Thursday, January 15, 2009

So you have a puppy. Now what?

Living out in the holler, we have discovered that often the rural country areas are "Doggy Abandonment Central". Here's what I suppose happens. John and Jane Doe are out shopping with the kids when they go by the pet store. The kids begin clamoring for a puppy, and that little Dalmatian or Siberian Husky puppy is soooo cute, so the purchase is made without much thought as to the commitment that has just been made to the dog. Things are all fine and dandy until the puppy starts messing up the carpets and chewing up stuff in the house. Every time the dog is left outside or in the garage, it howls and yelps until the neighbors start to call and cuss on the phone about the noise. At the end of their rope, John Doe decides this can't go on. He will take the dog for a little drive out in the country and leave the dog out there, where it will live "happily ever after". He will break the commitment that he unknowingly made to the dog when he purchased it. But the world today is a very hostile place to dogs, and dogs abandoned out in the country do not live happily ever after. They starve, get mange, get killed by cars as they try to survive off of road kill carcasses, or get killed by coyotes or cougars or bobcats or farmers trying to protect their livestock or chickens. If they're one of the lucky ones, they wind up at the little dog shelter in the holler, and we are about at full capacity.

Mrs. JP and I have owned and/or trained somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen dogs or more, so I supposed over the years we have learned a thing or two about dog behavior and how to housebreak and train a dog. We are no Cesar Milan (The Dog Whisperer), but our pack of dogs is living proof that we know a thing or two. Perhaps in sharing some of that information, I can help at least one person to develop good behavior in their puppy and a fruitful dog/owner relationship. At the very least, writing all of this up will serve as a refresher course for me.

First off, I would advise that you resist the urge to buy the cute little puppy in the pet store on impulse, and that instead you do a little research. Ideally, instead of encouraging puppy factories with your purchase, you could rescue a puppy from your local dog shelter. If you really would prefer a pure breed, do some research on the breed and it's characteristics and make a good choice on the kind of dog that will best fit your lifestyle. If the breed is high-energy and/or used mainly for hunting and is not ordinarily a domestic family dog, realize that there is a reason for this. High energy dogs require a "job", something to do to burn that energy. Otherwise, they will expend it on your furniture, shoes, carpets, etc.

There is certain basic equipment that I would recommend that you purchase before or as soon as you acquire a new puppy: a Vari-Kennel, a dog collar, a dog leash and a Nylabone. I would also recommend that you buy a good, durable dog food bowl and water bowl, and obviously, some quality puppy food (you get what you pay for, don't go cheap unless you have to). We avoid any dog food that has soy products (soy meal, soy flour, etc.) in them, because we have found that soy products cause the dog's skin and coat to be dry and they then develop problems.

The first and most important of these things is the Vari-Kennel. We have tried the wire kennels and other kinds of kennels, but this is the best choice. Dogs are able to escape from the wire kennels; Daisy was actually able to remove the welded wires one by one with her canine teeth until she got out. Within three days she had completely destroyed a kennel that we had paid over a hundred dollars for. The Vari-kennel is made of durable plastic, has a strong locking door, and can be taken apart and stored easily. You want to choose one that is large enough for the full grown dog to be able to lie in comfortably for extended periods of time. For the first year or two of their lives, until they mature, they will spend ALL unsupervised time locked up in this kennel. This is NOT cruel to the dog, leaving the dogs free until they become unruly and unwanted is. Our dogs still love to sleep in the kennels when they are not occupied by a younger dog; it is a positive, safe place to them. Here is the concept: when your dog does something wrong while you are watching the dog, you can give the dog an immediate correction by saying a strong and firm "NO!!!" and putting a stop to the behavior, and the dog quickly learns "I am not allowed to do that." If the dog gets away with doing the thing when you are not supervising, because it is free and unsupervised, but then gets corrected when he does it in your presence, the dog is instead learning "I need to do that when my alpha is not looking." See the difference? That is why the dog needs to be confined to the kennel while unsupervised. Yes, this puts a huge responsibility on you, you will HAVE to spend time with the dog, supervising and teaching the dog and allowing it to have free time to excersise and learn. The first few days, the dog will not be used to being in the kennel and there will be whinning and/or yelping to get out. We try to stand over the kennel and correct the dog when it complains, until the puppy settles down. There was one dog that simply would not quit making a racket, so we moved the kennel to a far away room and would shut the door to dull the noise. Once the puppy gets in the routine and realizes that it will be released on a regular basis from the kennel, it becomes much easier. Most of the time, we have the kennel set up in our bedroom, so the dog will not feel lonely at night while in it, because we are all sleeping nearby. My wife is really good at making "going into the kennel" become a positive thing by tossing a couple of milk bones into the kennel as she tells the puppy "get in there". A Kong ball stuffed with treats also works well for this. After a while, all it takes is to tell the dog "get in there" and they do it willingly. We try not to leave the dog in for real long periods of time during the daytime unless we have to, but once they are used to their routine, we can leave our dogs in there all night while we sleep and have left them as long as ten to twelve hours on occasion, without any problems. Again, we try to keep the amount of time spent in the kennel during the daytime short, as the dog does need exercise. On the rare occasion that we both have to be gone all day, they are used to being it it and can stay in it for longer periods of time during the day, but we also realize that we will have to give the dog opportunity to get some free time and exercise before going back in for the night.

