Sixteen years ago, my daughter turned 11 two days after Christmas, and requested her "very own dog." Though it was difficult to contain my excitement and not share the happy news with her, my husband and I decided to surprise her with a puppy as a Christmas/birthday present. After much thought and discussion as to the kind of dog ideal for our family, we decided on the mini-dachshund, one our daughter had also expressed interest in.
Our timing was perfect because a family breeder advertised a litter of mini-dachshunds that would be born on Dec. 29. Now, for the fun! I bought a few of the many items I knew we would need for the new puppy, wrapped them and placed them under the tree. It was so much fun watching our daughter's puzzled expression, as she opened each present, expand into a knowing smile. I handed her the final gift, which was a note from her puppy, which basically said, "I will be arriving soon and I can't wait to meet you!"
For the next six weeks, we made several trips to visit her puppy, whom she named "Little Anne." During these visits, there was another little female who kept bumping me from behind and tugging my jacket. I tried to ignore her, as Jillian had already made her choice. We brought Annie home, and that first night I placed her in a small crate next to my daughter's bed with strict instructions: "It's going to be hard, but no matter what, don't allow the puppy in bed with you." I suggested she could reach into the crate to comfort her, but not to take her out. The next morning, I went upstairs early to take Little Anne outside to pee. Peeking in the door, what I saw tugged at my heartstrings to the point of bringing tears. My beautiful young daughter was snug under the covers, sleeping peacefully, as was her Little Annie, tucked inside her arm. They both looked so innocent and vulnerable, and the bond I imagined would surely grow seemed too much to bear for such a little girl. It came to me, right then, that I should go back and bring home that other little dog who had chosen me. I realized I had wanted her, too, and thought that two puppies would lighten the load on my daughter and spread the love. We named her Millie, and she is still with us, at 16. Her sister, Little Anne, died last summer.
Questions to consider prior to bringing your pet home: Where will it eat and sleep? Will you crate train your dog? Will it be allowed on the furniture? Are there rooms in your home that will be off limits? Will you provide a fenced in yard? Who will feed, walk and groom the dog, and how will these new responsibilities alter your work routine? Where, outdoors, do you want the dog to poop and pee? Who will be responsible for house training throughout the day? What about obedience training? Will you feed from the table? Like child-rearing, we don't always see eye-to-eye, and it is useful to have these discussions prior to bringing a pet home.
First, plan a good time to bring your new pet home. If you want to be successful house training your dog, you first need to build trust. Your relationship begins the moment you make first contact. If possible, plan your pet homecoming during a vacation or a long weekend. Maybe take a few days off work to focus on helping your new family member settle in. Successful house training is all about timing you have to be tuned in to your new pet, around the clock, and learn to read its body language as well as take it to a designated spot on a regular basis. Young puppies need to relieve themselves about every two hours. Is it possible to take some short breaks from work during the day or have lunch at home? Preventing accidents and rewarding successful elimination are keys to success, which requires the owner's presence and full attention. Decide what language you will use and use it every time your dog eliminates. At our house, it is "Go Poopers/PeePees" and then "Good boy to go Poopers!" followed by a treat. It is amazing how quickly they learn the language of the house. The more you talk to them, the more they will feel connected and will respond to your commands. And don't forget the treats! Reward positive behavior with bits of kibble or break up dog biscuits into small pieces. By keeping the treat small, you can reward good behavior frequently throughout the day without adding too many calories to their diet. My husband hangs his pants on hooks in the closet and Lizzie, our wiener-beagle, has learned to pull them off the hooks and then raids his pockets, which are always full of treats!
