Not even the famous family living in the big white house is immune from the surprises that come with your very first puppy.
Along with the fun, the cuddles and the excitement is a load of responsibility that doesn't end at the convenience of humans. Just ask first lady Michelle Obama about the rambunctious Bo.
"Even though the kids are supposed to do a lot of the work, I'm still up at 5:15 a.m. taking my dog out," she said.
It starts with sleepless nights housebreaking a young puppy that can't hold it for more than a few hours. But even after that's under control, raising a puppy is still a full time job in one important sense: Every moment you spend with your dog has an effect on his future behavior.
"What surprises new puppy owners most is that it's an all-encompassing 24-hour thing," said Victoria Schade, who has a DVD out that addresses the question owners find themselves asking: "New Puppy! Now What?"
To get off to a good start, make sure you follow a few basic principles:
Agree on ground rules and make sure everyone in the family enforces them. If one person lets the dog on the couch and the other yells at him, resulting problems can go beyond the living room.
On her Animal Planet show "It's Me or the Dog," Victoria Stilwell teaches owners how to restore order to out-of-control households. In many families that need her help, the dogs hardly make eye contact with the owner.
"They've shut down," she said, because the humans' reactions have been so inconsistent that the dogs no longer look to people for cues on how to act. And a dog that's stopped paying attention is a dog whose behavior you can't influence.
YOU'RE ALWAYS TRAINING
Consistency is vital because training your dog is not something you do once in a while: It's happening all the time.
"Every interaction is a lesson," Schade said. "I have clients who say, 'We took two training walks and the rest of the walks were just regular.'" Unfortunately, she has to tell them, it doesn't work that way: Every walk teaches the dog something about how you're willing to let him behave on a walk.
"If there are pleasurable consequences of a behavior, the behavior is likely to be repeated," as Stilwell puts it — and this is true whether you think it's a "training session" or not. If your dog scratches at the door, and you open it and he gets to go outside, he learns that scratching causes something good to happen.
So make sure you don't accidentally reward behaviors that you don't want to encourage. And be aware that the mantra "Every interaction is a lesson" includes every interaction with the kids, too. Schade recommends that you look for a positive trainer who will help you get your children involved, to set up the right kind of relationship with the dog.
"I've worked with three-year-olds who can come up to the puppy and say 'sit' and the puppy will sit. It's this beautiful bonding moment," she said.
SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE, SOCIALIZE
Your puppy probably doesn't need to learn to deal with a crowd of press photographers like Bo Obama does. But he should be meeting other dogs on and off leash, meeting children if there are no children at home, riding in the car at an early age, walking down a street with noisy traffic.
"The dog has to have pleasurable experiences around all kinds of people, in loads of different environments," Stilwell said.
Think about ways to expose your puppy to new people and experiences, or you risk having a dog that's fearful of new things later on.
And remember that puppies go through developmental stages just like young humans, so don't be worried if he seems to backslide at certain points. Keep your eye on the long run and keep socializing and training him patiently and consistently.
Said Stilwell, "The education of your dog never stops."
-- Story by LINDA LOMBARDI, Associated Press
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