BY DR. TRACY ACOSTA
OK, so you have survived the last month of the family's new Christmas puppy, or at least you haven't pulled your hair out, yet? Don't worry - all new puppy owners always go through that initial couple of weeks as puppy and owner adjust to each other. Please remember to be patient and just as with young children there will be those days that will truly put you to the test. However, with a few simple steps, you and your new canine companion will form the groundwork for a most rewarding relationship. A cold hard fact that remains behind the push for basic obedience is that one of the top reasons dogs of all ages land in shelters is uncontrollable behavior. This simply doesn't have to be the case. Dogs of any age can learn good manners, if an owner is willing to put in the training time and of course, patience. The optimum time to start is when puppies are young and should start the first day a puppy comes into his new home. A significant concept to grasp is that you are bringing a puppy into your human environment and that you are expecting him to follow your rules and boundaries. In fact your puppy will be watching you closely, studying you to make sense of his new surroundings. So, take the opportunity to start him off on the right paw by presenting him with consistent rules and schedule. With kindness and guidance, your puppy will learn quickly what pleases you and what does not. The critical learning period for puppies is between the ages of 6 and 16 weeks. Puppies can certainly learn during other periods, but this is the time when you can really make an impression, positive or negative, about what's right and what's wrong in your puppy's world. Ideally, you'll want a majority of your puppy's experiences to be positive. Much of a puppy's personality is formed during this early period, so it is a good time for your puppy to learn to look to you for guidance and discipline. Remember, you are his leader, top dog in the pack, and he will respect and listen to you if you establish yourself as firm and consistent, yet caring. Consistency is key and getting the entire family to stick to the rules is critical so the puppy does not get confusing messages about what is acceptable behavior. The whole family must decide from day one what the rules and boundaries are going to be. So, if you decide not to allow the puppy on the furniture, it must be enforced from day one. It's not easy to put the cute little puppy back on the floor when he jumps on the sofa and looks back at you with his big baby browns. However, everyone must stick to the rules and just think of how much you'll appreciate this later on when the Great Dane puppy reaches adulthood and will take up the entire sofa. Whether you decide to attend an obedience class or to do the training yourself, you will be spending a fair amount of one-on-one time with your puppy, either to teach him or to practice what you've learned in class. Even if you have a fair amount of knowledge about training, a class is still highly recommended to help make sure that your puppy gets plenty of socialization with other people and dogs. Early socialization can make all the difference between your dog tucking his tail when others approach or making friends wherever he goes. Another option besides a puppy obedience class is to use the services of a private, in-home trainer. This can be beneficial if class schedules and your work schedule don't match. Also, this is a great idea for those of you who want specific behavior issues to be addressed on an intensive personal level. Regardless, of which training route you decide on, remember that all family members must participate in the training for it to be successful. It only takes one person to bend the rules to set back all of the previous training. Everyone must understand what is being taught and the theory behind the rewards and the corrections, as well as how to administer them. As a small-animal veterinarian, I cannot recommend basic obedience enough to every single puppy owner. The reasons are multiple and will allow each puppy to form a stronger bond with its owner and to greatly reduce the chances for unwanted behavior. Obedience is as important as your puppy's medical care through its vaccination series and definitely more important than the cute bed. So, don't go cheap on one aspect of your puppy's life that can make or break a lifelong happy and healthy relationship. A well-trained dog is able to fulfill its natural desire and main goal in life, which is to satisfy and respect its owner. Most puppies thoroughly enjoy the time spent with their owners for obedience training, because if it is done correctly, it is a fun-filled time in which the puppy receives rewards and a lot of attention. Ultimately, obedience produces a dog that is a devoted, trusting and loyal friend who is a joy to live with instead of a nuisance, which is why we brought him into our lives in the first place.
Dr. Tracy Acosta 228-385-7611