The first thing you can expect when adopting a dog is major alterations in your lifestyle. Your own family’s makeup, home setting, and time availability are all factors to consider when determining which breed of dog to choose.
Choosing the type of dog best for you is as personal as choosing what kind of car, underwear, or a mate is best. The selection requires not only thought, but some research, too. In order to make things easier for everyone concerned, consideration must be given to a number of variables, such as:
There! You know the main questions. Now you need some answers.
I love mixed-breeds, or “mutts.” They tend to be about one of the smartest canines known to man because there is no inbreeding. In fact, many of the dogs in show business — in movies or on TV — are mutts. Check them out. There are thousands of them and they come in an endless variety of shapes and sizes. Your local humane society shelter has an availability of hundreds of fine potential pets whose only pedigrees are their good nature, sharp intelligence, and willingness to love everyone in the family — children and adults — if given half a chance and if properly trained.
A visit to the animal shelter can match you with one of these marvelous creatures in exchange for some charges for shots and neutering/spaying. However, if you choose the dog carefully and train him or her correctly, you and your family will be well rewarded. For other sources for finding canine moms with new litters, contact the American Kennel Club, ask your veterinarian for reputable breeders, and check with friends and acquaintances.
I personally love all dog sizes — big, medium, and little — and I’ve bred and raised all types and like them equally well.
I’ll offer some generalizations: Big dogs (around a hundred pounds or more) can adjust very well to living in an apartment or on a farm as long as they have plenty of time with their humans. Therefore, don’t base your choice of dog on either its size or that of your home. Instead, base your decision on whether you want a big teddy bear of a pet or a cute little lap puppy, or maybe something in between. However, please be cautious because if you have a physical handicap or are elderly, big dogs can be hard to handle and may even knock you down just because of their size and enthusiasm. On the plus side, whereas most little dogs tend to be excitable and yappy or barky, big dogs lean more toward being mellow and laid-back in personality. Medium-size dogs can go either way — depending on what breed (or breeds) they are — or they can be just right!
Remember, any dog, big or little, can get out of control. Because size and personality are related to breed, you can get specific information regarding characteristics of different breeds from books on dog breeds at the library, from your veterinarian, or from a good pet store. Warning: Although breeders can be very helpful in making a selection, do not call one until you have narrowed your choice of dog with your own book research and a veterinarian. Once you’ve chosen a breed, find a reputable breeder from whom to buy your puppy. (Again, your vet’s office can help you find a good breeder, or contact the American Kennel Club.)
If you have young children (seven years old or under), you should check with your local veterinarian for an up-to-date list of breeds that get along well with children and those that are touchier and more prone to biting. Please remember that although there are wonderful and easy-to-get-along-with dogs in every breed, you may not want to play Russian roulette when choosing a new canine member of the family as a companion for your children. Children should have strict rules when interacting with either a puppy or adult dog, and any child under the age of seven should always have parental supervision when playing with the canine.
If you’re a picky housekeeper or you have family members with allergies, how much a dog sheds could be a major factor in your selection. Many breeds, particularly curly coated or wirehaired types tend not to shed much. Keep in mind, however, that curly coated and wirehaired dogs do require grooming on a regular basis — whether you do it yourself or have it done by a professional groomer, and you should consider the time and expense involved. Also, remember that regardless of whether you choose a long- or short-haired dog, they all shed, particularly in the spring and fall. And of course, long-haired dogs require more grooming due to their fur matting — another consideration.
Wherever you get your pup, I suggest that it be nearing eight weeks of age before coming home with you — the young ones still need their mommies. (Puppies go through their first fear period between eight and ten weeks. Fear periods are covered in the following section.) However, I sometimes make an exception to this rule if the pup is of a large breed. Large breeds grow very quickly and can weigh twenty-five to thirty pounds by the time they’re eight weeks old. Puppies develop many distinguishing personality traits by the time they’re eight weeks old. When picking a puppy out of a litter, look for a friendly, playful one. When looking for a pet, I recommend not choosing a shy one. You do, however, want a puppy that is submissive and demonstrates a willingness to be a pet. One test for small-child compatibility is to lay the puppy on its back on the floor and hold it down by rubbing its tummy. If it lies there calmly, that is a good indication that the pup is submissive and will have submissive qualities. However, there is no foolproof test for selecting a new puppy. Keep in mind, for housebreaking purposes, that most puppies don’t have good bladder and bowel control until they’re about twelve weeks old. If you are looking at the pound or humane society, you will find many dogs, mixed-breed and purebred, that are six months to eighteen months old, which is a great age to begin training. Some of the work has already been done for you just due to the dog’s age. Also, you can tell a lot about the dog’s personality when the animal is older, so I recommend taking a good look at a slightly older pup.
