Doggy Etiquette

contributed by Jeanne


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Now that you've purchased your puppy, how can you raise him to be child friendly? The answer is simple. Whether you currently have children, may someday have children, or live in a community with children, your dog should be tolerant of kids. Too many children are bitten each year by dogs that are not familiar with kids. Because of a child's size in relation to most dogs, often the bites occur in the face or hands. From the time my dogs are small pups, I train them to be tolerant of the behaviors and misbehaviors of children. Please remember that many children are not aware of how to behave with dogs. Kids poke, pinch and pull. I call these the three P's of mishandling a dog. I poke, pinch, and pull at my puppies and praise them when they do not respond in a poor manner. The reason for this also extends to vet visits. Sometimes your dog will have to be poked with needles, pinched to get a skin fold into which subcutaneous shots are given, and pulled to check for injuries. By training that this behavior is not to provoke a bite, you can save countless heartaches.

Teaching your puppy to sit on command is a great place to start. This behavior is convenient for many reasons. Obedience lessons do not have to be a major cash expenditure if you are willing to work with the puppy daily. Most obedience schools accept puppies that are six months or older but you can start 'play training' much earlier. Play training is training without punishment. Using reward and praise to motivate. Much like an infant, puppies have little sense of discipline. Treat a puppy like a child and distract them from improper behavior while rewarding good behavior. It strengthens the owner/puppy bond while establishing boundaries.

A puppy must learn that you are the boss and can take his food bowl from him at any time. Reach into the food bowl daily. Sometimes remove the bowl for a moment and do not permit growling! Occasionally, put a treat in his bowl. This will reinforce the notion that food is given and taken by humans. My own dog doesn't care if my hand is in his bowl or if my cat is trying his food (not healthy for cats but try telling him that.) He will eat around the hand or cat. The level of discipline for each puppy differs because some puppies are more sensitive while others are more stubborn. The reason for this training is that you never know when you will need to take something from the puppy and food is usually the most difficult thing to take. This leads into the next phase of training.

Along with being able to take something from your puppy without an aggressive response, you need to train your puppy to give upon command. Say "Give" and remove the toy or item from the puppy's mouth. If the puppy is refusing to let go of the item, apply gentle downward pressure to the small gap behind the canine teeth while repeating the "Give" command. When the puppy gives the item, thank him and tell him what a good dog he is. This will help if you ever need to take something like a chicken bone away. I usually reward the pup with a treat if I have taken something they should not have. This reinforces the idea that obeying has its' rewards. Tug of war games serve to teach a pup to hold tightly and fight to hold on. I do not suggest this game for puppies.

Teach your pup to walk nicely on a leash. He should not pull or try to drag you. For those of you with potentially large dogs, puppyhood is the best time to teach this behavior. Obedience school will teach the heel position, but I allow my dog to walk in a larger area so he can sniff and enjoy the walk. I never allow him to lunge ahead or pull me. Pat your leg and keep up a running commentary to the puppy. You can't hold his complete attention on a walk but you can keep it most of the time. There are many distractions outside so I suggest that you do not try to teach your puppy to walk off the leash. It is illegal in many areas and can lead to heartbreak if he darts into a street and is hit by a car. It is also very hard to keep your pup under control when off the leash. You have no means of correcting improper behavior such as chasing a running child.

When walking your puppy, take the opportunity to teach kids how to safely approach a dog on a leash. Do not allow any child to run right up to your puppy or dog. Tell them to walk and suggest that they always ask the owner if they may pet the dog. This gives the child a positive lesson in approaching dogs while allowing owners the chance to decline the request. A sick or injured dog should not be pet because of the risk of a bite. A dog that is running loose should never be approached by a child since its' temperament is unknown. Please teach your children this! Any unknown child should be treated as if they do not have a dog and do not know how to handle one. Remind them to be gentle if they are going to pet your dog.

