The ‘C’ time is almost upon us, the time of year when some people will think about getting a puppy. Most breeders will let pups leave their mothers at about 7 or 8 weeks, so bitches will be having their ‘festive litters’ about now.
Dogs are not born trained and obedient, no matter how well behaved their mothers are. Training and discipline come from YOU, the owner, so if you’re not prepared to put anything in, you are just heading for trouble and that adorable puppy, through no fault of its own, could find itself either dumped and abandoned by the roadside or sent off to the pound by February.
A DOG IS FOR LIFE, NOT JUST FOR CHRISTMAS.
Growing up, my family always had a dog. However, as an adult, choosing the right one for you may not be as straightforward as you think. You need to take into account your lifestyle, things like if you’re out at work all day, the size of dog prorata to you and your home (ie. a St Bernard pup is gorgeous, but not practical if you live in a bedsit) , eating habits for the pair of you and of course health, exercising and socialising your pet. You will find that as a dog owner, people are usually more friendly, though they will nearly always be attracted by the dog first and not your charismatic smile! Dog owners also like to talk about their pets so are usually pleased when you take an interest. I always ask the owner first if I can fuss their dog or give it a biscuit if I have one. You never know if it has food allergies or on a special diet or perhaps has a blind side. It wasn’t until recently that I discovered retired greyhounds don’t need a lot of exercise, and a 20 minute walk each day will normally suffice.
Our vet has a Leonberger (think Mastiff cross St Bernard with a big fluffy face and huge feet) . I’d never met one before so looked it up. They can weigh up to 170 pounds and stand 31 inches tall. That’s a BIG dog to get on your lap if it’s not feeling well. As with most giant breeds, exercise in the puppy days has to be limited as the bones take longer to develop and so too much too early can cause all sorts of problems for them in later life. Saying that though, apparently they don’t need masses of exercise anyway, and as our vet described hers, can be a bit of a couch potato.
Choosing the right vet for your dog is also important. I had a rescue dog once that associated anyone in a white coat with pain. The vet I was using at the time was brilliant and took his coat off on our visits, making a fuss of her so that eventually she grew to trust him. Our present vet may be a half hour drive away, but they have a 24 hour service, put the animal first, and also understand anxious owners like me. Fees can vary, but regular check ups, jabs, worming and flea treatments are paramount in keeping your dog healthy and protected against disease. Insurance is optional here, but there are plenty of deals around, just watch the small print. Microchipping is recommended and due to become law for dogs in the UK in 2016.
I must emphasise that I am not a professional dog breeder, expert or trainer.
I am just an ordinary person who has always loved dogs. It doesn’t matter what breed, though I do have my preferences . Several of my posts contain little snippets of, or are about, dogs so my thoughts are from personal experience and the pleasure of dog ownership over several decades.
All puppies are cute little furballs. If buying one, it’s recommended you see it with the mother, as her temperment will give you an idea of how your pup may turn out. If you can see Dad too, even better.
I made the mistake of buying what I was told was a labrador cross collie. She was actually a collie cross red setter of working stock and should never have been sold as a house pet. She was too headstrong and I lacked the necessary authorative discipline to train her properly and maximise her full potential. With my parents help, we were able to rehome her, and as far as we know she lived a long active and happy life on a farm.
There is much information available about getting a dog (I recommend “Identification Guides: Dogs” published through Flame Tree Publishing which gives excellent guidance on size and common popular breeds, and also “The KISS Guide to raising a Puppy” published through Dorley Kindersley (DK) which answers a lot of questions to help you decide what puppy to buy). Labradors and retrievers are wonderful family pets, but they are notorious chewers, so if left alone, be prepared for gnasher nibblings. However, they are apparently easy to train as they will do anything for food. I’ve never had one, but plenty know me and my biscuit pocket!
If you want an older dog, there are of course many rescue centres. My sister’s last 4 dogs have all been rescues, and they have lived to be a ripe old age. I have met a lot of people who have also had rescue dogs and the dogs themselves have been lovely, ONCE they’ve settled into their new homes and routines with their new owners. I have heard several horror stories too, so if you decide to take on a rescue dog, find out as much as you can about its history and the breed first, especially if you have other pets or children.
Also, if you start a family after the dog has been in residence with you for a few years, beware of the possibility of jealousy. The dog doesn’t understand why this ‘new thing’ is taking up so much of your time, time once dedicated to IT, and it doesn’t know how to share you. Reactions are varied so a lot of care, attention, consideration and reassurance to your pet is needed here. They are Part of the Family after all.
Common sense says NEVER LEAVE ANY DOG ALONE WITH ANY CHILD, NO MATTER HOW MUCH YOU TRUST IT.
I am not a fan of small dogs, but even they have a certain charm for many people. Regardless of breed, all dogs need training and discipline. RPR (Repetition, Praise and Reward) is our preferred method and always finish a training session on a positive note, so that puppy associates it with fun. If there are two of you, it is important to use the same key words and methods in your training so as not to confuse the poor animal as it tries it’s best to please you. Two of the first words we taught Maggie were NO! and WAIT! Living in the country, it’s important to keep her away from potential danger off lead without destroying her natural curiosity streak, which we encouraged under supervision. She responds to ‘Here’ rather than ‘Come’ on recall, and if we add the word ‘NOW!’, she senses the urgency and that interesting scent will have to wait (99% of the time) . If your puppy does do something wrong, you need to react to it at the time, so that he understands what has displeased you. Don’t carry your displeasure on too long though. Dogs get insecure like the best of us, and need to know that, even if they’ve upset you, you still love them. After each sleep, on wakening it’s a new day to them and if you start it off being angry at them, they won’t understand why.
Another tip I was given was that both of you feed your puppy, so that it doesn’t associate only one of you with dinner. Also, your dog needs to know its place in the pecking order of the household. I was a bit lax in this some years ago which resulted in a dominance problem. Two of the easiest ways to help combat this are to make your dog wait until you have gone through doorways or gateways first, and at meal times, you have your meal, then you feed them (no titbits at the table!) .
We seem to have struck a good balance with Maggie as she responds to both of us for discipline and commands but if she is uncertain or unnerved, she will go to my hubby, and if she’s feeling unwell, she’ll come to me. When she was tiny, she was always tucked inside hubby’s coat, so when anything came too close, he gave her the security and confidence that he wouldn’t let anything hurt her. For my part, if she was ill, it was always me who cleared up (one of the few things hubby can’t face!) and provided the tummy rubs and cuddles.
Yes, we have let her get away with a few things (she sleeps on our bed, BIG MISTAKE allowing her up just once when she was small) but all in all, the three of us are a family unit and she looks after us too in her own way. When we were camping, it was she who stayed awake most of the night gently growling when rats from the haystacks came too close to our tent. She was only ten months old at the time, and spent the majority of the following day asleep in the car as we moved on. Bless.
I haven’t got all the answers to doggy problems or any guaranteed training methods. Each animal has their own personality, and to me, it all comes down to one on one. If you put a lot of time, patience and love into training your pet, the rewards can be endless, the companionship unconditionally loyal.
As Peter Shelley sang in 1975, Love Me, Love My Dog
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