“The reason I love my dog so much is because when I come home, he’s the only one in the world who treats me like I’m the Beatles.”
- Bill Maher, Comedian
This is a sentiment which would find resonance with most dog lovers across the world. Dogs have the uncanny knack of showering their owners with so much love that it becomes quite addictive. Dogs are social pack animals that have an inherent need to socialize. This trait is hardwired into their DNA and this explains the bond they have shared with humans since times immemorial. The way dogs bond with their own species and with humans is entirely different from how we humans interact with each other. It therefore requires a deep understanding of their behavioural traits in order to foster a healthy relationship between dogs and their owners and dogs with the human society at large. Failure to understand this may lead to disastrous consequences for the dogs as well as others in its immediate vicinity.
First of a two-part series, this article attempts to delve deep into some of the common areas of pet care, touching on the ‘how,’ ‘why,’ and ‘when’ of these crucial aspects.
As pack animals, dogs have been led by the leader of the pack, who would be responsible for making all important decisions and also the safety of the pack. The leader would also provide for, nurture, and protect the other dogs in the pack that would look up to him. This is another tendency ingrained in dogs even today – where they constantly seek to understand their position in the pack; in the current scenario, their adoptive household. Failure to identify this may lead to disruptive behavior.
For this very reason, the importance of proper training can never be over emphasized. More than anything, appropriate training ensures that you and your dog essentially speak the same ‘language.’ It is a means to get acquainted with each others’ ways. In a sense, it also helps to assert your position as the ‘leader’ early on in this relationship.
Since it is ‘your’ dog, it makes a lot of sense to train him yourself. There are a lot of resources, be it books or online content, which give all the information you might possibly need, along with step-by-step guidance.
If you decide to be a hands-on dog owner, training your dog yourself isn’t exactly rocket science. However, it’s not child’s play either. It takes a great deal of effort but can turn out to be a gratifying exercise in the end. It also strengthens the bond between you and your pet. The carrot-and-stick (well, in this case, bone) policy may not be the best approach when it comes to training your pooch. In fact, anything that involves force or intimidation can turn out to be counterproductive. Be gentle but firm, and by all means reward often, and generously. If you do want to reprimand, then deny a reward or take back something that you have already given. Consistently following this method will reinforce in your pet the behavior that you expect from him.
If you are still unsure, you can seek professional help. There are a lot of trainers with vast experience in training dogs with varied personalities. Even if you get a trainer for your pet, be sure to be around when your dog is getting trained and pick up the ropes. This will help you bond better with your dog and gain some confidence to do it yourself eventually. Be sure to personally interact with all prospective trainers before you zero in on one. Needless to say, insist on humane training – in all probabilities, a good, professional trainer is bound to employ humane methods.
Housebreaking / Housetraining
Another crucial aspect that you cannot afford to overlook is housebreaking your pet dog. Get on with it immediately, as most experts agree that it is never too early to start; in fact, some even believe that it should start right at the breeders’. Since puppies below six months have little or no bladder control, it is best to take them out once every two hours for their ‘business’ – preferably within half an hour of eating or drinking. It should also be the first ritual on rising in the morning and the last thing to do before retiring at night. Consistency is the key thing here. Make it a point to take your pooch to the location where it has relieved itself before, at more or less the same time, every day. Allow him to smell around the place, get comfortable, and then go about his business. This will eventually become a habit. Also make it a point to reward your pet and shower praises every time he successfully relieves itself at the designated spot. This positive reinforcement will also help foster correct behavior.
However, just when you are resting on your laurels, your pet might do a volte-face and regress into soiling indoors. There can be many reasons for this breakdown of habit. For one thing, it could be incomplete training. Your dog would know ‘where’ to relieve himself but might not have learnt ‘how’ to communicate to you that he needs to go. So, make it a point to incorporate this aspect while Housebreaking him. Learn to pick up cues and slowly train him to communicate his need to you.
Oftentimes, this regression could also be the result of underlying medical issue such as urinary tract infections or gastrointestinal disorders. A visit to his vet can allay any such fears and help treat your pet in the event that a medical condition exists.
Experts opine that it can take anywhere between four to six months before a puppy is fully housetrained. No two pets are alike, so it may take some a bit longer than for others. As mentioned earlier, young puppies are yet to develop complete bowel and bladder control. So, while they know in their minds that it is unacceptable to do their business indoors, they are physiologically not mature enough to actually control the urge. On your part, maintain a regular feeding schedule and take him out shortly after every feed. Patience is of utmost importance here. At no cost should you react negatively to accidental soiling indoors.
The social beings that they are, dogs constantly crave companionship. They tend to get depressed due to lack of social interaction. Although this need is inherent, a conscious, proactive effort has to be made in order to socialize your new pet dog – to ease him into the society, into a world which is seemingly dominated by humans. The puppy has to be slowly and gradually exposed to the various sights, sounds, experiences of its immediate surroundings. This tolerance of its living environment is innate in a young pup. As he matures and attains a certain age, he starts to become more curious and wary of things that are not within the realm of his experiences. This is also in a way a survival instinct in order to protect him from things that can, in fact, be dangerous.
While there is no magic age by which the pup develops an underlying suspicion of all things new, between three to twelve weeks is a good age to attempt socializing him. Before three weeks is regarded as too premature for the pup to process this initiation. After twelve weeks may be too late, as he may turn out be less accepting of newer experiences and the majority of these experiences may remain outside of his comfort zone.
Socializing makes for happier and better adjusted pooches that learn to take everything in their stride. On the other hand, failure to socialize may result in fear of new surroundings, people and even other dogs/pets which may result in unwarranted aggression. It is therefore imperative that you introduce your pet dog to all that the civilized world has in store – people, noises, smells, buildings, what have you. The wider his repertoire of experiences as a pup, better his chances of coping as an adult.
Socializing is a bit of a task to start with. Strive to expose your pet to as many situations as reasonably possible, starting with the common ones like people you interact with, neighbors, friends, the vet, the supermarket clerk; most likely experiences such as car rides, elevators, other animals, children shouting, large crowds, vehicles honking – the list is virtually endless. The bottom line being, your pet will carry all these experiences until the end and will try to connect most new situations to his prior exposures.
A go-slow approach is what works best when trying to socialize your pup. Monitor him at all times and be sensitive to his reaction to new experiences. At the slightest hint of discomfort, remove him from the situation and reassure him with something you know he likes. Make sure that this whole experience does not turn overwhelming for your little pup.
In the next part of this series we will touch upon other basic pet care dilemmas one might encounter.