Puppies go through two fear periods. The first one occurs when they are between eight to ten weeks of age. The second one, which lasts about two weeks, occurs between the ages of four months to twelve months. The first fear period is definite, but the second one can fall randomly between that four- to twelve-month age. During those periods, the part of a dog’s brain that registers fear develops, and it evidently applies regardless of breed, whether Great Dane or Maltese or mutt.
If something happens to frighten a puppy during a fear period, it will most likely manifest itself later in the dog’s life. For example, as I mentioned earlier, if a child is holding the puppy and drops and hurts him, and the puppy is going through a fear period, it is likely to grow up disliking little children. Or, if a storm rolls through with big lightning flashes and loud thunder that frightens the puppy, he could possibly develop storm fears that will only intensify as he grows older. Therefore, it’s important to protect your puppy from serious crises during the first year of his life. (I go into more detail about handling fears later in the book when I discuss whether a dog may need behavior modification.)
Dogs (and puppies) learn new behaviors fairly quickly, especially when food and verbal rewards are used. However, behaviors require a minimum of three to four months to become habitual. This is one of the important reasons your dog needs to be on his indoor leash and working on his new behaviors daily.
Let me explain it another way: If you went to China for a week and you couldn’t speak the language, you would probably learn several words and phrases, such as “Taxi,” “How much?” and so on. Then you would come back home, and within a month or so, you would probably forget almost every word or phrase you had learned. On the other hand, if you were there for three or four months, you would probably never forget the words and phrases you had picked up — they would be embedded in your brain. Compare this to your dog learning your new language. The dog is learning your signals and commands, and within three or four months he will know them and never forget them, or his new behaviors.
Teaching your new canine member of the family to get along with humans and other canines is extremely important. The canine should begin being socialized the moment you bring him home. Your new puppy or dog needs other canine playmates. To find them, you can join a puppy class, go to a dog park, or find an adult dog that is other-dog friendly. The rules are simple:
I firmly believe that all dogs should be neutered (for males) or spayed (for females) unless you plan to breed or show them. This surgery eliminates many unwanted behaviors in both male and female canines without taking the spunkiness out of their personalities.
Dealing with an unspayed female dog in heat (or in season) is a large challenge, a hassle to have to experience, and not necessary if you are not planning to breed your dog. Female canines usually come into heat twice a year for approximately three weeks at a time. They frequently go through frantic personality changes and can become aggressive toward you and anyone else that they come into contact with.
Male canines can smell a female in heat a mile away, so be prepared to have “visitors” at your doorstep. Also be prepared for your female to beat the door down in her efforts to get to her suitors. Male dogs often become very aggressive when a female is near them in heat, and although not all male dogs get worked up then, the majority of them do. In my experience, my male dogs temporarily lose their minds completely. On the other hand, perhaps the idea of the hassle of a dog in heat doesn’t bother you. You have acquired this wonderfully pedigreed dog, and you think you’d like to try your hand at raising a litter of puppies. Be forewarned, and be prepared for the cost associated with breeding and prenatal care of the mom and eight weeks of almost constant care until you sell or find homes for the resulting little darlings. The mother stops — I repeat, stops! — cleaning up after her offspring when they’re about three weeks old, or whenever you start supplement feeding them. So, not only will you have puppy piles and puddles everywhere, at the same time you get to take over the three-times-a-day feedings. And puppy food is expensive, as are the first shots and dewormings the puppies will need before they leave their mom for good.
You may have dancing in your head rosy visions of profits made by selling the precious bundles to grateful and responsible dog-owners-to-be. But think about this: What if you don’t sell them right away — or ever?
