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Puppies are full of mischief and piddle. They are fidgety, stubborn, unruly, nosy, noisy, chewy, yappy, and totally dedicated to their "incoming" and "outgoing" stuff. They drive many dog owners crazy. Their human caretakers seldom understand a dog's nature or know how to manage a dog, especially a very young one. The canine problems mount, and the puppy simply compounds things because his owners don't know what to do. But take heart. Inside every unmanageable puppy is an endearing dog waiting to bounce into his grown-up dog suit and become a normal member of your family.
Living with a huggable pup that sits quietly with his tongue hanging out is a fantasy. Even in this age of megabytes and car phones we still daydream about a puppy that will chase a tennis ball and grow up to carry the newspaper home in his mouth.
Getting a puppy is part of the American dream. But some puppies turn daydreams into nightmares. The innocent little dog curled up in his soft nest may disturb your deepest sleep by howling all night, tax your patience by peeing all over your carpet and chewing up your favorite clothes, while not coming close to being your best friend. The truth is few puppies can make your dreams come true. It's not their problem. It's yours. Reality, however, is not bad. A real puppy will swing his tail with pleasure when you walk through the door and will be honestly glad to see you. A real puppy grows up to be a real dog and can reward you with companionship and loyalty and something that's a lot like love.
There is, however, yet another puppy trap, and you are advised not to fall into it by turning the unmanaged puppy into the overmanagedpuppy. We call this the Superdog or Superpuppy Syndrome. It is normal to want to make your little dog a phi beta puppy. As there are overly ambitious parents, there are also overly ambitious dog owners. The burden of great expectations is placed on the small shoulders of dogs as young as three months. There is no question that their owners have only the best intentions. But overzealous puppy parents can do more harm than good.
There have been many feature news stories on television about the trend to create "superbabies." They show infants and toddlers (still trying to get oatmeal on a spoon) being taught how to read and being exposed to great art, poetry, mathematics, and various aspects of science. The glaze in the children's eyes and their smirking faces seem to indicate that they would prefer to have their diapers changed and be allowed to run off and play. Many educators feel that some of these "superbabies" will develop learning disabilities later in childhood because the parents are circumventing the normal growth and development process. When it comes to puppies it is all too easy to create serious behavior problems by introducing intense training methods plus caveman discipline, then expecting too much, too soon.
One of the myths of dog ownership is that you should never spoil your puppy. This is simply incorrect. It is a popular misconception that puppies must behave themselves at all times and that you must constantly discipline them and never let them get away with anything. In the beginning, expect puppies to do most things wrong. It is our responsibility to educate ourselves so that the appropriate methods are used to teach as we nurture a little dog.
For most dogs, maturity is reached at the end of the first year of life, although giant breeds mature a little later. Typically, puppies are taken to their new homes between two and three months of age. Try to compare a three- to five-month-old puppy to a nursery school or kindergarten child; a five- to seven-month-old dog to a grade schooler; a seven- to twelve-month-old dog to a teenager.
How much can you expect from a child in nursery school or kindergarten? Do not misunderstand: This is an important time for puppies as well as children. Rules must be established, but they should be more like boundary posts at first. Puppies must negotiate a learning process before we can expect them to behave like obedient angels. The learning process must not be harsh or unforgiving. A firm, demanding approach to training comes later, and even then it depends on the dog's temperament. The most important first step to managing your puppy properly is to develop a warm relationship with the dog, which is known as bonding. Gentle teaching comes next. Your puppy deserves good marks just for being himself. What we're looking for is your rapport card, with A's in Patience, Kindness, and Understanding. You just got a puppy. What do you do? Read on, dear dog owner, read on.
Copyright © 1992, 2002 by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis
Bonding with Your Puppy
Is there any member of the family more consistent, more reliable, trustworthy, giving, or loving than your dog? Probably not. However, as magical as the family dog is, he doesn't get that way by magic. If you've had any experience with dogs at all, then you know it doesn't always work out between every dog and every family. And even though it's terribly upsetting for the humans involved, it's far worse for the dog. In some cases, it can actually be fatal.
When you live with a new dog there is one thing that must come before training commands or even housebreaking: the creation of a bond between the dog and one or more members of the household. This is the development of an emotional tie between the family pet and everyone living with him. A new dog, young or old, must feel that he belongs, that he is a part of the family. Once the dog has been exposed to human contact during the earliest phase of puppyhood, his desire to become part of the human family is strong.