Teach your dog to tolerate noise. Kids run and scream in pleasure. Dogs often chase and try to stop this noise. Take your puppy to busy places after they have had their shots. Ask your vet when to start socializing your pup without risking a health problem. Get the pup used to noise in the home. Put a few pennies in a can and tape it shut. Occasionally, rattle the can to get him used to sudden noise. Build up to louder noises. Take your puppy to playgrounds where kids are yelling and running but do not allow him to chase. Speak gently and stroke his body slowly and firmly if he gets overly excited. Tell him he's a good dog and get him to relax. Most puppies can be conditioned to be calm and steady under the most hectic circumstances.

Do not allow your puppy to jump. Discourage this behavior by saying "NO" and removing his feet from you. When he is back on all four feet, praise him. If your puppy is going to be a large dog, you will be thankful that you discouraged this behavior earlier. No dog should jump on children or the elderly/infirm. The risk of injury from that alone is too great. Also when falling, people have the tendency to cry out and this may be taken as a sign to jump more.

Groom your pup from the start. The puppy will become accustomed to these activities and be less likely to fight later. It also allows you to examine the pup for injuries and any potential problems. Make grooming fun by combining a good rub with the brushing. It feels good and allows you to touch the whole puppy. I found a small tumor on my dog this way. By catching it early, I was able to avoid a huge vet bill and most of the discomfort that comes with large tumors. Brush your puppy's teeth. Start early because similar to people they are subject to tooth decay, cavities, and gum disease. Also by handling a dog's mouth, you are reinforcing that it is acceptable for a child to touch the face and mouth area.

Never allow any child to manhandle your dog. Your own children should be taught how to touch a dog properly. If a child outside your family is too rough, tell them to stop handling the dog. If the parent is present and becomes angry, you still need to stop the manhandling. The puppy/dog should not be subject to abuse just because someone did not educate the child on safe dog handling. As nicely as possible, tell them that they are being too rough and your dog doesn't like it. Most parents will understand and tell their child to stop. It is your job as the owner to protect your dog from harm. This can be done gently and without causing a scene. But if the child won't stop, remove your dog from the area. Know your dog. Different dogs have different thresholds of pain. This is true no matter what the breed or combination of breeds. Every dog is unique. With long hair breeds, watch that a child isn't tangled in the hair. Little fingers can get easily tangled and cause sudden pain to dogs. Don't allow strange children to kiss your dog. This can be very dangerous since dogs don't always take kindly to strangers putting their mouths close to them. They use their mouths for other purposes and there may be a level of dominant behavior involved. Take every opportunity to educate children about dogs. It is for their protection and your protection. Any child that does not have a pet may not know how to treat a dog and can inadvertently put himself in danger.

This is just a short list of things that I consider crucial when training a puppy. I work with dogs that have bitten people and these are the most common areas of concern. Having been the victim of a severe dog attack as a child from a loose dog, I can say that it can be very dangerous for children and the dogs when they are loose. Remember to a dog, a bite is provoked. The provocation in our view may not be sufficient to warrant a bite. So train your puppies well. What you put into a puppy is what you will get when he is a dog. A dog owner is responsible to the community to raise the dog to be a good neighbor. Each year, there are countless bites, many of which result in lawsuits. The judgements are getting larger and the courts are ordering more dogs to be destroyed because of the attacks. By training dogs properly, we will be preserving the safety of both people and dogs, and avoiding the need for dog legislation. This legislation is breed specific. As a result, it encourages labeling specific breeds with 'bad reputations' and individual dogs may not deserve it. No single breed is more prone to biting; all dogs can bite. The problem comes because some breeds are bigger, stronger or more prone to numerous bites during an attack, but not all dogs of any one breed are evil. Numerous breeds that are not included in the 'dangerous breeds' legislation have bitten me.

Besides proper training, be sure to select a breed that will be a good fit with your situation. If you will not be showing your dog, you may want to neuter your male dogs. For the parents of a child who has been attacked the fury is understandable. Did you know that many homeowners insurance companies charge more for specific breeds of dogs? It's too bad that so many irresponsible dog owners have made keeping dogs more expensive for the rest of us.

The rule of thumb is "Raise your dogs like children - they too need to be taught right from wrong".


"My Story" is a regular feature of The Dollar Stretcher. If you have a story that could help save time or money please send it to MyStory@stretcher.com

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