If money to be made by selling puppies is not your reason for not neutering or spaying your dog, but rather you can’t afford the procedure, please call your local humane society. They will have a list of area veterinarians who will do the surgery at a discounted cost or for free, depending on your circumstances.
Before you bring your dog home, you need to prepare that home for the new family member — and equipment is vitally important. Along with a good veterinarian, the must-have items include a crate, a dog bed or rug, a check collar, indoor and outdoor leashes, and hard rubber treat toys. These and other recommendations, as well as important dos and don’ts, are described below.
Wire Crate: You most definitely, positively, beyond-a-shadow-of-a-doubt must purchase a crate! The crate should be one of the “denning” spots in your home. The crate needs to be near the family. If you are planning to confine your dog in an out-of-the-way place such as a bathroom, laundry room, or back hallway, then prepare yourself for chewed-up floor moldings, wallpaper, and scratched doors. But when that happens, you have only yourself to blame — not the dog.
American-made wire crates are my favorite (they are very well constructed). They last many years, are easy to maintain, and usually are easy to take down and store. Also, because the wire crate gives the dog a clear view of his surroundings the dog won’t become claustrophobic.
You need purchase only one crate for the life of your dog. The crate should be large enough for your dog to comfortably stand up and turn around when he or she is fully grown. However, while your puppy is young and small, you may want to purchase a “crate divider.” Your trainer can advise you on this subject.
Hard Plastic Crate: A hard plastic, slatted crate should be used only when traveling. Most airlines require this type of crate if the dog is going in the cargo hold.
Mesh (Soft) Crate: These crates are becoming popular with dog owners. They are great if you are going to be around the dog during use, thus preventing chews and possible tumbles. These soft crates are also excellent for traveling on airplanes if your dog is small enough to fit under the seat in front of you.
You must have a dog bed or rug. They are crucial in my training plan. Dog beds come in many shapes, sizes and colors. I recommend any and all, as long as they have a cover that can be zipped off and laundered. Most small-breed dogs like the ones with the sides. If you have an extremely small-breed pet, you may want to investigate cat beds. I have several dog beds in my home matching the color of the room they are in — they do not all have to look alike. They become your dog’s den when he is outside his crate.
Many types of feeding bowls are on the market these days, from strictly utilitarian to decorative, and this is a personal preference. However, if you have a dog with long ears, you might want to check out food and water bowls designed to keep your dog’s ears out of the bowl — a real mess saver. There are also bowls that your dog cannot tip over — great for puppies.
It’s just as important to keep your pet’s dishes as clean as you would your own, so wash the bowls daily.
Also, be sure to give your pet clean water every day — twice a day in hot weather.
Choke Chain Collars are my least favorite training collars. They’re often used as a punishing device and people usually use them without the advice of a qualified trainer. A choke chain collar should never be used on a puppy. However, with a trainer’s advice, one of these collars can be used for specific exercises. Please be cautious when using them.
Check Collars are very good for training. They are a continuous-piece nylon collar that slips over the dog’s head. The construction is three-fourths nylon, which is adjustable, and one-fourth chain. Check collars are inexpensive and wonderful nonaversive training aids if used properly. They also come in a variety of colors.
Ultimate Training Collars™ are my personal favorite because they’re nonaversive. They’re constructed of all nylon, are adjustable, and have a snap closure. The plastic circle where the leash attaches pulls out from the base of the collar when the leash is tugged. (Not all pet supply stores carry this collar, but they are available from Leatherite Nylorite Manufacturing Co. in Lebanon, Indiana. Their phone number is 317-722-5222.)
Decorative Collars come in many colors, shapes, and sizes and are made of a variety of materials. They are great if you are experiencing no training problems or your dog has completed all of his/her training.
Pinch Collars (also called prong collars) should be used only with advice from a professional canine trainer. These collars are less punishing and harmful than a choker and can be very effective. They give a pinch instead of a choke if used properly. These collars have saved many a dog from being surrendered to a shelter.
Gentle Leaders — my personal choice — are a type of head halter collar that is more expensive than all the other head halters on the market. However, they are well worth the investment and are my very favorite of all of the head halters that are available. If you are going to use a head halter, then purchase an instructional video with it or get advice from a professional trainer. Many trainers (including myself) and pet owners love this type of collar and will be more than happy to assist you with your selection.