The kennel will also help you with the house breaking. Most dogs will not mess in their confined space inside the kennel. This does not hold true for dogs that have come from a pet store, because they get used to messing in their cages in the pet store. You need to feed your dog the proper amount of food for his weight and age and on a regular schedule. The regular schedule is especially important during these first few weeks. We split our dogs' diet into two feedings, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. As soon as the new puppy has eaten and drank, you need to take the dog outside and remain outside with the dog until it does it's business, number one and number two. Praise the dog when it goes, "That's a good girl/boy!". While the dog is free in the house, since you are supervising, if the dog tries to do it's business in the house, you will see it assuming the position and will quickly correct it with a stern "NO!!!" and pick it up (patiently!) and take it outside and tell him/ her to "be a good girl/boy". Everyone will have some accidents to clean up at first, so be sure you find a cleanser that neutralizes odors, so that the dog will not be tempted to repeat the crime by the odor that only it can detect.

The other thing I recommended was the Nylabone. Please resist the temptation to get all the little stuffed chew toys, plastic squeaky toys and ropes and such things for the puppy to play with. These toys are very cute and all, but the dog can not tell the difference between the cotton fabric in the stuffed chew toy that is okay to tear up and the cotton fabric in your socks which are not okay to tear up, and so forth. You will just add confusion with these toys, as it is much simpler for the puppy to learn that it is okay to chew on Nylabones, a material that closely resembles real bones but won't splinter, and nothing else. We toss the Nylabone into the kennel with the puppy when it is kennel time because chewing on the Nylabone can serve as stress relief for the puppy while it is confined. If it tries to chew anything else, a verbal correction is in order. The dog will quickly learn what NO means. Be sure you get the hard kind of Nylabone, as there have been recent problems and warnings associated with the softer, rubbery Gumma-bone and Plaque Attacker varieties.

The collar and leash are for the dog's safety. Beside the fact that most municipalities have a leash law that requires it, the truth is that the modern world is a very, VERY hostile place for dogs. Traumatic death can come in an instant from many things, from licking up improperly discarded radiator fluid or poisonous substances, to running out in front of a moving vehicle. If your dog is not in a fenced-in area, it should be on a collar and leash. ALWAYS. It is dog cruelty to do otherwise. The only exception would be a dog that has received advanced obedience training and is able to heel on command without a leash, but even then, keep in mind that sometimes chasing something can be irresistible even to a well behaved dog.

Remember that dogs are SOCIAL animals, they are pack animals. I hate seeing dogs chained up in the back yard all by themselves, even if they have a dog house within reach. Dogs in such situations usually begin to exhibit abnormal personality traits and excessive aggressiveness. Dogs need to socialize, and preferably learn to meet a variety of people and children. If you will follow these tips, you should develop a dog that is as well behaved in your house as any human guest is. Remember, patience is key. Remember also that most behavior problems are developed when a dog is not getting enough exercise. If the dog is tired from activity, it will rest when it's indoors. Our dogs use our treadmill more than we do sometimes, especially during rainy periods when the weather won't allow them to play in the back yard.

If there are any other helpful tips that I can share with you and your dog, please post a comment. We don't know everything, but we have certainly dealt with most dog related things by now. God bless you!!!

1 comment:

Bell said...

I LOVE that picture of "the little boy" and the dog. :) That's all I'm going to say.