I’ll be home for Christmas

Getting a puppy for the kids for Christmas?  Wonderful!  A family dog can truly enrich the lives of children – or turn into more of a challenge than anyone expected.  So let’s go over some of the basics.  First off, while having a new puppy is very exciting for everyone, keep in mind that just like any human baby, puppies need rest, so make sure your new addition has plenty of downtime.

Secondly, unlike human children, puppies don’t have to wait for 2 or 3 years to be housebroken, but like human children some of the same principles apply:  Supervise, supervise, supervise! Your new pup does not intrinsically know where the toilet is, so be sure to take him to his potty spot ( no sending the dog outside by himself) and wait till he does his business, then praise him profusely ( treats are great to get the message across).  Do not let your puppy run free and unsupervised in the house any more that you would allow a 2 year old to have free range. Crate confinement helps with potty training since most dogs will naturally try to keep their area clean. But keep in mind that the general rule for how long a dog can ‘hold it’ is months of age plus one, so a 4 month old puppy can generally wait for 5 hours maximum.

What if accidents happen?  Clean them up, do not scold your dog or rub his nose in it. Instead work on your supervision.  Make a potty log. It will help you predict “prime time” occasions.

Thirdly, socialize your dog.  According to Dr. Ian Dunbar, founder of the Association of Pet Dog Trainers, your goal for your puppy is to meet 300 people by the time he is 3 months old.  The optimal socialization period for dogs is only about 3-4 months.  While most veterinarians still recommend three sets of vaccinations before allowing your puppy to “join the world”, there is still a lot that can be done in the meantime.  According to the American Veterinary Society for Behavior, the number one killer of dogs is not disease but behavior problems due to lack of early socialization. Have your puppy meet as many people as he can: children of all ages (screaming, running, crying, bouncing boys and girls), men ( beards and growly voices included), women ( hats, make-up, smelly perfume, the whole bit).  People with parts:  strollers, wheelchairs, crutches, etc.  People with removable parts:  (Hats, glasses, rain coats, costumes).  Weird things out there:  Grass, gavel, sidewalks, ballons, cats, dogs (older, fully vaccinated, friendly dogs can be great role models) , horses, chickens, playgrounds, cars, trucks, elevators, garbage cans, garbage trucks, mailmen, ….pretty much anything that your puppy might ever run into in his life.

Where can your puppy meet all these people? Invite the kids in your neighborhood to come see your puppy, invite your friends, go sit in front of some store like Walmart and see how many people can resists saying “hi” to you puppy….Hey if you still have a Christmas parade going on, take the dog!

Note of caution: forcing a fearful puppy into something that scares him will only traumatize him, not socialize him.  If you find your pup is scared of something, use patience, encouragement and lots of treats. If your puppy continues to be fearful, get professional help immediately.

One final note on puppy classes:  While puppy classes can be a great socialization tool, not all puppy classes are created equal.  Are you receiving some basic instructions about puppy care and training during the class or is it just a 30-45 minute free for all?  How does the instructor handle puppies that are somewhat fearful?  Is play that becomes too rough interrupted? Trust your instincts. If it does not feel right it probably is not right.

In conclusion I want to wish you all the best for your new family member.

Merry Christmas.