Are you thinking of getting your first dog or cat? Becoming a pet owner is a big commitment, but it’s well worth the investment. Companion animals are a source of comfort and can ease anxiety and stress. If you’re ready to bring a pet home, here are six questions you’ll want to answer first.
Which Pet Is Right for You?
Take some time to really think about your answer to this one. Consider your home, your lifestyle, and your new pet’s comfort when making your decision. Love getting outside and have a big backyard? A dog could be your perfect companion. Don’t like walking that much and live in a small apartment? Then a cat may be a better option for you. Once you’ve picked your pet, think about which breed will be best as well. Some breeds are more active than others, and some may require more grooming and upkeep. You can even get a hypoallergenic pet (see www.babble.com/home/12-great-pets-for-people-with-allergies) if you suffer from allergies.
How Should You Prepare Your Home?
Help your new pet feel right at home by taking some time to really prepare your home. If you have houseplants around, check to see if they are safe for animals and remove or reposition those that may be toxic. If you plan on letting your dog out in your yard, check for poisonous plants (see www.thespruce.com/plants-poisonous-to-dogs-2132451) there as well. Be careful when using pesticides and lawn treatments and think about switching out cleaning products for more natural products that won’t cause harm to dogs or cats.
What Supplies Will You Need?
If you’re getting a new pet, you’ll need a few necessities. If you’re leaning toward a large dog, you’ll want to make sure they have a large bed of their own, a leash that’s easy on your hands, and maybe raised food and water bowls. A cat will likely need a good brush that will keep excess hair away, and a couple of scratching posts will save your furniture from scratches. Pick up some basics, like food and litter boxes, as well. Getting the right gear will keep your pet comfortable and you stress free.
How Will You Keep Your Pet Safe?
Your new pet will depend on you for their safety, so take steps to keep them out of harm’s way. Keep dogs on a secure leash and be careful when opening doors if you have a cat. Microchipping is a smart idea for any pet and can improve the chances for a reunion if they do get lost. Be mindful of foods that can be hazardous to your pet’s health. Keep an eye out for these toxic foods in trash and out in public and make sure to keep them out of reach in your own home.
What Kind of Schedule Will Your New Pet Have?
Dogs and cats thrive on routines, so set up a schedule for your new pal. Most vets recommend feedings twice a day and daily time for play. Dogs need walks twice a day and a few trips outside for potty breaks in between. Puppies may need more frequent trips outside. You may need to spend time teaching a new kitten how to use the litter box. Keep time commitments in mind when picking out your pet and then establish their new routine as quickly as possible to help them settle in safely.
How Will You Bond With Your New Pal?
Connecting with your new pet may take some time and effort, so be patient when building the bonds between you and your new buddy. Training and play are wonderful ways to connect with your pet, so set aside a few minutes each day to hang out together. Using positive reinforcement can also help foster a healthy relationship. Rescued animals can be especially nervous in a new home, and you may need to take extra steps to establish trust and encourage affection. Patience and positivity can go a long way in welcoming a new pet into your world.
You should be excited to become a pet owner! It’s quite the commitment, but a little planning and knowledge will keep your new pal healthy and help you enjoy your new life together.
By Jessica Brody
Next to housetraining, one of the biggest challenges — and frustrations — you may face as a pet parent with the arrival of a newly adopted puppy is his insistence on mouthing and nipping your hand, forearm and ankle. It also ranks among the top reasons puppies and young dogs are relinquished to animal shelters.
Sure, your pup is darn cute and full of canine charm – but ouch! His little pointed teeth can hurt and even break skin. And, without being taught the safe and acceptable way to interact with people, your dog’s playful biting behavior can evolve into a more serious issue: play aggression.
“Play aggression is playful behavior, but with over-exuberance and without adequate (bite) inhibition,” notes Pamela Perry, DVM, Ph.D., a veterinary behaviorist at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Animal Behavior Clinic in Ithaca, NY. “Uncontrolled play is dangerous because the dog can knock people down or injure them with their teeth.”