This is one of my key training secrets. An indoor leash is any four- to five-foot nylon leash with a lightweight buckle that attaches to the collar. Many people who have puppies or small breeds use cat leashes. The indoor leash is what “dog whispering” is all about — setting the dog up for success, not failure. Don’t be home without one.
The outdoor leash should be at least six feet long (so training can take place while you are walking your dog) and can be made of your choice of leather, nylon, or cloth — but not chain.
I love retractable leashes only after your dog is trained to walk down the street without pulling you. They also come in really handy if this is the only way you can exercise your dog or if you are traveling and need to stop for a potty break.
Canine seat belts are available on the market and are relatively inexpensive. They come in many sizes and are good for traveling with your pet. I will talk more about this product in the section on traveling with your pet.
Tie-out cables can be very handy if used properly. The following are a couple of circumstances where I recommend the use of tie-out cables:
Food-oriented rewards are easy to use and are a must when teaching your dog a new behavior. All dogs are food motivated; a dog that doesn’t take a treat is a stressed dog. Treats should be desirable and in very tiny pieces — no bigger than your little fingernail — so that it is a morsel reward, not a meal. If you wish to use dog bones, then put them in a plastic bag and hammer away to break them up. It also helps to change the treat often — plain Cheerios and even ice cubes are good choices, and some dogs like vegetables and garlic.
When teaching a new behavior, reward each and every correct response. The food treats should be wherever your puppy is going to be while he is going through training. I keep them all over the house in plastic containers with lids. The important thing to remember is that treats should be immediately available whenever your dog does an appropriate behavior. You have only two — two! — seconds to reward your dog for good behavior in order for him or her to make the connection.
Treat bags that you clip on your belt or pants are available at most pet stores. (If you’re creative, you can make them, or you can even use a fanny pack.) These bags are very handy while training. Also, while your dog is in training, always consider your walk times training times. It helps to have a treat bag hanging with your outdoor leashes so the treats are readily available any time you go for a walk.
Your voice can be your best asset — and it’s free. Be consistent with your “command” voice and your “loving” voice so your dog will know the difference. I refer to my command voice as the “God-to-Moses” voice. If God talked, wouldn’t you listen? Rather than a harsh voice, the command voice is more of an attention-getter.
A clicker is a little device you hold in your hand, and it is a marvelous way to train by conditioning a dog to respond. Several articles have been written on the benefits of clicker training (several by Julie Shaw of Purdue University), and classes and books are available. I highly recommend this type of training as very effective; however you must be very dedicated, and this method requires more time than the Just House Manners plan.
These bells are an inexpensive and terrific housebreaking aid — I believe they are an absolute necessity when housebreaking your dog. The bells — two or more — are fastened to a cord which is attached to a suction cup. Stick the cup at a level where the dog can reach the bells on the door he goes out to do potties. Before long, the dog learns that every time the bells ring, the door opens — classic conditioning. I have yet to have a dog or new puppy that didn’t learn this trick within two to three weeks.
The suction cup allows you to move the bells up and down the door as your pet grows, and the bells don’t get caught in the door when it opens and closes. However, the suction cup may not stick to a wooden door, in which case you may have to attach them to the door knob. This can be a little bit of a hassle in opening and closing the door, but your pet will not fail at letting you know when he needs to go outside.
Products that neutralize odors (there are many on the market) are a must to have around in case your new puppy has an accident. Always clean the accident spot thoroughly and then spray with a neutralizing deodorizer. This “unmarks” the area, and the puppy is unlikely to return to that spot to do his business again.
Dog clothing comes in many styles and colors for all seasons. Have fun and dress your baby up. Many dogs almost need a closet for all their clothes. The kids also have fun with Halloween and Christmas costumes.
Travel kits are available in some pet stores. You can buy one already made up or you can make your own. A good hard plastic case with the essential dog products is a good idea if you are traveling with your pet. Bottled water and your dog’s own food is good idea (it frequently prevents diarrhea). Having a travel kit put together will eliminate forgetting valuable, necessary items when you are traveling. By the way, there are many hotels and resorts that will accommodate you and your pet. After reading this book and following the Just House Manners plan your dog is going to be so well mannered that you can take him almost anywhere!