You will need to provide a healthy balanced diet and have fresh water available at all times. Consumer Reports just rated animal care products, and the results suggest that name brand products are not always better and that you can pay a lot less. Learn the definition of a "healthy balanced diet" and compare ingredients. One important development is the expiration of a patent on the main active ingredient, fipronil, in flea/tick medication. You can now buy competing products with the same active ingredient for much less. Look for PetArmor Plus, available at Walmart. Follow instructions carefully regarding age and weight of animal. Schedule a trip to the vet within a week of ownership and take along your pet's health record as well as a stool sample. Provide a comfortable fitting buckle collar and a leash, and have an identification tag made, ideally before you bring your animal home. Try to get in the habit of taking your dog's collar off in the house while you are away (for safety), but always put it back on, along with the leash, before venturing outside. Dogs will chase anything that moves, with no clue about oncoming cars. They sometimes escape from a fenced yard, or someone may leave the gate open make sure they are always wearing a collar outdoors. Micro-chipping is also available; ask your vet for more information.
Our home's living quarters is one big open space and too large of an area to monitor during the puppy training process. I bought a baby playpen, which was the perfect solution. When we were playing with the puppies, they could be out with us. When we needed to leave the room, attend to chores or leave the house, they were safe in a confined but open space. The playpen was roomy and provided them with a 360-degree view of the kitchen and the great room. They could watch the comings and goings of our senior dog and family members so they were never isolated. With a vinyl bottom and the use of newspaper, it was very easy to keep clean. Once they grew out of the playpen, we placed a crate in the kitchen. We latched the crate each night to reinforce the idea that it was their "home," which they would want to keep clean. During the day, when we were at work, the crate door remained open to the kitchen which was gated at the door. Baby gates are indispensably, even now, at our house. They are inexpensive, can be moved from room to room, and give the feeling of openness and inclusion.
A word about crates: Crate training is great! When we rescued our 6-year-old Rottweiler, Jessie, she was happy to go to her crate. We hung a quilt over the top and sides and it became her den, where she felt safe and could have some time to herself. The door remained open except at night. When she started having trouble with kidney stones, the crate probably saved our carpet. When she "had to go," she would bump the door of her crate and we knew she needed out. If she had been sleeping at the foot of our bed, chances are she would not have made it out of the house successfully. All of our crates, which are used primarily for sleeping and are quite spacious, I latch at night. Dogs do become ill on occasion, and senior dogs may become incontinent. It is easier to clean a crate, sometimes necessary in the middle of the night, than have to contend with cleaning a soiled carpet.
If you provide a crate large enough for the dog to stand up and turn around in, it can be a safe place to keep your dog for short periods of time when you leave your house and don't yet trust your animal alone in the house. Make sure it is comfortably cushioned and offer some safe chewees before your departure. A "short" period of time is defined as no more than four hours. If you will be gone for more than four hours, placing the open crate inside a gated kitchen or other room in the house is a better idea.
Another benefit of crate training is that if you ever travel with your dog, his "home" goes where he goes. A crate can be constructed of light-weight material and most fold flat for storage. Our dogs love their crates.
An adult dog at the Randolph County Humane Society was adopted a few months ago and promptly returned to us two days later. The reason: "It tore up the furniture." I have to wonder, did the adoptive pet owner bring this new dog into a strange home and then leave it alone in the house? A crate, along with a thoughtful training program, could have prevented this dog's return to the shelter. The environment was not prepared for a successful outcome. Dogs need structure and routine. But first, and foremost, dogs need to feel safe. A bond between the dog and at least one family member needs to be established, and that takes gentle patience and time. It doesn't seem that this unlucky dog had the benefit of any of the above considerations.
When you bring a new dog home, please don't relegate him exclusively to outdoor living. A doghouse outside is great, and a fenced yard is ideal. Even tying a dog out for short periods of time while the owner is at home is OK, as long as the tie-out is free from entanglement, out of harsh elements and on a level surface. A dog should never be left tied out when the owner is not at home. In my opinion, to confine a dog outdoors is a gross misunderstanding of a dog's nature. Dogs live in packs; they are social animals. Most thrive on human companionship. Living outdoors means lots of time alone, not to mention having to contend with climate and weather-related issues.
