Sydney Head, Full Circle Obedience
People spend hours researching appliances and struggling over paint swatches in order to prepare their new home before the much anticipated move-in day. They seldom put the same kind of effort into preparing for the cute rescue puppy or adult dog they are welcoming into their home as a lifelong family member. Regardless of the age of our new companion or from whence he came, it is important to provide for all of his needs in order to maintain a healthy, stable, safe environment. Some items are basic, common sense necessities. Some will provide the entertainment, comfort, or mental stimulation that offer exercise and learning opportunities for dogs and puppies.
Things To Consider
High quality food: Dogs require proper nutrition for good health. It is difficult at best to decipher the code of “ingredients” on the back of the dog food bag. Do your research before buying a food that has great pictures of meat, vegetables, and cute puppies adorning the front of the bag. Generally speaking, you will want to avoid corn. Dogs develop allergies and have specific nutritional needs that are not met by most bargain brand foods. If you buy high quality food, your dog will typically be healthier, have fewer gastrointestinal issues, and often produce less waste – resulting in less cleanup.
Crates: Don’t underestimate the importance of crate training your dog. Choosing the appropriate size is paramount to the success of your training. Your dog should be able to stand up without his head touching the top of the crate and be able to completely turn around or lie down without touching the sides -- no smaller, no bigger.
Chew toys: Kong chew toys, hollow raw bones that are longer than the width of your dog’s mouth, or other heavy duty chew toys that can be stuffed with a variety of doggie goodness (canned dog food, peanut butter, squeeze cheese, dry kernels of dog food mixed with a little yogurt or cottage cheese) are great tools that entertain your dog while you are busy.
Baby gates: Baby gates are a great way to confine your dog to safe zones in your house and make for easy supervision. Your new friend will have a difficult time making mistakes about eliminating and chewing if he is properly restricted to areas that are more closely supervised.
White noise/sound machine: This is relatively new advice. There are some studies that show that running water or low sounds help sooth puppies or dogs when they are introduced to a crate or a new situation.
Puzzles: Puzzles are great for puppies and busy dogs. No, not the thousand-piece variety still sitting half-finished on your table after three weeks, but a puzzle designed with a happy dog in mind. Puzzles keep dogs mentally stimulated and provide them with a job other than destroying your woodwork or your favorite pair of shoes.
You can find puzzles by Nina Ottosson or Zanie at several online vendors. IQ treat balls are great at keeping dogs busy in the backyard for a limited time. Even with these toys, please don’t leave your dog alone in the yard for long periods of time without checking on him. Remember, supervision is the key to your dog’s safety and the safety of your backyard furniture and/or plants.
Lightweight 4-6 foot leash: This is the perfect training tool for your new dog to drag around at the house while under supervision. It will enable you to be efficient in preventing your pup from jumping on guests, getting in the trash, or chewing on the wrong thing until you have attended a training class. You can use the leash to gently redirect your dog to his crate, dog blanket or bed with a big yummy chew toy, bone, or his favorite puzzle and everyone will be happier. Remember to remove the leash when your dog is not supervised.
Training: Formal training is recommended for puppies and adult arrivals. Training will make for a better-behaved dog and a more knowledgeable dog parent, providing you remember to do your homework. You may want to investigate private lessons, group classes, or boarding school for your new dog. Group training provides an opportunity to meet other dog parents, learn how to train your dog, and socialize your dog.
The Social Animal
Facebook and Twitter are the mainstays of today’s social media craze. Unfortunately, they don’t work for dogs. Additionally, there are many misconceptions about what constitutes socializing a dog or having a well-socialized dog.
“We take him everywhere in the car.” That’s like having a dog house on wheels. Most dogs feel secure in the car; however, it is a completely different experience for the dog once the dog exits that comfort zone. New sounds, smells, and textures can easily over stimulate your dog and cause reactions you haven’t seen before.
“Oh, my dog is a social butterfly! We have the neighborhood kids over all the time, we host dinner parties, and my out of town family visits fairly often. My dog loves everybody who comes to our house!”
That’s great if your dog is friendly and social when you have guests, but this does not count as being a ‘well-socialized dog’. If your dog has not left your home in the last four to six months, your dog may actually display shyness away from home. Just like people, every dog is more comfortable in his own territory.