The Family Dog
So how do you create a good family dog? In order to explain that, we must first establish what exactly is a family. People, like dogs, are family creatures. But not all families consist of mothers, fathers, children, and grandparents. Many are quite untraditional; they consist of various types of people spending some part of their lives together.
People band together out of common interests, a need for other people, for companionship, for intimacy, and for a bit of comfort, warmth, and security. As John Lennon wrote, "I get by with a little help from my friends." Make no mistake about it, all of us need our families, no matter what kind they are, just as dogs do. Dogs band together because they are pack animals and live in groups that share the responsibilities for survival. A dog fits into the human family quite well but relates to it as a substitute dog pack.
The traditional human family consists of a mother, a father, and one or more children. But a family can also be a mother and a daughter. A nephew and an aunt. Two friends, two lovers, or one person and a dog. If you don't mind, the dog certainly won't.
You could define a family as simply two or more creatures sharing their lives. For better or for worse, that is the essence of family life. And a dog will always fit into the equation, if you give it the opportunity.
If you already have a family, then why do you need a dog? Possibly for protection, companionship, or for the fun of it. But whatever the reason, a dog adds one more presence in your life for you to love and to love you back. It's why we have babies. But is having a dog anything like having a baby? In some ways it is and in others there is no similarity at all.
The Four-Legged Baby
Both babies and puppies are helpless and totally dependent, and both need to be protected from themselves. So we baby-proof a house and we puppy-proof a house. Both are adorable, huggable, lovable, enchanting, enticing, playful, demanding, noisy, irritating, and manage to keep us up much of the night.
So what are the differences between a puppy and a baby? A puppy will never grow up and go off to college, forget to write home, and then show up unannounced with six friends for dinner and a load of dirty laundry. Of course, a child will throw a graduation cap into the air someday, look his or her parents in their teary eyes and say, "Thanks folks, for everything you've done for me." A puppy can't do that. But a puppy can grow into an adult dog and love you, adore you, and stay with you till the end.
The principal difference between children and puppies is their view of the world. Children grow up and go out into the world on their own. Puppies grow up, stay home, and try to live in harmony with you. That is the clue for making your dog a happy member of the family. It involves the element of harmony, and it is so easy to accomplish.
Three Requirements for Succeeding with Your Puppy
So how do you get a new dog to enter family life with ease and comfort and create harmony? There are three important aspects to this. The first, and probably the most important, is bonding with your dog. The second is understanding your dog. And the third is learning to control your dog. That's all there is to it.
This chapter deals with the concept of bonding between pet owners and their dogs. Bonding techniques are no longer considered a new concept in child raising. It is a new idea, however, for humans and their pets. When humans bond with each other they develop strong feelings that create long-term relationships. This is not quite the same as pair-bonding between dogs, wolves, or coyotes. When they pair-bond it is for the purpose of mating and rearing pups.
When you successfully create a bond with your puppy, everything falls neatly into place. Obedience training becomes easier, behavior problems are fewer and less intense, and your ability to enjoy your dog is greatly enhanced.
When you establish a bond with your dog, you give him a sense of security. It tells him he is loved as a member of the family and helps him adjust more easily to his new home. He'll be able to cope with anything providing he is with those who love him. Bonding with your dog makes all good things possible between you. Although it is not difficult to create a bond with a dog, it is best accomplished with a few easy techniques and an awareness of what is happening.
It is important to understand that behavior patterns in dogs develop early. What happens to a young dog in a new home in the first few weeks has a profound influence on his behavior for the rest of his life. By five weeks of age, puppies tend to imitate those who are around them the most: their mothers and litter-mates. It is the beginning of behavior that is learned rather than behavior that is instinctive. But puppies are also influenced positively or negatively by human attitudes, handling, and behavior toward them. The manner in which a human relates to his or her dog helps determine the dog's behavior patterns and may play a role in shaping the animal's temperament. It definitely shapes the nature of the relationship between the dog and the family it lives with.
Bonding with your dog creates feelings of love, pleasure, and a desire to nurture and protect him. To bond with your dog is to learn how to love him. Dogs that are bonded with their families usually have a strong desire to please them. Bonding with your dog also paves the way for easier training, because the dog trusts you.