It is important to recognize that playful mouthing and nipping is normal behavior among fast-growing puppies. Play mouthing starts to develop in puppies between 2 and 4 weeks of age and accelerates between 4 and 14 weeks of age as they learn the proper play etiquette with their littermates. When one puppy accidentally bites down too hard on another or jumps on him too hard, the other lets out a painful yelp. This is a signal to the first puppy to tone down his play.
“Puppies learn from their littermates that overly exuberant play (growling, biting and wrestling) is not tolerated,” says Dr. Perry. “This is very important that puppies have adequate socialization with littermates or with other puppies of similar age so that they learn to inhibit their bites.”
But sometimes, a puppy is separated from his littermates before learning the canine rules of bite inhibition. He needs your help in learning how to play politely.
Dr. Perry offers these strategies to help you tone down your dog’s mouthing and nipping actions:
• Head to school. Enroll your young pup (after he has completed his round of puppy vaccinations) in a class taught by a professional dog trainer. During these supervised classes, your puppy gets to learn how to play properly with other puppies of his own age.
• Select the right toys. Your fast-growing puppy is teething and transitioning to permanent adult teeth. His gums may ache. Provide him with appropriate chew toys to satisfy his oral needs.
• Choose your interactive games wisely. Two safe games to engage with your puppy are fetch and tug-of-war. When done properly, these games provide an acceptable outlet for your puppy’s innate urges to grab and pull on things with his mouth. Ideal fetch toys include tennis balls and nylon floppy discs. Fetch provides a safe distance between you and your puppy. For tug-of-war play, choose a tug toy that is at least three feet in length to give a safe distance between your hand and your dog’s mouth. Teach your dog to drop the tug toy on cue so he learns that you start and end all fun games.
• Avoid hand wrestling with your puppy. Never tease your puppy by placing your hand over his muzzle in a friendly game of wrestling. Don’t permit him to nibble or pounce on your toes, either. Unintentionally, you are encouraging his mouthy behavior. • Don’t hit or pin your puppy. Resist smacking your puppy’s muzzle or holding his mouth closed if he nips you as these punitive tactics can backfire and cause him to bite more, and harder.
• Teach your dog to be gentle during play. If your puppy’s teeth contact your skin, make a high-pitched yelp to let him know it hurts. Don’t quickly yank your hand from his mouth because this rapid movement can trigger his play drive. Instead, let your hand go limp as you move it away from his mouth.
• Know when to stand up and end play. Employ time outs to teach your puppy that fun playtime ends when he becomes too mouthy or nippy. Do this by abruptly yet calmly standing up, turning around and walking away. This technique teaches your puppy that gentle interactive play reaps your attention and overly aggressive actions halts playtime. Resume play with your puppy when he is calm.
“As soon as the puppy will calmly sit for the owner, play may resume,” adds Dr. Perry. “In general, puppy mouthing can be prevented or managed by giving the puppy lots of exercise, play dates with other puppies and obedience training to teach appropriate behaviors.”
Start teaching your puppy the proper play rules from Day 1 while he is still young and his bites are not as harmful. Dr. Perry also recommends teaching your puppy to learn to sit on cue before any interactions with people: greeting visitors to the home, engaging in fetch or other games or getting ready to go on a leashed walk.
Be on the lookout for warning signs that over-exuberant play mouthing has evolved into canine aggression that warrants seeking the help of a veterinary behaviorist. Some dogs may start biting out of frustration or fear.
“Things that indicate the play aggression is progressing to something more serious include stiff body postures, staring, or prolonged deep-toned growling,” says Dr. Perry. “Inadvertent reinforcement of mouthing behavior, inconsistent interactions, or use of physical punishment (hitting the puppy) can exacerbate the problem and lead to fear- or conflict-related aggression.”
By Sarah Zumhofe
Not sure if a cat you wish to approach is shy or fearful? Recognizing the difference between these two feline behaviors can mean the start of building a trusting relationship or the onslaught of a vicious attack.
A shy cat is more apt to “freeze” in place and even tremble in hopes you will walk away. A fearful cat, however, is more apt to flatten his ears, dilate his pupils and deliver a warning hiss or growl before swatting or biting you if you attempt to touch him.