“But my dog is socialized because he comes to work with me every day.” If your dog goes to work with you, lucky you and lucky dog! But this does not create a socialized dog. Often, an office dog is behind a desk or confined to a corner of the room. Given enough time, that corner becomes his territory. The dog is used to your officemates in his territory and he knows his behavior requirements at work. The office is for your dog, as it is for many of us, a second home.
“I take my dog on walks in the neighborhood every day.” Even though you and your dog will probably encounter other dogs, joggers, parents pushing strollers, cyclists, delivery trucks, mailmen, etc., on your walks, it’s easy to get used to the neighborhood after just a few days. Your dog is confident knowing he can predict everyone else’s routine.
“I thought taking my dog to the dog park and doggie daycare on a weekly basis was socialization.” A caution is needed here. Dogs can become very ‘dog oriented’ if all of their socialization is based on interaction with other dogs. Humans may no longer hold the necessary importance to foster a well-behaved and interactive dog. If you always take your dog to the same locations, those become familiar and your dog does not continue to learn additional coping skills that promote stability in new situations.
“So what do dog trainers and behaviorists count as true socialization for dogs?!” In a nutshell, you should do everything below as often as possible.
- Visit new locations, buildings and environments every week to maintain coping skills.
- Try walking in a different neighborhood next time you are out for a walk to keep things fresh.
- Find dog-friendly establishments and take your dog along. Local home improvement stores, sporting goods stores, hotel or motel lobbies, outdoor dining areas, and events at local fairgrounds are excellent opportunities to train your dog and provide new surroundings. Don’t abuse the privilege when stores allow you to bring your dog along. Be certain your dog has done his business before taking him inside, carry a clean-up kit, and don’t allow him to damage merchandise or bother customers. It is a good idea to scope out any new place without your dog before you visit with your dog. Be sure to make some kind of purchase in appreciation of the opportunity to shop with your best friend.
Oklahoma City has some wonderful areas to explore with your dog, including Midtown, The Paseo, Downtown, The Plaza District, and Myriad Gardens. While these are great places to experience with your dog, don’t go during hectic, busy times such as the dinner hour or a weekend evening. This can be overwhelming for you, your dog, and the business owner.
Puppy Care Tips
Once you have gathered your tools, have familiarized yourself with the concept of socializing your new addition, and have made the commitment to yourself and your dog to provide a healthy, caring environment, you are on your way to being an excellent dog parent. A few additional pieces of information will make your transition to dog owner go smoothly.
If you bring home an eight- to twelve-week-old puppy, please wait until he has had at least two rounds of vaccinations -- and check with your veterinarian -- before you start strutting him around town. In the beginning, take your puppy and yummy treats to quiet, safe new places. Take your pup to a friend’s house, preferably one without dogs, because you do not want another dog to scare your pup at this impressionable stage. Additionally, you want to keep the puppy safe from viruses and diseases your pup may not be fully immune to yet.
Crates are useful throughout your dog’s life. A dog’s crate is his safe area, hidey-hole, or man cave. Keep that comfortable crate ready with a stuffed Kong chew toy, Nylabone, or a real bone with raw marrow (usually found in the freezer section at some pet supply stores). This will keep your pup busy while providing long-term focus on fun toys instead of anxiety about your absence.
Crates are a great way to prevent behavioral issues. Full Circle Obedience receives calls weekly from clients who have three-to five-year-old dogs that revert back to being destructive or reactive, or have developed soiling issues that were addressed years earlier. It’s relatively easy to stop these unwanted behaviors by putting your dog back in a safe place when they are home alone or when guests are visiting. Unfortunately, negative behavior is much more difficult to correct if the dog is not crate trained.
If you find that your new companion has residual issues from his previous home, don’t be too quick to give up. Many issues can be addressed with a private session with an experienced trainer who uses positive reinforcement. Do your homework and be certain the trainer does not use punishment or harsh training methods.
Your goal is to have stable, good-natured dogs -- dogs that can handle a variety of situations and environments. If you follow these tips, you’re well on your way on a journey full of laughter, love, and undying devotion from your new best friend.
For more tips, or to enroll your dog in a training program, visit www.fullcircleobedienceschool.com.
The lifestyle magazine for Oklahoma City dog lovers.