The Pets Doc

Dr. Kevin Watkins, DVM


A New Puppy In The Family!

Everybody who has a new puppy, raise your hand.

Congratulations! You are the proud parent of a new baby. Oh sure, it has four legs. But, it’s a baby, and it comes with the same physical, mental, and emotional needs that the two-legged variety do.

Like human babies, puppies need to be fed regularly, kept clean, warm, and safe. As they grow, they need to be physically and mentally challenged so their muscles and minds develop normally. Like human children, sometimes they are scared or sad and need to be comforted. And, just like little, human children, puppies need to know they are loved.

Since this transitional time in your puppy’s life is so important, I thought this month would be a good time to review some basic canine needs and psychology.

Since dogs approach the world differently than we humans do, it is important to understand our differences. To successfully integrate a canine into our life, we must understand their approach to it. Understanding the canine psyche, even just a little, helps a lot when you are raising a puppy. Also, we don’t get a lot of time to get it right. Puppies are not like human children. With them we get about 18 years, more or less. With puppies, we really only get about 18 months to raise them to adulthood.

Sadly, it is at this age when millions of them end up in animal shelters across the country for bad and unruly behavior. Dogs are very intelligent, social creatures, with clearly defined familial and pack hierarchies. Every member of the pack knows his position on the totem pole.

So, if you behave like a leader, the dog won’t have to. They communicate primarily through body language, although they do vocalize, as we all know. That’s what all the barking, howling, and “row-row-rowing” is about. Most dogs can learn about 150 words, so the first word your puppy should learn is his name. Then, teach him, “come”. When you understand Dog Speak, you can teach your puppy Human Speak, and create a means of communication with your newest family member.

Always reward desired responses with smiles, gentle petting, and an occasional meat treat never hurts. Likewise, always respond to undesirable behavior immediately and consistently, but not harshly. I would caution you to never hit (spank) your puppy. Dogs do not hit each other, so this body language makes you unpredictable, and not to be trusted. If your puppy doesn’t trust you, he won’t come to you.

It’s that simple. You also risk creating an aggressive dog, so be consistent, predictable, and kind. Remember, this time in your puppy’s life is setting the tone for the rest of your lives together. So, it is important to get it right. Just like human children, for puppies to grow up and become confident, well-adjusted adults, they must feel safe and protected when they are young. If they are deprived of the comfort and security of their “pack”, they experience not only fear, but mild to deep depression, depending on their circumstance.

The sound of Spring I hate most is the mournful cry of a puppy left outside to brave the night alone. By nature, canines are social creatures, so sad and isolated is no way to grow up. It is my firm belief that every dog deserves to be indoors with their family, or living outside with other dogs. If you intend for your puppy to live outside alone, you should reconsider whether or not a puppy really fits into your current lifestyle.

The religious leader, Mahatma Ghandi, once said, “You can judge a nation’s moral progress by the way it treats it animals.” What is true for nations is also true for individuals. To all of you who are proud new parents of a four-legged baby, I will again say “Congratulations!” and I urge every one of you to educate yourself, and to commit yourself fully and responsibly to this relationship that you decided to take on.

Margo Watkins, Pet Behavior Counselor

Pawsitive Pet Behavior Blog