“There is no doubt that the behaviors exhibited by fearful and shy animals overlap,” notes Leni Kaplan, DVM, a lecturer in the Community Practice Service at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y. “In my experience, shy cats will usually not show signs of aggression because they are trying to get away or avoid being the center of attention. Fearful cats, on the other hand, tend to feel threatened or endangered (whether it is genuine or imagined) and are likely to swat, hiss or growl to discourage being handled.”
Other fearful signs include a cat bringing his feet closer to his body, lowering his head and making himself seem smaller. His back will become more arched and his ears more flattened when a person he does not know approaches. As the person gets closer, he may start hissing — a warning sign before he strikes.
When in doubt as to a cat’s emotional state, Dr. Kaplan cautions you to never:
• Attempt to invade the cat’s personal space.
• Lower yourself to be face-to-face with this cat.
• Touch his hind end, tail or paw pads.
• Speak in a loud voice.
• Move abruptly or use large gestures.
“I tell people that cats like quiet people,” adds behaviorist Katherine Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Cornell. “When meeting a cat, use your ‘library’ voice and resist making expressive hand motions.”
Unlike dogs, cats are solitary hunters by nature and are apt to avoid a fight or conflict whenever possible by distancing themselves by hiding or fleeing the room. As both predator and prey, cats often show fear or defensiveness in strange surroundings or with unfamiliar people. If they perceive they are being cornered, they may lash out.
In a 2013 study conducted by Maddie’s Institute under the direction of Sheila D’Arpino, DVM, a board-certified veterinary behaviorist, how a kitten or cat behaves in a shelter is not always a good representation of the cat’s true behavior when he enters a less stressful surrounding, such as being placed in a home.
The study indicated that 87 percent of respondents (1,069 individuals) reported that a shy or fearful cat they adopted or fostered hid for the first 24 hours once in their homes. The majority — 55 percent — reported that they were able to interact with the shy or fearful feline within two weeks and that most of these cats became comfortable and relaxed in their homes in less than three months.
The study concluded that by proper handling, offering a safe environment and when needed, using behavior modifications and/or anti-anxiety medications, many shy or fearful cats can evolve into loving pets.
Predictability is one way to build confidence and a sense of security in newly adopted kittens or cats. Felines are fans of household routines.
“Make sure the cat has escape routes like on top or under furniture, especially if there are dogs or other cats in the home,” says Dr. Houpt. “Initially, keep dogs on leashes inside or at least separate them in different rooms using barriers, such as baby gates, so they can sniff one another without having close or physical contact.”
Dr. Kaplan encourages owners to be in tune with their cat’s individual temperaments and work within the limits of that pet. Some cats may just prefer less handling and attention than others. She offers these tips to help a shy or fearful cat feel more at home:
1. Limit exposure to situations that create fear and anxiety. For example, feed the cat in a separate room from other pets. He needs to feel he can eat without being threatened by other pets. 2. Consider clicker training the cat to teach him new tricks and build his confidence.
3. Create a calm, predictable and stable environment by offering cat trees and litter boxes in different locations in the house.
4. Limit the amount of handling the cat initially and slowly build his trust in you.
Recognize that your cat tunes into your emotional level as well and can sense when you are feeling impatient or afraid. When taking your cat to the veterinary clinic, for example, try to remain calm and reduce any outward display of fear or anxiety.
Also, understand that the source of your cat’s fearful response may be an underlying medical condition, such as pain or hormonal imbalances. Book an appointment with your veterinarian to exam your cat who may be an ideal candidate for a sedative or anti-anxiety medication that is given prior to an anticipated stressful situation, says Dr. Kaplan.
When it comes to handling a fearful cat, less is more.
“I’m a strong advocate of low-stress handling techniques,” says Dr. Kaplan. “I use towels (or large blankets) to handle cats. Usually they feel secure and do not fight or flail because they are not being directly touched by the person restraining them. Do not scruff cats because this will only escalate their fear, anxiety and shyness so that they will no longer be able to be handled.”
Keep in mind that fear ranks as the most common cause of aggression in cats at veterinary practices, according to the American Association of Feline Practitioners. That is why it is critical to recognize early signs to take measures to reduce or prevent the escalation of fear.
