Puppies grow up too soon, as anyone who has ever loved one can tell you. When your pup has grown, you've lost not only some of the cuteness, but also a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get him off to a good start in life.
It's always easier to prevent problems than to try to fix them later, and one of the most important ways to do this is by socializing your puppy.
Introduce a puppy to all the new things you can -- people, places and other animals. When a puppy isn't exposed to new things, social development stops or even regresses. The goal of socializing is a confident, outgoing dog who isn't shy or aggressive. A good pet, in other words.
"But wait!" you say. "What about disease? My veterinarian told me to keep my puppy at home until his last puppy shot. And you're saying I should go out? Is that safe?"
Your veterinarian is right: Your puppy is at risk for contracting diseases from other dogs before his full immunity is in place. This is why you shouldn't go anywhere where dogs you do not know hang out -- parks, dog events or pet stores -- until your veterinarian gives the go-ahead. But that doesn't mean you should leave your puppy at home.
Use common sense. Plan safe outings. And take a puppy class, because the trainers know the risks and work to minimize them by keeping the training area sanitized. And when that last puppy shot is in, at 14 to 16 weeks, pull out all the stops when it comes to socialization.
Why take any chances at all? Because doing so is important. An unsocialized dog, whether fearful or aggressive, is at a high risk for ending up in a shelter, with little chance at being adopted again. Some experts argue that, in the long run, behavior problems kill more dogs than parvovirus does, which puts the importance of proper and safe socialization in perspective.
Dogs are genetically predisposed to have more potential to become part of human society than wolves or coyotes, but it's not always easy for them. When you give your pup an understanding that living with humans means that new adventures are not to be feared, you are sharing a wonderful gift.
So socialize, and remember that the world is full of scary things, especially to a little puppy. At times, even the boldest of puppies is paralyzed with uncertainty when faced with something he's never seen before. Your response to his fear is very important.
Don't soothe your pup. Petting him and saying, "It's OK, baby" (or something similar) gives your puppy the idea that being scared is OK and that you're rewarding him for the behavior. Instead, be matter-of-fact and encouraging.
Let him work it out, and when he takes that step forward, praise him for his courage. Then move on, one more step into your life together.
Older dog may be best
choice for older cat
Q: We have had a cat since before we got married, and I raised her from a kitten. She's 12, happy and healthy. We also have a 7-year-old son, and he wants a dog. We've agreed, but we're thinking ahead to the best way to arrange the introduction. Suggestions? -- via e-mail
A: Before you rock your cat's world by adding a puppy or dog, be sure to set up a separate area where your cat can feel safe, a no-dogs-allowed room with food, water, litter box, scratching post and toys.
You may have to keep your cat secured in her own "safe room" for a week or two after bringing home the dog, and then put a baby gate over the door to allow your cat to get away from the dog when she wants to.
Locking the cat up doesn't seem fair to many people, since the cat was there first. But feline behavior experts say cats adjust better to change if provided with a small, quiet area that's just for them during social upheavals such as moving or adding new people or pets to the household.
You didn't mention if you've had a dog before. If you're first-time dog-owners, and especially if you're busy ones (and what parents aren't busy?), you might be better off to think "adult dog" rather than "puppy."
Puppies -- kittens, too -- are sometimes a lot to deal with for established older pets. With patience and PetFinder.com, you can find a sensible adult dog already house-trained, with some basic manners and known to be cat-friendly.
Your cat may work through the transition more happily with a well-mannered adult dog who is known to be safe around cats. And you'll have a dog who'll fit in without the fuss and bother of a puppy. -- Gina Spadafori
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Cats rock charts
with feline hits
-- Cats have found their way onto the list of top hit songs many times over the years, with titles such as "Cat's in the Cradle," a No. 1 song for Harry Chapin in 1974. Other top cat-titled songs include "Cat Scratch Fever" by Ted Nugent, Tom Jones' "What's New Pussycat?" and Al Stewarts' "Year of the Cat."
-- Many manufacturers realize how much crossover there is between the children's market and the pets' market. Products from baby gates to toddler toys do double duty, selling well in both markets. As summer winds down, you might be able to pick up one particular double-duty item at a deep discount and put it away for your pet's enjoyment next summer. That item? The kiddie pool. For dogs who love water, a wallow in the pool is a great way to cool down after summer activities.
-- While the fur coats our pets sport provide protection from the sun's harmful rays, some pets still are at risk for sunburn. Among them: hairless breeds like the Chinese crested, animals with thin, light-color coats and pets whose coats have thinned with age. Animals who are recovering from surgery are also at risk on the areas that were shaved. Prevention is always better than treatment. Keep high-risk pets out of direct sunlight. If your pet must be in the sun, apply waterproof sunblock. The benefit of waterproof products is that they're also dog-saliva-proof. Sun protection is important not only for sunburn, since the same kinds of pets who are vulnerable to sunburn are often at risk for skin cancer, too. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Mikkel Becker
ABOUT PET CONNECTION
Pet Connection is produced by a team of pet-care experts headed by "Good Morning America" and "The Dr. Oz Show" veterinarian Dr. Marty Becker and award-winning journalist Gina Spadafori. The two are also the authors of many best-selling pet-care books. Dr. Becker can also be found at Facebook.com/DrMartyBecker or on Twitter at DrMartyBecker.