DEAR DIDI: My boyfriend and I are picking up an early Christmas present to ourselves this weekend; a 9 week old yellow lab! We are so excited to add this guy to our family. We have a small cat, but no kids at the moment and we want to make sure we do everything right by our new baby boy. We live in a two bedroom apartment, but we have a dog park within a five minute walk. He has his first set of shots and we have an appointment to get his second after Christmas. We know exercise is going to be very important, but we really want to make sure we don’t turn him into a big Marley! Didi, what, in your opinion, would be the most important thing for us to start doing to make sure we get a jump start on our new baby’s training and raise a happy, healthy puppy? – Novice Parent
DEAR NOVICE PARENT: Merry Christmas! The addition of a new baby to the household comes with both joy and tribulation. Young puppies are such pure joy and so very adorable but, as you have guessed, the responsibilities are coming soon enough. I am thrilled that you are starting early to ensure that your little guy will grow up well adjusted, confident and happy. Your veterinarian will explain to you the importance of at least three sets of puppy shots. Parvovirus can be a deadly disease that is easily preventable by limiting contact with areas that afflicted dogs may have gone to the bathroom until their biological immunities are established. There is, however, a psychological issue that is equally important. By over limiting contact with the outside world a more serious harm can be done. Hundreds of thousands of dogs in the United States frequently find themselves being re-homed or surrendered to shelters due mostly to behavioral issues. The most important thing a new dog owner can do is ‘socialize’ their puppy. The optimal window of time where the puppy is the most receptive to this kind of training is before they turn 16 weeks old. The term ‘socializing’ is a greatly misused and misunderstood word when it relates to the world of canines. To put it in very simple terms, it is the act of showing our dogs that the world we are asking them to live in has different things going on constantly in the way of sights, sounds and smells. A dog’s instinct tells him to be wary of something or someone different. Some dogs are downright terrified of anything different which causes them to bark, growl or even bite. Obedience training can always be introduced into a dog’s life but socializing is best done first and as young as possible. Older dogs can even be helped through socialization training but young puppies learn the fastest. So to answer your question, I believe the most important thing a dog owner can do for their dog is to socialize them well. Get them out and about. Let them experience car noises, smells, and the multitudes of different people our community has to offer and all the different clothing styles that go with that. Make those new experiences fun for your puppy through the use of treats and your tone of voice. An Animal Behaviorist or qualified dog trainer can help counsel you on how to accomplish this while making sure the baby is physically safe while building his sense of confidence in our human world.
Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. Email your questions or inquire about dog behavior presentations at firstname.lastname@example.org.