The use of nylon face muzzles that cover the eyes calms some cats because it reduces the intensity of visual stimuli in the exam room.
The type of pet carrier you select can also help mitigate some fearfulness in your cat at the clinic. Plastic carriers with removable tops and front can allow a fearful cat to remain in the carrier during an examination. And the use of a towel can make an examination less stressful. Some cats feel more secure and relaxed when lightly swaddled in a towel while being examined in their carrier or on the exam table.
By allowing the cat to stay in the bottom half of the carrier, a towel can be placed over the cat, creating a “tent effect” but still allowing the veterinarian to access your cat.
When coming home with your cat, you can reduce the chance of any aggression from other cats at home by leaving the returning cat in the carrier. Watch how the other cat(s) are reacting to his return. If there is no hissing, wait about 5 minutes before letting the cat out of the carrier. Monitor for any reaction and if any signs of aggression surface, distract the cats by clapping or stomping to separate them. Never attempt to separate them or pick one up when they are in an aroused state because one or both may redirect their aggression on you.
Reducing the Fear Factor for Veterinary Visits
All cats need and deserve to be examined by veterinarians at least once a year, ideally twice a year. Marty Becker, DVM, America’s Veterinarian, is spearheading a national Fear-Free™ Initiative that includes veterinarians, animal behaviorists and other key pet professionals.
Leaders of the Fear-Free Initiative identifies these strategies to make veterinary visits less traumatic for cats:
1. Make sure your cat is safely inside the pet carrier, ideally one with an opening on top and front. To build a positive association with the carrier, leave it open in your living room with bedding or a thick towel to make the carrier a comfortable resting place for your cat.
2. Limit your cat’s food intake before a veterinary visit. Some cats may respond favorably to receiving a favorite treat during the appointment.
3. Call ahead and request that your fearful cat be allowed to go directly into an exam room rather than wait in the lobby area. Strive to select an appointment time during the typical “rush hour” times.
4. Seek veterinary clinics that may incorporate pheromones, calming music and a silent space heater to keep the exam room feel safe and cozy.
5. Make sure to bring a bath towel to place your cat on so he does not slip and slide on the stainless steel exam table.
6. Allow your cat time to explore the room to get used to the environment before beginning an examination.
7. Identify the best way to handle your cat in a calm manner and make sure the veterinarian puts down this information in your cat’s chart.
8. Inquire about the safe option to choose vaccines that can be administered in a less stressful route through small-gauge needles or through a reduced dose. Also ask about warming injections to room temperature — as long as this does not impact the product’s efficacy.
By Sarah Zumhofe
“There is no doubt that the behaviors exhibited by fearful and shy animals overlap,” notes Leni Kaplan, DVM, a lecturer in the Community Practice Service at Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine in Ithaca, N.Y. “In my experience, a shy dog hides behind his owner or furniture. He tries to avoid eye contact and being seen. His body tenses when handled or touched and he is not willing to take treats.”
However, a fearful dog tends to flatten his ears, begin to pant strongly, yawn and lick his lips as you approach. He is also apt to pace and do his best to dodge being pet or handled while scoping out the scene to see if he can escape or feels trapped and needs to defend himself. The closer you get, the better the chance he will start snapping and escalate to growling and then attacking you.
“Fearful dogs tend to feel threatened or endangered (whether it is genuine or imagined), whereas shy dogs are usually under confident and are doing their best in a non-aggressive way to get away or avoid being the center of attention.”
Avoid These Actions
When in doubt as to a dog’s emotional state, Dr. Kaplan cautions you to never:
• Attempt to invade the dog’s personal space.
• Lower yourself to be face-to-face with this dog.
• Touch his hind end, tail or paw pads.
• Speak in a loud voice.
• Move abruptly or use large gestures.
Predictability is one way to build confidence and a sense of security in newly adopted puppies or dogs.
“The best thing you can do is make life predictable for this puppy or dog,” says behaviorist Katherine Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., professor emeritus at Cornell. “Obedience classes using positive training techniques can give a shy dog more confidence. He learns, for example, that when he sits on cue, something good happens — like a treat or praise – when his rump hits the floor.”
