Written by Denise Flaim (Animal House)
Dogs gone wild.
Everywhere I go these days, it seems I encounter canines in need of boot camp. It’s not their fault, of course: Getting a sound foundation in puppyhood is paramount if your dog is to be a well-adjusted canine citizen.
So, in the spirit of self-improvement, here is my list of
10 puppy musts:
1. Require pedicures. Many dogs don’t like having their nails cut with a clipper or ground with a Dremel. But puppies need to understand that nail care will happen, whether they like it or not. Firm, gentle handling; slow, steady exposure; copious amounts of treats; and persistence will ultimately yield success. If you do not establish this groundwork during puppyhood, you will end up with a dog who does not tolerate having his feet handled, or worse. There’s nothing more pathetic than a dog so foot-phobic that he must be sedated by a vet for his monthly nail clipping.
2. Teach bite inhibition. Puppies do a tremendous alligator impersonation, especially when they are teething. If you don’t teach your puppy what is acceptable mouth pressure, you’ll pay the price later. Discourage nipping and hard pressure, but let your puppy mouth you lightly to teach control and bite inhibition. (You also need to teach him that when you say stop, no matter how gentle his mouthing, no means no.)
3. Splurge on socialization. Puppies are impressionable, particularly up until they hit the 16-week mark. Before then, they should be introduced to as many new stimuli as possible – different breeds of dogs and other animals; people of all ages, sizes and colors; and different sounds and experiences, from ambulance sirens to blaring radios. Since vaccinations are often not complete before this period, don’t take your pup to places where lots of dogs congregate. But don’t keep him in an ivory tower, either.
4. Don’t be a wimp. If you project fear, nervousness or hesitation in your daily dealings, your dogs might very well decide you are too much of a wuss to handle the great, big, bad world, and might take matters into their own hands. At best, this can lead to inappropriate guarding or protective behavior. At worst, it can lead to a dog that is so maladjusted it must be moved to a new home or even euthanized. Dogs are like kids: They need boundaries and a strong sense that their parents are in charge. For your sake – and your dog’s – grow a spine!
5. Don’t be an ogre, either. Many breeds do not respond well to overly harsh or heavy-handed training methods. And while most dogs will accept a correction if it is fair and reasonable, excessive or unnecessary punishment can ruin a perfectly good dog’s character. Instead, positive reinforcement should be your preferred training method. You really do get more with honey (or Milk-Bones) than vinegar.
6. Instill leash manners. I didn’t want that femur in its socket, anyway. Very early on, puppies need to learn that they must walk with you, not pull to get their way. If they do strain against the leash, “make like a tree” and stop until they restore some slack. This is time- consuming at first, but it will reap dividends when you are able to control your 100-pound dog. For difficult cases, consider a head halter such as a Gentle Leader.
7. Remember, it is a dog. Dogs are child substitutes, but they don’t appreciate being treated like mini-humans. Do not feel guilty about normal and reasonable actions, such as crating your dog or cutting its portions if it is getting too chubby. Dogs without boundaries are a disaster waiting to happen. “Dog whisperer” Cesar Millan has made an entire career out of people who have blurred the species barrier, much to their dogs’ detriment.
8. Avoid the porker syndrome. Dogs don’t have the emotional attachment to food that we do. You must have the self-control to say “no,” even when your pup’s eyes are pleading “yes.” Excess weight is profoundly unhealthy, and can trigger orthopedic problems. If you don’t know if your dog is fat, go to any gathering of experienced dog people – a dog show, an agility trial – and ask. They’ll be happy to tell you.
9. Address problems before they become crises. Barking at strangers, lunging at other dogs, jumping up, growling over the food bowl, nipping at heels – no matter what the behavioral problem, dealing with it early is the key to success. Don’t wait until it becomes a habit.
10. Take responsibility. Your dog didn’t ask to be owned by you. It’s your obligation to learn how to be the best owner you can be. Read books, talk to dog-savvy friends, enroll in training classes. What you learn along the way will benefit not just this dog, but each one that comes after.