I’ve worked with dogs since I was 16. I’m not talking about our own family pet dogs throughout the years; but as a career when I started working in a show kennel while still going to school. I loved my job even though I worked weekends, bank holidays, Christmas and New Year’s day. It taught me early on that caring for an animal has no days off.
Later, I moved onto working with horses; but there were always dogs about, they seem to go pretty much hand-in-hand. I once puppy-walked three cute Bloodhound puppies for a local bloodhound group many years ago. This also entailed them actually living in our home for six to eight weeks working on socialising, getting them used to everyday sights, sounds, smells, other people, dogs and animals.
They looked adorable, but they chewed everything, mauled everything in my garden until not a single plant existed anymore; dug holes, looked for exits in every nook and cranny in the garden and just basically ran wild on their instincts.
I loved those silly pups, called Lavender, Limerick and Lucky. But I was also very glad to see them go back home, as happy, well-adjusted youngsters ready to take on the world. But boy were they a big learning curve! And it taught me that looks can be very deceiving when it comes to those big brown eyes and that irresistible ‘cute factor!’
Without the right knowledge, tools and resources, pups like those can easily become demons in disguise and can shred everything you love in your home, create fall-outs with your lifetime friends or neighbours and simply make your life a living hell.
I’m not going to sugarcoat the truth here because dogs and puppies are still being bought as Christmas presents for children as if they were mere toys and it has to end.
Ask yourself, how many toys need 24-hour care? Need to be fed 3 or 4 times a day? Require cleaning up after them? Need bedding and toys bought for them? Need to be kept safe and healthy? All just to be able to play with them?!
If you’re considering giving a puppy as a Christmas present, have you done your homework? What size will this puppy grow up into? Is it a lively breed? Have you seen it’s mother, is she a nice-tempered dog? Will you have to secure your garden to make it safe? Who’s going to look after this ‘present’ when you go on holiday? At work? Who is going to look after it, train it, get medical care and more? It certainly won’t be your child!
So rather than ignoring or brushing off all these questions, Please Really Think about them! If you aren’t willing NOW to even think about these questions or do the necessary homework, then please buy your child a cuddly toy, adopt a panda or give them riding lessons, because you aren’t ready to take on a dog right now.
I always wanted a horse of my own and asked twice a year (every birthday and Christmas!) for one when I was growing up. I didn’t get that horse until I was in my twenties and bought it myself! And I certainly didn’t hate my parents for not giving into my demands and getting me one. Instead, they aimed my focus to a local riding school where I learned to ride and then later worked at for free lessons and rode my friend’s ponies instead.
And during this time, I learned what it really takes to look after, clean out, exercise and feed a horse. Yes, they were fun! But they were also expensive to keep in food, medical attention, bedding, blankets, bridles, saddles and more! To me there is very little difference, on the commitment level, between horses and dogs and what it truly means to properly care for that animal. You wouldn’t buy a racehorse for your child if they don’t even know how to ride yet, would you?
Take on a shorter commitment: Foster a Rescue Dog
If you really like the idea of owning a dog, but are still not 100% sure, then go and talk to someone at your local animal rescue or shelter about fostering. They can help you decide if it’s right for you and what type of dog would suit your lifestyle and family. Some of them will even help share the costs of food, bedding and vet care while you’re fostering for them.
3 out of 5 Foster Parents end up Adopting their Foster Dog or Cat
This is usually because they realise how well this animal fits in with their life and want to keep them instead of giving them up to another good home.
If it doesn’t turn out to be a good match (which can sometimes happen), then you are at very little financial loss. You’ve also done the rescue a wonderful service and given a needy animal a home life and love while it waits for a new family. You will also learn whether you are actually ready for a dog – if at all!
So this year, please don’t think, “I’m going to give in to the kids and buy a dog.”
Instead think, “How can I teach my kids about the commitment of owning a pet?”
For more information on fostering a dog, here’s a great website: Fosterdogs.co.uk.
Wishing you all a wonderful and safe Christmas and Happy New Year!
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Should you discourage, or even stop, your dog’s Play biting and/or rough play? When is rough play too rough and when does a play bite just become a bite?
How Puppies Learn
In order to really understand your dog’s instincts behind play biting, let’s go back to when your pup was still living with it’s brothers and sisters. Life was and still is a steep learning curve in a wonderful, strange world of new sounds, tempting smells and incredible tastes. Until your pup learns exactly what these things are in his world, everything (and we mean everything!) is ‘tested’ with its mouth to see how it ‘feels’ (hard/soft or wet/dry) and whether it’s something to be enjoyed or something to be avoided.
Through this ‘testing’ pups quickly learn what can be gently squeezed, what can be tossed around and what can be bitten or chewed on. Oftentimes, their litter or playmates serve as unsuspecting guinea pigs and a quick squeal will encourage or discourage a particular behaviour as either good or bad!
Another critical stage for your puppy to focus on chewing EVERYTHING is when they go through Teething. This is when puppies start losing their puppy teeth for their adult teeth to come through and they just seem to want to chew EVERYTHING! This dog behaviour is very natural as their little gums are in pain and they attempt to soothe the pain through chewing. Chewing is so important during this stage because it releases endorphins (a ‘feel good’ hormone) from the puppy’s brain to help it cope with the discomfort of new teeth coming through.