Recognize that puppies can go through fear periods, starting as young as seven weeks of age.
“A puppy who loves everyone at first will become more selective by four months of age and can start to show fear signs,” cautions Dr. Houpt.
Adds Dr. Kaplan, “Puppies without good early exposure to new and novel stimuli may show strong fear responses, which may create problems. Owners need to recognize when a pet tends to be more timid or fearful and work within the limits of that pet.”
Dr. Kaplan encourages owners to be in tune with their dog’s individual temperaments and slowly but steadily work within the limits of that pet. Some dogs may just prefer less handling and attention than others.
Certain breeds, including Basenjis and Akitas, tend to be shy and reserved, points out Dr. Houpt. “These breeds were once used exclusively for guarding or hunting bears and were not selected for their ability to cuddle up with people.”
“These dogs need time to modify their behaviors. Moving quickly may hinder progress,” she says.
Incorporate These Safe Strategies
Experts offer these tips to help your newly adopted shy or fearful dog feel more at home:
1. Limit exposure to situations that create fear and anxiety. For example, feed the dog in a separate room from other pets. He needs to feel he can eat without being threatened by other pets.
2. Consider clicker training the dog to teach him new tricks and build his confidence.
3. Limit the amount of handling the dog initially and slowly build his trust in you.
4. Teach him new tasks to build his confidence.
5. Teach him how to respond appropriately in situations, making sure that the training takes place in a calm, quiet and secure environment.
6. Learn to ignore unwanted attention-seeking behaviors displayed by your dog to avoid unintentionally reinforcing them.
Recognize that your dog tunes into your emotional level as well and can sense when you are feeling impatient or afraid. When taking your dog to the veterinary clinic, for example, try to remain calm and reduce any outward display of fear or anxiety.
Also, understand that the source of your dog’s fearful response may be an underlying medical condition, such as pain or hormonal imbalances. Book an appointment with your veterinarian to exam your dog who may be an ideal candidate for a sedative or anti-anxiety medication that is given prior to an anticipated stressful situation, says Dr. Kaplan.
When it comes to handling a fearful dog, less is more.
“I’m a strong advocate of low-stress handling techniques,” says Dr. Kaplan. “Use a muzzle on a dog if needed for safety purposes and only if you can handle the dog without using excess restraint. If you need a second person to manage the dog and if the dog is flailing, urinating and defecating, the restraint technique is excessive and the plan needs to be revisited.”
Employ calmness and patience, especially during a veterinary visit.
“Some pets will do great during an examination if given more time (a longer appointment),” says Dr. Kaplan. “Be willing to stop the veterinary visit or leave the situation if your pet is getting too stressed. Once the pet is anxious, it will be next to impossible to get them to calm down, so reschedule for another day.”
By proper handling, offering a safe environment and when needed, using behavior modifications and/or anti-anxiety medications, many shy or fearful dogs can evolve into loving, trusting pets.
Dr. Kaplan knows firsthand. Her former dog, Dallas, was a newly retired racing greyhound who was petrified of everything, including leaves blowing in the wind. He hated going on walks, so to help him get acclimated to life outside, Dr. Kaplan began building his confidence by scheduling the walks very early in the morning and late at night when these triggers were not present.
"It probably took Dallas one year to really gain confidence and interact successfully with other people and dogs, but I lived with him for nine wonderful years before he passed away,” she says.
Reducing the Fear Factor for Veterinary Visits
All dogs need and deserve to be examined by veterinarians regularly. Marty Becker, DVM, America’s Veterinarian, is spearheading a national Fear-Free™ Initiative that includes veterinarians, animal behaviorists and other key pet professionals.
The campaign identifies these steps toward achieving fear-free veterinary visits:
1. Help the pet owner deliver a calm pet to the clinic by making sure the dog is safely inside a pet carrier or leashed and harnessed.
2. Limit the dog’s food intake before a veterinary visit. Some dogs may respond favorably to receiving a favorite treat during the appointment.
3. Call ahead and request that your fearful dog be allowed to go directly into an exam room rather than wait in the lobby area. Strive to select an appointment time during the typical “rush hour” times.
