Putting Your Pup Through Kinderpuppy

The dozen or so young dogs in Dawn Sylvia-Stasiewicz' class are about to spend the next hour lavished with praise, treats and attention. For the puppies, all irresistibly cute to owners flush with new love, these regular hour-long classes over the next six weeks will seem like fun and games. Owners will play off-leash with their puppy pals, while dogs learn basic cues from their owners and interact with strangers. But this puppy class, which Sylvia-Stasiewicz laughingly calls "puppy preschool,"' might be critical for the future happiness of both dogs and owners.

Training your dog at an early age leads to happier relationships. In many cases, it decreases the chances that your dog may have to be removed from your home because of behavioral issues. "It's kind of preparing your dog for life," says Sylvia-Stasiewicz, owner of northern Virginia-based Merit Puppy Training. "We want to prevent possible problems, such as food or resource guarding, jumping, puppy mouthing or nipping. We want to take the puppies as a clean slate at a young age."

Early Training Benefits
Instruction and interaction during the first six to eight months of doggie development ensures that a puppy absorbs information from its social and physical environment like a sponge, says Jennie Jamtgaard, an animal behavior instructor at the Colorado State University College of Veterinary Medicine.

"Ideally, a puppy class is going to get them started on the road to socialization," says Jamtgaard. A good puppy training class, like classes for young children, is tailored to suit its participants with positive reinforcement, short segments and social time.

"Training by positive reinforcement means you're using something the dog wants to get a win-win situation," says dog trainer Angelica Steinker, owner of Courteous Canine in Lutz, Fla. "Things should be taught in a way that maximizes fun and minimizes stress.'' Puppy classes shouldn't involve shouting, leash corrections and the like, say the trainers.

Because your puppy undoubtedly has a short attention span, it's important to keep activities and learning exercises brief in puppy class. While the temptation might be to practice a lesson over and over, it doesn't work well for young dogs, says Jamtgaard.

While practicing a lesson over and over may not benefit younger pups, playing with its peers will. The typical puppy class will provide time for your puppy to interact with the other dogs off-leash. Your puppy should also get the chance to interact with other people. Many puppy classes allow children to attend when accompanied by adults. That's an opportunity for your puppy to learn to interact with children appropriately.

For more information about puppy education and links to classes held worldwide, visit the puppyclass website. Be sure to thoroughly evaluate a school before you enroll your dog. Also, the American Kennel Club can connect owners to training clubs throughout the U.S. that provide education for canines of all ages. A full list of training clubs can be found at the akc website.

For Do-It-Yourselfers. . .
A puppy class provides a controlled opportunity for socialization that you really can't replicate elsewhere, but there are also things you can try with your dog at home: 

  • Offer real-life rewards Teach your puppy to work for anything and everything he's going to get, Sylvia-Stasiewicz says. And just how do you teach your impossibly wiggly ball of energy how to sit? Simple. Raise a piece of food, out of sight in your closed hand, above its nose. Then watch the laws of dog physics at work. The head goes up and the bottom goes down.
  • Hand feed Take the time to hand feed your puppy rather than placing a bowl in front of its nose, and you establish control that will help with future training.
  • Make trades Teach your puppy to fetch by trading nutritious treats for the items fetched. It makes it less likely your puppy will disappear under the bed with one of your favorite slippers.
  • Play smart Make education fun for your puppy. Hide and seek teaches your puppy a lot (while using up a great deal of its energy), particularly if you train them to seek you out.

Remember that learning opportunities for your dog begin immediately from the beginning. "They're always in class,'' says Sylvia-Stasiewicz. "You've got to start the day the dog comes home. "Your puppy is only going to be a puppy a short while. The socializing window is going to close before you know it."

Photo: Corbis Images

Make Your Dog a Part of Your Wedding

One of the most important decisions to make when planning a wedding is who to invite. Couples often spend days mulling over lists of friends, colleagues and family members. As you wrote, our pets are definitely part of our families, so you are good to consider your dog.

These days, almost anything goes at weddings. If you are planning the festivities yourself, your nuptials could consist of anything from a barefoot-on-the-beach ceremony to a more formal church service. For the latter, your dog would have to be very well-socialized so that it would not become anxious in a crowd or react (such as by bolting) to sudden noises, like hand-clapping or loud music. You don’t want to be saying “I do” while your dog is running for its life! Also, be sure to ask in advance about permissions, since some venues do not allow dogs. A lot of pet clothing manufacturers now make cute bridal gowns and tuxes for dogs.

You can also arrange for a pet wedding package. Purr’n Pooch of New Jersey, for example, can assist you with training your dog to be on its best behavior when walking down the aisle. The luxury pet boarders even send your dog on its own honeymoon while you and your better half go on yours. The dog honeymoon package includes daily day care, time to swim in the pool and massage therapy. Your dog will stay in a suite with DIRECTV, leather and foam memory couches made for dogs, classical music and more. Each dog guest additionally receives a Berber sleeping blanket along with spring water. With all of that, your dog will probably hope that you renew your wedding vows on a regular basis!

The idea for the dog wedding deal came when owner Dick Palazzo and his family were planning the marriage of one of their daughters in 2002. She wanted to include the family dog on her special day, and from this lightning-bolt moment came the start of the Purr’n Pooch special wedding package.

Dog-friendly Games for the Whole Family

A yard, your family and friends, plus at least one dog equal a recipe for ultimate summer fun. Alison Smith, author of the book 101 Fun Things to Do With Your Dog, has a whole section on games that you and your family can play with your dog. Here are two enjoyable ones for a summer afternoon:

Doggy Baseball
For this game, you need at least three human players, a Wiffle-type ball and your dog. You also need to set up bases, which can be easily done with any kind of colorful objects, such as upside-down buckets. One person is a batter, while another pitches. Everyone else -- including your dog -- is a fielder. “The aim of the game is for the batter to hit the ball as far as he can and try to get ’round all of the bases without being out,” explains Smith.