There is no way to know what your new dog has experienced before he came to live with you. He may have been socialized with both other dogs and humans by a knowledgeable breeder, and treated well, or his previous life may have been a nightmare.
Whether you are dealing with a dog from a bad source, such as a puppy mill, or from a proper breeder or a shelter, you have an opportunity to communicate to your new dog that he is safe, cherished, and loved. This can also apply to a dog that has been living with you for a while. It is possible to change the existing relationship with your dog for the better.
How to Bond with Your Dog
Given that this is a book written by dog trainers, you may be surprised at the next statement: The first thing to do with a new puppy is to communicate your affection and not worry so much about dog training.
Because new puppies have no inhibitions, training, or physical control, they are going to soil the floor whenever they need to and wherever they happen to be. That means you must begin some form of housebreaking or paper training immediately. But we urge you to be as gentle as possible and avoid harsh discipline when doing this. Your puppy needs to get comfortable in his new home, and strict training from the first day interferes with the creation of a bond between you. Let him sniff around, learn where everything is, and get to know you before getting down to business.
Remember, the idea that you must never spoil your puppy is a misconception. Although puppies must be controlled, it is a mistake to constantly discipline them and never let them get away with anything. Expect puppies to do most things wrong in the beginning. Do not be harsh with your puppy. Think of yourself more as a teacher than a disciplinarian. Emotional nurturing is the key to creating a bond with your little dog. In the beginning, getting everyone in the family to relate to the new dog in a happy, loving way, with hugging, touching, and talking, is far more important than discipline.
Talking to your puppy is an essential ingredient for bonding. You may feel goofy talking to your dog, but you will be helping the process. No one ever went wrong having a long talk with a dog. Your tone of voice conveys all a dog needs to know about how you feel about him.
The same is true when talking to a newborn baby. We tend to get sappy as we hold the infant in the air and giggle and gurgle aloud. Most babies enjoy the attention you're giving them, even if you're making a fool of yourself. It must be true, because they either smile or listen very seriously. Everyone is interesting to a new baby, and everything you do or say has an influence.
Puppies respond to the human voice in much the same way. They listen attentively when you talk to them, but unlike babies, they do not look you in the eyes. This is an intricate part of dog behavior having to do with dominance and subordination as an aspect of pack behavior. Do not use harsh, loud, angry tones with your puppy, especially if you want to create a bond. When you speak with a soft tone of voice, you soothe and calm your puppy. If you use a high-pitched falsetto sound with enthusiasm, the puppy will become happily curious, energized, and will respond with pleasure like a baby being tickled under the chin. Whether your voice is soothing or playful, it creates an emotional tie between you and your dog that promotes love and trust. Your voice is almost as important to the bonding process as your hands. When you speak sweet nothings to your puppy, you have at your disposal an important tool for shaping a relationship with your dog that will last for the rest of his life.
Use a very high, falsetto tone of voice with extravagance and abandon. It is extraordinary how effective this is for getting a dog's trust, interest, and enthusiasm. It works miracles. Most dogs will slip instantly into a happy frame of mind and will be willing to do anything in the world for you. Imagine getting on your knees in front of a puppy and squeaking out in a falsetto voice, "Hello, Captain Dog, how are you? Are you ready to work for me today? Oh, yes, yes! What a good dog!" It's hilarious, but it works.
A variation of this is to sing to your dog. Not only will you help the bonding process, but you will be an important source of entertainment for the dog...and the rest of your family. Lift your head up high and howl out your song. If wolves can do it, so can you.
Hold Me, Touch Me
Go ahead, touch it. Your puppy's belly cries out to to be rubbed and petted. With few exceptions, all puppies want to be held, rubbed, stroked, petted, scratched, squeezed, and gently pulled. You only have to watch a litter of puppies together to see what happens naturally. The mother licks them, shoves them, picks them up with her teeth and moves them around. At feeding time the puppies huddle together and muddle into each other to get a fair share of milk. When they nap they pile up and sleep like one mound of fur. When they play they are constantly pawing at each other and rolling around, one on top of the other. A dog is a sensual creature and lives mostly by what he can see, hear, touch, and smell. Dogs cannot intellectualize about their feelings. Your dog craves physical contact with you. It is an important expression of your love and good feeling about him. It is always a pleasant surprise to the novice dog owner when her pet walks up to her and places his head under her hand, asking to be petted. It is an endearing gesture. Hold me, touch me is a major part of the bonding process. Be extravagant with your physical expressions of endearment with your puppy. Nothing establishes the bond quicker.