4. Seek veterinary clinics that may incorporate pheromones, calming music and a silent space heater to keep the exam room feeling safe and cozy.
5. Allow the dog time to explore the room to get used to the environment before beginning an examination.
6. Identify the best way to handle the dog in a calm manner and make sure the veterinarian puts down this information in your dog's chart.
7. Inquire about the safe option to choose vaccines that can be administered in a less stressful route through small-gauge needles or through a reduced dose. Also ask about warming injections to room temperature — as long as this does not impact the product’s efficacy.
To learn more about this fear-free campaign, visit the Fear-Free Center at
And to help you recognize body language identifying a fearful dog, you can download for free a poster from the late Sophia Yin, DVM, a veterinary behaviorist, at
Bravery Classes for Shy Dogs
Shy puppies and dogs can bolster confidence in customized bravery classes, such as the ones available at the San Francisco SPCA.
The shelter actually provides two training tracks: the “people” bravery class and the “environments” bravery class. In the first, professional trainers assist owners in building positive associations in their dogs who are currently overly shy now when it comes to meeting people in or outside their homes. The second class helps shy dogs adjust to feeling more comfortable in new neighborhoods or tolerate various sounds that may now startle them.
These five-week courses are open to dogs who are up to date on vaccinations and at least five months of age. They are for shy dogs — not those who have shown any signs of aggression toward people, ranging from lunging, growling or biting.
By Sarah Zumhofe
The topic of which breeds of dogs are the best breeds is always guaranteed to stir up healthy debate. Why? Most people have breed preferences. It is important to remember that each dog is an individual, regardless of its breed. There are some dogs whose breed is not normally considered suitable for small children that are perfect pets and companions, while others that are very commonly considered great choices for kids are absolutely not okay around them. I do not say this to cause confusion, but to educate all readers about the necessity of taking a few other precautions when bringing a dog into a family with small children.
Whenever possible, you should observe the puppy’s mother and father. Are they friendly and sociable around kids? Granted, temperament is also influenced by environment, but at least some of a puppy’s disposition is inherited. This is why it pays to see how mom and dad interact as well.
It is very possible that you can adopt a wonderful dog that turns out to be a fabulous companion for your children. Getting a puppy at 8- to 10-weeks of age enables you to create the experiences that will shape his personality. Although puppyhood can be trying, getting a young dog is the best way to ensure (as much as anyone can ensure behavior) that his personality develops into the child-loving, good-natured companion you desire.
Remember that a dog’s breed is not a guarantee of the dog’s behavior. Whether you get a puppy or an older dog, it is important to observe his or her behavior prior to adoption or purchase. Is the dog fearful or skittish? Is the dog comfortable being handled? Is he/she friendly without being insanely
rambunctious? You are looking for a dog that is very comfortable around people, one that is not fazed by sudden movements or being touched or hugged. Basically, you need a dog that will not
react negatively to the types of behavior the average small child will engage in with his or her doggie.
Here is a very short list (by no means complete) of some excellent breeds for small children.
Labs are wonderful, friendly dogs. They are usually eager to please and tolerant of the sort of handling little tykes so often dole out. They are sturdy too, which is important with small kids.
You will need to train the dog so he or she learns to be gentle and not knock the kids over out of sheer joy and exuberance.
They are very similar to Labs, although in my sometimes a bit calmer. They do shed a bit more than Labs.
Bassets are often islands of calm, which is nice when the kids are bouncing off the walls.They tolerate the roughest treatment with a shrug and tail wag. They are goofy, friendly, wonderful dogs. A downside is they sometimes have a pretty distinctive hound smell, which is not for everyone. Still, these are amazing kid-friendly dogs. One other thing: they can get bigger than a lot of people realize. Males can weigh 85-plus pounds, making them a handful.
Strange choice? Not really. These gentle giants are great kid dogs. They are calm, loving, and infinitely tolerant. The only things to understand about the breed are 1) They often don’t live very long, only 8 to 11 years, and 2) they shed—and drool. Plus, well, they are huge, which poses its own challenges. Still, if you are looking for a lot of dog that is great with kids, this can be a very wise choice.
