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My dog Buster was my bad-tempered but deeply beloved companion for 17 long years. He was king of the house, mogul of the manor.
Until my husband and I brought home our newborn, Alex. Things were tense, but we hoped Buster would accept Alex as part of our pack. Delusional? Perhaps. But it really bit us hard, literally, when Alex started crawling, wound up next to Buster, and the dog attacked him in the face. Thankfully, no damage was done, but the dog had to go. He went to live with my brother.
A friend had a similar story: Her new puppy was rolling around on the couch when her daughter threw a tantrum on the floor and wouldn't stop screaming. The dog, agitated and confused, nipped her on the ear, terrifying her.
To avoid such mishaps, which can end fatally in some cases, we consulted dog trainer Kate Perry for tips on helping your two-legged and four-legged family members peacefully coexist. Here are the biggest mistakes new dog owners make, and how to avoid them. And for more information on where to adopt a dog, visit the North Shore Animal League America.
1. Not Socializing the puppy to the world outside within the first 16 weeks
Studies have shown that the most impressionable age bracket in a dog's life is the first four months.
Most owners are getting their pup between 8-14 weeks. As a result, their pup has only been exposed to the breeder and his or her litter mates. When you bring your puppy home, expose him or her to the world. So go ahead and take your pup out with you everywhere you go, and expose it to the sights and sounds of real life: kids playing, cars honking, people talking.
2. Expecting the puppy to know where to go pee/poop by itself within the first few weeks
House training issues are the number one reason most dogs are returned to the shelter, so this is a big deal. A lot of owners think that in two weeks the pup should know where to go, but that is wrong. It can take up to six to eight months to perfect the house training, especially if you have multiple homes and travel a lot. So, owners, please stick to a strict schedule and invest time and energy into training your canine.
What goes in must come out, so timing is everything. Do not give your dog endless supplies of food and water. That means two to three feedings a day, and five to six water offerings a day. Cut off water two hours before bedtime.
Your dog will need to eliminate:
- After waking up from a nap.
- After eating and drinking water.
- After a round of playtime.
3. Letting pup have free roam in the home
Many owners feel like they want to let the puppy explore. The challenge is that the pups have not learned the boundaries of where to eliminate, or where not to chew. This is where they can get into trouble and start chewing and peeing in all the wrong places. If you do have pup out and about, he or she needs to be leashed up with a harness or collar and must be supervised during that time, especially around children.
It’s much safer and easier to manage the pup if they have a safe containment area. You can do this by using a wire playpen, a gated-off bathroom area, or a wire crate.
4. Not exercising your dog enough
The more you play and walk your pup, the less jumping, barking and chewing you will get. Do your research and match your breed to your lifestyle. So if you chose a Jack Russell or a border collie, you better get into jogging real quick. Hiring dog walkers and finding good playdates and a reputable daycare to help pup let off some steam will help calm unwanted behaviors and tire pup out.
5. Thinking the pup is too young to learn commands
No puppy is too young to learn commands. Training sessions can be anywhere from two to five minutes or five to ten minute increments. Alternatively you can practice each command doing five to ten repetitions each with a short break, then repeat command again for another five to ten repetitions.
6. Thinking all puppies are the same
Remember that each dog is different, and each one comes with its own breed tendencies. And depending on where they came from (a shelter, breeder or pet store), they will come with their own individual issues. So be open-minded to adjusting the training to your dogs needs and type of dog that he or she is.
7. Not supervising your kids when they're around their new pet
In theory, kids and dogs sound like a match made in holiday heaven. But it's not necessarily so for the dog. The biggest mistake owners make is not understanding or respecting the dog's threshold of tolerance. And remember every dog and child are different.
- Don't let your child poke or squeeze the dog, and especially its tail. And don't leave your child unattended with the dog. Things can happen so quickly. If you have to leave the room, take the child with you, or put dog behind a gated-off area or in their crate with door closed.
- Encourage your child to be calm around the dog. And reward good behavior for both the child and the dog. Teach your child to avoid making direct eye contact and refrain from hugging, squeezing and picking the dog up. Instead show the child some commands the dog knows, using positive reinforcement. You can teach the dog to sit or stay down, and then tell them to "find it" and look for a treat. It's a fun game for families to play together.
- The message you want to give your pooch is that every time the child is present, something good happens. A dog who is rewarded for calm behavior in front of the child is more likely to continue behaving this way and the same holds true for the child.
- Understand and respect your dog's signals. If a dog walks away or turn its head sideways, that's a sign that he or she needs a break. If a dog nips or growls, simply remove the dog from the situation calmly and separate the dog and child.