Another aspect of bonding involves teaching your puppy about the house he lives in and his place in it. This also includes establishing the dog's daily routines. Each time you play with your puppy take him from room to room so that he can see each one, smell it, and understand where it is. This will give the dog a perspective on the boundaries of his territory so that he can maintain the small part of it that is his. Establish one place for the dog to sleep and do not change it. Place his possessions there, including toys, bedding, rawhide chews, whatever. Next, decide where you want his feeding place, resting place, play area to be, and establish boundaries for him where he is allowed to go and where he is not allowed to go. It is important to accomplish this in a casual, happy manner so that there are no negative associations with his home. Having his own territory will ultimately be satisfying and will offer him one more reassurance about his place in the family.
When you're bonding with your dog it is important to teach without punishments or harsh corrections. Play with your dog whenever you can, providing it does not interfere with the puppy's need for food and rest. Give him several periods of exercise, involving tossed toys and rolled balls and ending with small food treats.
How you play with your dog is important. It must be done in a positive manner. Get down on the floor and make yourself available. Play with him, roll over with him, and do the sort of things you would with a crawling baby. Allow your play to involve cuddling and hugging. Avoid games that encourage aggressive behavior. Do not "box" with your puppy or encourage him to pull with his teeth. Forget tug-of-war and I've-got-your-nose. Do not create a relationship based on bitten fingers and slaps on the face. What is cute at three months of age can be ugly and dangerous in an adult dog. Remember, if the dog misbehaves, do not hit him. You wouldn't do that to a baby, and you shouldn't do it to a puppy.
In a Family Way
It is impossible for everyone to relate to the family dog in the same way. And vice versa. That's to be expected. What is important is that everyone accept the new dog as a member of the family and find a way to establish some sort of a relationship with him. Anyone living in the house should make an effort to bond with the new dog on some meaningful level.
There is usually one person who ends up providing most of the dog's needs, but it is best if those responsibilities are divided up. For example, the person who is the first one up should take the puppy out for his morning walk, and someone else can give him his first meal of the day, and so on. It is surprising to learn how fast a bond can be established when someone does just one thing for the dog on a daily basis.
When the puppy first arrives, everyone in the household makes a great fuss over him. But once he's been there for a while the excitement dies down and everyone is faced with the reality and responsibility of living with a new dog. While some members of the family will continue to be enthusiastic about the dog, others may not. That is understandable. But if the household is to have a nice experience with the new dog, everyone must make an effort to establish some kind of a bond. A person doesn't have to go ga-ga every time they see the dog. But talking to him, touching him, and doing one small thing for him each day will go very far in establishing an important tie with the animal.
Some children think of their pets as younger siblings. It is best not to interfere with that, unless the dog is in danger of being abused. Usually, when a child considers a new puppy in the house to be like a brother or sister it is a good situation. Some children regard their pet as a new, close friend, while some parents think of the puppy as another child. It really doesn't matter what the relationship means to each member of the family, just as long as the dog is treated well. The wonderful thing about a dog is that he will accept any kind of relationship you want provided it is based on kindness and love.
Here are some activities that help create a strong bond between dogs and their families:
Give your dog a friendly name and then use it frequently. This is not only good for the dog but keeps you in a pleasant frame of mind when you deal with him. If you name your dog Stupid or Barfy, something unpleasant will be reflected in your manner. There is simply no way to call a dog Stupid in a nice way.
Feed your dog with affection, walk your dog with pleasure and excitement, bathe him in a soothing manner, and comb and brush him gently. Take him with you frequently on errands and while shopping, allow the dog to be with you while doing chores, and exercise him in a playful manner. There are other bonding activities that are sure to win his heart and make you smile, too.
Bonding with your dog does not take a very long time. For some it can happen in fifteen minutes. For others it may take anywhere from one day to one week. It may happen quickly, but it lasts for a lifetime.
Copyright © 1992, 2002 by Mordecai Siegal and Matthew Margolis