Your additional job is to encourage your dog to go after the ball and bring it back to you. Most dogs instinctively do this, but you might have to work a bit to get your dog to return the ball to you. Yelling “Fetch” and bringing along treats can help.

Tag for Dogs
Just like the human game of tag, someone has to be “it,” giving other players -- including your dog -- a 10- to 15-second head start to run away before “it” can begin to chase others in a defined area. The first player tagged then becomes “it.” “Part of the fun is darting around and avoiding the dreaded ‘tag’: the point at which the person chasing touches another person or dog, making them ‘it’ in turn,” says Smith. Time the game in one-minute sessions, stopping play by yelling or blowing a whistle. The “it” individual at that point “must sit out until a new game starts,” she instructs. “The aim is to have one winner at the end of all the games.”

Be sure to have plenty of cool water for all players. For dog tag, Smith also says having more than one dog can up the fun. The dogs may never completely figure out what’s going on, but everyone will have a good time anyway.

Lost-dog Recovery Service

Roscoe, a 2-year-old Boston terrier, made his escape by busting through a screen door. Owner Josh Sorkin became frantic when Roscoe didn’t show up in early canvases of the neighborhood.

Sorkin, who works in the tech industry, resorted to a new service in his quest to find his feisty pup. He placed an order through FindToto, an online pet search service that sends an automated call out to neighbors within a certain radius from where the animal disappeared. “As soon as we registered, my phone rang,” Sorkin says. “We got a lot of calls back from concerned people. There were people out there who were trying to help.”

Roscoe turned up two days later on ranch land some distance from Sorkin’s home. FindToto not only helped with Roscoe’s recovery, but it also gave Sorkin peace of mind throughout the ordeal, knowing his neighbors were on the lookout.

How It Works
FindToto began little more than a year ago when Dustin Sterlino and his girlfriend lost their cat. They found knocking on doors and posting flyers ineffective but couldn’t afford a pet detective.

Sterlino came up with the idea to formulate a database of home phone numbers, and to charge for placing automated calls when users purchase FindToto’s service. An entry-level package calls 500 neighbors for about $125, and packages run up to approximately $875 for an alert that reaches 10,000 homes. The database of phone numbers is updated monthly, so customers have the assurance the service is calling current numbers.

“You can’t alert too many people going door to door,” says Sterlino. “If you lose a dog or cat, chances are they’re roaming around the neighborhood somewhere. It’s more compelling for that message to be right there in your neighbor’s ear when they get home from work.”

FindToto dials each number up to four times in an attempt to reach a person or answering machine. The call offers a description of the pet, the owner’s phone number and contact information for FindToto.

So far, Sterlino estimates that FindToto found 1,000 pets out of 3,000 orders. Some pet detectives use the service themselves and recommend that prospective clientele try FindToto first, says Sterlino. “I think we got lucky with this simple concept of life that the more people you touch, the more successful you become.”

Dog Safety Tips
Protecting your dog at home is more than a matter of luck. Vicki Kirby, of The Humane Society of Fairfax County, Va., offers these tips:

  • Spay or neuter “Most stray or lost animals brought into area shelters are unaltered,” says Kirby, who has worked with The Humane Society for 30 years.
  • Buy a collar “Your animal’s ID is his ticket home,” Kirby says. Make sure the collar fits securely and your pal can’t easily slip free. The ID tag on the collar should include your phone number with the area code.
  • Watch closely Your dog can dig under a fence or slip through a loose board. Gates may accidentally be left open. Dog theft is also common in many areas, such as around Kirby’s home in Northern Virginia.
  • Use microchip technology Shelters, rescue organizations and veterinary hospitals will check for a microchip when a dog comes in, Kirby says.

If you do lose your dog, it’s important to act immediately. A quick response greatly increases your chance of recovering your furry pal. “Most animals will stick around the same area for approximately three days,” Kirby says. “After that, they will start to wander farther. Look for your pet while the trail is hot.”

Top 10 Dog Behavior Problems

Individual dogs, like people, misbehave in their own unique ways. However, sometimes this is tied to breeding. Some dogs, like coonhounds, were bred to be very vocal. It’s therefore not really the dog’s fault that it has a predisposed drive to loudly howl. In fact, under the right situations, that behavior is desired.

However, surveys still show that certain behavioral problems are common among all dogs, no matter the breed. In their book Handbook of Behavior Problems of the Dog and Cat, authors Gary Landsberg, Wayne Hunthausen and Lowell Ackerman present not just one, but two such lists based on surveys.

The first list mentions the most common problems as reported by dog owners:

1. Jumping up
2. Barking
3. Begging for food
4. Jumping on furniture
5. Digging
6. Chewing
7. Showing a fear of noises
8. Being overprotective of family
9. Being overprotective of property (tied with number 8)
10. Escaping from yard

The other list contains the most common dog behavioral problems as reported by referral practices:

1. Aggression
2. Inappropriate elimination
3. Destructive behavior
4. Excitability/unruliness
5. Barking
6. Fears and phobias
7. Excessive submission
8. Compulsive and stereotypical behaviors

The book also goes on to list the most common problems that lead to increased risk for relinquishment. The top three:

1. Aggression to pets or people
2. Barking
3. Destructive behavior

What’s missing, of course, is a list of what pet owners themselves did wrong when training and caring for their dogs. Nearly all of the above problems can be solved with good socialization and training.