During this teething process, make sure your puppy has a variety of interesting toys to chew on; preferably made from soft materials and non-toxic rubber. Toys made of plastic, foam or anything that can be pulled or chewed off in chunks (and potentially swallowed) should never be given to puppies. There are a lot of safe puppy teething and chewing toys out there, so do a little research and buy a high-quality toy that will last under your puppy’s sharp teeth! I would highly recommend Kongs as great rubber chew toys for your pup. Why not put your pups kong in the freezer for a short spell. It will keep the treats or food inside for longer and the cold will help cool your pups gums too!
Is all Play Biting Bad?
It’s fine for your puppy to play bite and play rough with his toys or other puppies or dogs (always supervised!), but puppy biting on you or other’s hands, feet and articles of clothing should never be allowed to happen in the first place. Puppies usually learn naturally that adult dogs do not get involved in play fights, they get chased off or get a growl of caution when they go too far. Puppies then learn they need to be invited to play in the adults space.
Teaching your puppy, young dog or even an older dog to focus his chewing on something acceptable (that can take the abuse!) is the golden rule of dog behaviour. Re-direct excitable jaws with a toy, a treat or anything he is allowed to chew, except you! Throw toys in the opposite direction or wave the treats in front of his nose and teach him to sit. Re-focus his attention on good/acceptable doggie behaviour and consistently reinforce – and reward! – his good habits. It’s so much easier to establish and reward good behaviour with your dog than breaking negative and destructive behaviour.
But what if your puppy is already play biting or trailing around on the ends of your trouser leg? Or even worse, he is no longer a puppy, but still using his teeth on your hands, arms or articles of clothing (especially your designer leather shoes)?
It’s time to Teach the Rules of the Game!
Rule 1: Eye Contact and Speaking are rewards to your puppy, If your dog is getting overexcited with play biting or playing rough, do not look or speak to them when you are re-directing their behaviour. Any attention you may give them at this critical time will be misinterpreted as encouragement to continue the unacceptable behaviour. Why should your puppy stop when it gets your attention?
Rule 2: Be consistent with your message of what is acceptable behaviour! If you only stick to the rules every now and then and letting your puppy get away with play biting or getting too rough more often than not, then it is going to take a whole lot longer to get through to your puppy what is and isn’t allowed. Your inconsistency only causes your dog to be confused and unsure of what it is you really want. Be consistent and see how quickly your smart puppy gets it!
Rule 3: Timeouts, This is a very effective tool to address and damper your puppy’s over-excited behaviour by encouraging them to “chill out.” At the same time, it also gives you the space and time to avoid becoming frustrated, red-faced and hysterical as things are blown out of all proportion. Timeouts are never done in a negative way; remember, do not look or speak to your puppy when they are in “time-out.”
Timeouts for Smaller Puppies. Remember those litter mates who got bitten too hard, turned their backs and stalked off? You are basically doing the same thing! You can say ‘Aow!’ if your puppy bites, get up and walk away. Do not say anything else. A few attempts with this same response will soon have your puppy thinking, ‘ok, how do I get her to stay instead of go?’ Congratulations, they’re learning the acceptable behaviour!
If you have small children around (they always gets puppies overexcited), think about investing in, or making, a puppy pen. These small metal or mesh enclosures are sold to help puppy owners wrangle their small charges and keep them safe when you just can’t keep an eye on them; for instance, when you’re making dinner or the kids are doing their homework. If puppy gets too nippy, in he/ she goes (without a word, remember!) and leave them for a few minutes until they calm down. You can use the same idea when you leave the room to avoid worrying about what wires your little sweetie could be chewing on!
Puppy pens also teach your puppy a little independence; they can still hear and see you, but not get under your feet when you’re busy. They stay occupied and safe with their toys until you are ready to play.
Timeouts for bigger puppies or older dogs – Adult canine teeth are bigger and stronger than puppy teeth, so you really don’t want your puppy still play biting when these come through! For bigger puppies and adult dogs designate a ‘Timeout Space’ somewhere in your house. Usually it’s best to keep it close to where your dog typically spends its day; so a utility room, a downstairs bathroom, whatever works. If you have limited space or an open planned home, then a large crate with a blanket thrown over the top will work just as well. Just like with the younger puppies, when your bigger puppy or older dog starts getting too rough, quietly and gently put them in their ‘Timeout Space’ for a few minutes and let them cool off and calm down. (Remember, no eye contact or speaking as that causes more excitement.) With consistency, your dog will learn that getting overexcited and rough gets them nowhere except alone on their own. Exactly not what they want since they only want to be with you.
Again, I can’t highlight enough how quickly this unacceptable behaviour will begin to improve if you stay consistent with your game rules, each and every day. An additional benefit is that you are teaching your puppy to learn on its own and behaviours that a dog learns on its own are more likely to become a natural, lifelong habit.
Remember- Speaking or looking at your pup will be perceived as positive interaction by your dog and dilute the message you really want to get across. Let your assertive body language do the talking instead!
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