This is a good pick for children or parents with allergies. Poodles are highly intelligent and friendly, have good temperaments, and are good with children. Standard poodles are sturdy dogs who can withstand a fair amount of rough kiddie treatment.
You will notice I did not pick any smaller breeds — bichon frise, cocker spaniels, etc. A lot of times the average one- to four-year-old child is, by his or her very nature, too rough for smaller breeds. It is better to choose a larger dog that can deal with small
children’s normal behavior than delude yourself into thinking you will be able to monitor their interaction and thus keep everyone safe. Remember there is risk for the dog as well as the child.
Again, remember that every dog is an individual and if you are introducing a dog into a home with children, you should do research before you choose the right dog for your family.
By Sarah Zumhofe
A new puppy in the house is an exciting event. It requires significant time and energy, however, to help Fido learn the rules of the house and basic things such as house training, how to walk on a leash, and what is and is not appropriate to chew.
All puppies should be interested in the happenings around them, and all should show some hesitation at new experiences. But sometimes puppies can exhibit behaviors that should cause concern in an owner. A sure sign that something is amiss is when you find yourself saying, “This is not the dog I wanted.” These red flag behaviors are not likely to resolve themselves and need to be addressed before they develop into adult problems that could lead to aggression.
The Ohio State University College of Veterinary Medicine’s Indoor Pet Initiative lists these red flags in puppies (http://indoorpet.osu.edu/dogs/
· Avoiding or hiding from people, places, or objects. This may indicate fear that could escalate into aggression as an adult.
· Alarm barking, lunging, putting “hackles” up in response to people or animals. This is another indication of fear that could mean serious problems as an adult dog if not addressed while the dog is young.
· Excessive mouthing specifically during physical handling. Puppies should use their mouths to explore the world, but hard biting, especially if accompanied by stiffening, growling, or snarling could indicate underlying fear or pain and should be evaluated.
· Reluctance to “sit” or “down” during training. Pain, especially in the hips or elbows, can cause non-compliance to basic commands. It is a good idea to have the puppy examined to determine if there is an organic cause to his non-compliance. Anxiety is another cause of dogs not “obeying” commands (and is often labeled as stubbornness), and needs to be addressed appropriately.
· Confinement problems. If the puppy will not eat while confined, has excessive vocalizations in his crate, and/or will not settle in his crate, he may be showing early signs of separation or confinement anxiety.
· Repeated urination or bowel movements in an appropriately-sized crate. This can be an indication of urinary or gastrointestinal infection, inappropriate crate training prior to getting him, or separation anxiety.
More detailed information about these warning signs can be found at The Indoor Pet Initiative http://indoorpet.osu.edu/ as well as valuable information for dog owners in general. If you see any red flags in a new puppy, contact a veterinarian or a local positive reinforcement trainer, who can help you decide on an appropriate course of action. Puppyhood lasts a very short time, problems can last a lifetime.
By Sarah Zumhofe
In working with dogs, cats, and horses, I have noticed they are most comfortable with new things when given the opportunity to explore novel items at their own pace. Dr. Temple Grandin describes this phenomenon nicely in her book, Animals Make Us Human: Novelty can be attractive or scary depending on how it is presented. The single most important factor determining whether a new thing is more interesting than scary is whether the animal has control over whether to approach the object. Animals are terrified by forced novelty. They don’t want new things shoved into their faces, and people don’t either.” In this book she discusses a variety of domesticated and wild animals. If you are interested in how animals perceive the world, you will likely enjoy this book.
If you need to introduce your cat, goat, dog, guinea pig, horse or bird to something novel, especially something that is going to be in the animal’s life for a while, remember that forced novelty is frightening. According to Shelly Levin of Animal Behavior College, “Positive reinforcement is invaluable when training any animal and is especially effective when dealing with a fearful pet. It means giving an animal a high-value reward when they do something they are asked or perform a correct behavior.”
Give your pet the time and space it needs to explore a new encounter, reward it for it’s efforts to engage the object, animal or person and you will likely have a happy and non-traumatic encounter.
By Sarah Zumhofe
Sarah Zum Hofe was born in 1987 in St. Louis, MO- and has since then had a love affair with animals!