We adopted two 11-year-old mini-dachshunds from the RCHS shelter about six months ago. Hunter and Pepper have been together since birth. Their transition from their first home to the shelter and then from the shelter to our home was made much easier for them both because they had each other. Before bringing them home, I made many shelter visits. Behind the kennel bars, they looked like frightened little birds, curled up close together in their dog bed, with worried eyes at full attention. Because I had other animals at home, I wanted to be sure they felt they could count on me to keep them "safe" and that I would be their advocate. Hunter was not easy! He is a bit of a worrier, and it took many visits before he actually welcomed me with a wag of his tail. By the time I brought them home, I had become an important person in their lives. When I brought them into the house for the first time, I had a new dog bed with a down throw waiting for them. It was in a different spot in the house from the others so that my other animals had no claims to it, and Hunter and Pepper could make it their own, which they promptly did. I placed it in the center of our living area and they could easily watch our coming and going from a secure vantage point. Dachshunds are burrowers and all of my little dogs have a down throw to burrow under. They would venture out for short periods of time and then back to their bed they would scurry! They would burrow under the cover with only their little eyes peeking out. It makes me laugh to think about it. They have since learned to go up and down stairs and now follow me all through the house.
Puppies need to chew. Older dogs also like to chew; it feels good, is good for their teeth and it relieves stress. There are many chewees and toys on the market to choose from. When you give your dog a toy or chew for the first time, monitor the chewing/play for the first five minutes to decide if it is safe. Some toys and chews are safe for the first few play sessions but deteriorate overtime and should be thrown away. With puppies, the best way to prevent them from chewing your shoes, table legs, etc, is to provide them with safe, soft chew toys. Keep closet doors closed, use baby gates and pick up items from the floor and low tables that are off limits. And know, from the outset, that there will be damage. The chew stage doesn't last long and it is your job as the dog owner and keeper of the house to keep that damage to a minimum. When you have multiple adult dogs, be aware that there may be an issue with resource-guarding, especially if the treats are particularly appealing. Be careful about this. You will need to keep a close eye on them or possibly have them in separate rooms or crates while enjoying their treats. Remove toys or treats that instigate resource-guarding, especially when you are not at home. It could escalate into a problem and is not worth the stress!
Most of us have a weekly routine and when you bring a new dog home it is important to consider what changes might have to be made to accommodate your new family member. Decide on a feeding schedule and try to be consistent. Follow the same routine, each day, and talk your dog through it. It may mean getting up a bit earlier in the morning so that the dog can eat breakfast and have a chance for a second potty run before you go to work. Tell him to "Go peepees," and allow enough time for this so you won't feel rushed and consequently get frustrated with the dog. Once he knows what to expect and he learns the routine, his day and yours will begin on a happy note. Before my daughter leaves her house in the morning, she takes her dog for a walk and when she returns to the house she gives him a hug and says, "Mama has to go to work," and he goes to his corner bed and lies down." Knowing his routine provides him the security of knowing she will return.
Obedience training is critical to establishing a secure and trusting relationship between a dog and its owner and is a topic for another article. Many dogs end up in shelters because of "behavior issues" which are sometimes quite complicated and hard to "undo," and are usually the result of owner mistakes. Obedience training helps build confidence in the dog owner which strengthens the dog/owner relationship. "Feed me, love me, teach me." If we take those words to heart, we are forging a forever relationship which is what every dog needs and deserves.
Please spay and neuter your pets. They will live longer, healthier lives and have fewer behavior problems if you make that simple commitment. You will also help reduce pet overpopulation, which is a serious problem in Randolph County.
(Author Ginny Zuboy is vice president of outreach and volunteer coordinator for the Randolph County Humane Society, and the owner of Montessori Early Learning Center. The views reflected in this article are those of Ginny Zuboy, and may not always reflect the views of RCHS.)