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Norwich Bulletin - 6/22/2008

Part Two - Dog 101

So now you have decided what breed you think will best fit your family. And now comes the fun part the whole family gets into the car to go to the breeder or shelter and pick out the new family member. A little trick to remember when choosing a puppy, is to turn it over on its back, and hold it there.

A shy puppy will freeze, a dominant puppy will try and get away and perhaps growl. The middle of the road puppy will wag its tail and be happy to be on its back. This way you will be able to select the personality that best suits you.

If you have decided that a shelter is the way to go, please know that dogs that have been in shelters for any length of time may not be showing their true selves and may become depressed, overly excited, fearful, or any other number of temporary changes in behavior.

So don't be afraid to take your time in selecting a dog and to give the shelter dog some extra time to see if some of its real personality might peek through that scared outside shell. Ask the shelter workers about each dog, and have them bring the dog out on a lead, into a quiet "bonding" area, at first with just adults, and then with the quiet approach of your children.

Children should not immediately go to pet the dog, but, rather, let the dog smell the back of their hand, and watch for any signs of caution on the dog's part, or raised hackles. You want to see a wagging tail and happy expression with calm eyes. Yes, a dog's eyes can tell as much about their emotions and personality as with people.

I am sure that you will already have found a good veterinary clinic, purchased a premium puppy or dog food, dry and canned, and chew toys, collar and leash, and dog bed before you bring your new canine companion home for the first time. If you are not sure about housebreaking and obedience training, purchase a good book or video and consider making an appointment in the near future with a trainer and enroll you pet in obedience classes.

These classes are for the entire family so everyone can learn how to interact with your new dog. If both adults work outside the home, the optimum time to bring home a new puppy or dog is when one is on vacation for a week or two so that the dog can be walked frequently (especially important when housebreaking a puppy), and get used to its new home, and not be left alone.

Should both parents of the new family member have to work, and there are no children coming home from school to play with the pup, it is important to find a good doggy day care for a couple of days a week so your dog can socialize and not become depressed. Depressed dogs can be destructive to a house and cause personality changes. Believe me, the cost of day care is well worth it.

Dogs are pack animals and you have to learn how to be the "leader of the pack". Establishing who is the Alpha is critical to the dog so that it will not become the dominant pack member. That leads to behavior problems and sometimes aggression. How you establish this is more or a personal choice. We do not let our dogs sleep on our bed this is the way that we convey to the dogs that the humans are the leaders of the pack.

Well, the humans and the cats. Feeding depends on who lives in the house. Twice a day for puppies in a quiet area, where they will not be bothered by the children. Since we do not have children in the home and our dogs are not overeaters, we just leave the dry food out 24/7 and the dogs eat as they want. But neither dog is aggressive when it comes to their food bowl, meekly standing back when the alpha cat wants to see what is in the bowl.

However, that is not always the case with dogs, especially dogs from shelters who have been abused and neglected. So, I think adults need to be able to remove the food dish while still full without the dog showing guarding behavior. If the dog growls or snaps, a firm "no" is said, and the dish taken away for a short time. Of course you have to return the bowl and let the dog eat. Praise the dog, talk gently and the dog will be soothed and soon learn that you are giving the food and there will be plenty for him to eat. There are also dogs who show toy aggression and the "cure" is much the same.

Obedience training material will instruct you in positive dog training trainers like John Gagnon from Colchester, believes in positive reinforcement training. Keep your training commands short and do not yell at the dog. Saying too many words just confuses the dog, and women may need to lower their voice. Some dogs seem to better respond to a man's voice, and women tend to talk "baby-talk" to the dog which can convey to the dog that she is NOT a leader of the pack.

Once your dog knows the essential commands of come, sit, stay, down, and heel, refresher work for the life of the dog is a good idea. A few minutes several times a week will keep the dog sharp and well behaved. Careful selection of your new family pet, good food, and regular vet care and you will have that dog you see on TV that calmly visits nursing homes and sits patiently and lovingly while being petted, instead of a barking, jumping, misbehaving dog. Dogs are really just like children.

Finally, and most important, dogs do NOT belong chained or penned outside all the time. It is cruel to deny them access to their pack in the home, and even the best shelter is COLD comfort during our Connecticut winters, or to bake in the hot summers. A fenced area to enjoy brief periods outside is recommended, but your dog belongs with you and your family. If this is not what you are looking for in an animal companion, please do not get a dog.

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