more information on pets and their care, reviews of products, books and "dogmobiles," and a weekly drawing for pet-care prizes. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper by sending e-mail to email@example.com or visiting PetConnection.com.
Hit 'snooze' on pet alarm clock
Q: Our year-old golden retriever wakes up early every day and pesters us until we get out of bed. It seems she's waking us up earlier and earlier, and she doesn't let us sleep in on the weekends. She pesters us for her breakfast -- and then she goes back to sleep! We're ready to throw her outside before we go to bed. Any ideas? -- E.S., via e-mail
A: Your dog is waking you up earlier and earlier because she has figured out that the sooner you're out of bed, the sooner she will get breakfast. Smart girl, huh?
You need to take away her reward for waking you. Do not make feeding your dog the first thing on her morning agenda -- or yours. Instead, pick the paper off the porch, make yourself breakfast, take a shower, etc. Then, when your needs are met, address hers. You need to break the connection in your dog's head between her getting you out of bed and then getting her breakfast.
Don't react to her alarm clock act. Don't get up and don't yell. Just ignore her. You'll have a difficult time doing this at first, but your dog will finally come to understand which behaviors alter your actions, and which don't. The ones that don't work, she'll drop. When waking you up doesn't work for her anymore, she'll learn to rise when you do.
Above all, be patient. Young retrievers are often big, bouncy pests until they mature, which eventually happens between the age of 2 and 4. She's a big puppy now, but you'll start noticing a serious trend toward mellow as she leaves her adolescence.
More exercise will also help your dog. Even though I haven't a clue as to how much exercise your dog gets currently, there's no such thing as enough activity for a large, year-old dog of an active breed like the golden retriever.
Before turning in at night, make sure your dog gets as much exercise as possible, such as a heart-thumping game of fetch. That'll help your pet sleep well and maybe sleep later, too. -- Gina Spadafori
Breaking the habit
Q: I have a Jack Russell terrier who's an outside dog. I have a problem with him eating cigarette butts. I have taken him to the veterinarian countless times for it. Do you know anything I can do to get him to stop? -- T.L., via e-mail
A: Your dog is probably eating things he shouldn't because he's lonely, bored and looking for some way to fill his empty days. Few dogs are happy as outdoor dogs, and an intelligent and active dog like the Jack Russell will find something to do when left to his own devices -- and chances are, it won't be something you'll like.
Bring your dog inside and make him part of your family, and increase the amount of exercise you provide for both his mind and his body. Provide him with safe chewing alternatives, especially when you cannot supervise his behavior. Stuffing peanut butter and bits of dog treats into a Kong chew or other "food puzzle" toy will keep your dog busy trying to chew out the goodies.
As for any remaining interest your dog has in cigarette butts, the responsibility for keeping them out of your pet's mouth is yours. Keep any areas your dog frequents clear of anything you don't want him to chew on or swallow. That means teaching yourself to pick up the cigarette butts, for the safety of your dog. -- Gina Spadafori
(Do you have a pet question? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
ON GOOD BEHAVIOR
Kittens must learn not to bite hands
Kittens begin to play-fight with littermates at around 6 weeks of age. This behavior provides healthy exercise and teaches important social skills.
You may end up with an aggressive cat if you allow your kitten to bite or scratch you, even in play. It's harder to change the rules as your kitten grows. Instead, redirect this natural behavior by using a variety of toys for interactive play. Let the toy be the target, not you!
Keep play realistic. Move a feather toy around like a bird, a laser light like a bug, or a string like a mouse tail. This action allows your kitten to exercise natural behaviors in acceptable ways. Keep play interesting by varying the game and toy every five minutes, and allow your kitten to win by pouncing on the object. Toss a treat in here or there to spice things up. -- Susan and Dr. Rolan Tripp
ON THE WEB
In praise of pet chickens
Chickens can be wonderful pets, if you live where you're allowed to keep them. After all, not many pets can provide you not only with affection and entertainment but also eggs! While your neighbors might not appreciate the sunrise serenades of roosters, hens can fit comfortably into most suburban and rural environments.
The Backyard Chickens Web site (www.backyardchickens.com) is a welcoming place for would-be chicken keepers and experts alike, with information on choosing and caring for chickens, images of some incredible coops and message boards for getting help from other chicken fans. -- Dr. Marty Becker
Keep on top of canine ear problems
A dog's ear canals are much longer and more L-shaped than the human ear canal. Similar to the elbow in the drain underneath the kitchen sink, a dog's ear canal is the perfect place for debris and microbes to gather. This area is often wet and warm. And when it's filled with bacteria, fungi, ear mites or yeast, it becomes the perfect environment for an ear infection.
A foul odor coming from the ears is one sign there's a problem. Head-shaking or ear-scratching are others.
Especially prone to ear infections are the flop-eared retriever and spaniel breeds, as well as long-eared dogs such as basset hounds or bloodhounds. These pets have ears that hang over the entrance to the ear canal, preventing the canals from ever drying out. Allergies can also play a role in many chronic ear problems.
Prevention is always the best medicine. Ask your veterinarian to recommend a product that dissolves wax and debris gently but thoroughly, and is easy on the surrounding tissues. To clean the ear flap, pull the ear straight out from the head at an almost 90-degree angle and apply the ear solution. Once the cleaning solution is in the ear, massage the base of the ear with your fingers for about 30 seconds.
A good head-shake from your dog will get rid of the excess solution, and a small food reward will thank him for his tolerance. Then wrap a small piece of gauze or light cloth around your index finger and probe the outer part of the ear canal to wipe clean the wax and debris that the fluid has loosened. Don't use a cotton swab, as it's possible to go too deep and break the eardrum.
If your pet is prone to ear infections, work with your veterinarian to discover why and correct the problem. Ear infections are painful, and chronic ear infections can lead to hearing loss and other problems. You'll want to know how to best protect your dog from the suffering that goes with this common health problem. -- Dr. Marty Becker
BY THE NUMBERS
This chew's for you
Dogs like to chew, and people like them to chew in ways that won't destroy things around the house. That's why chew toys are tops on the list of items purchased by dog lovers within the last year. Items purchased (multiple answers allowed):
Chew toys 52 percent
Stain remover 32 percent
Leash 22 percent
ID tag 20 percent
Bed 18 percent
Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association
Better perches for happy birds
The plain wooden dowels that come standard with any birdcage are boring, both to look at and to perch on. Your bird will love it if you substitute natural branches, and it probably won't cost you a dime if you have access to trees to take trimmings from. Branches from most fruit trees (apple, almond, peach and all citrus) and some others (ash, elm, dogwood and manzanita) make wonderful perches.
These natural perches feel good under your pet's feet, and provide both entertainment and exercise when your bird chews them up. Strip leaves from the branches, look carefully for insect egg pods, and then remove any you find so you don't bring any pests indoors. Scrub the branches with soap and water, rinse thoroughly, and allow them to air-dry before putting them in your bird's cage to make sure you're not exposing your pet to any pesticide residue. When the branches get chewed up, just replace them. -- Gina Spadafori
Pet Connection is produced by a team of team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of several best-selling pet-care books. Contact Pet Connection in care of this newspaper, by sending e-mail to email@example.com or by visiting PetConnection.com.
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