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It's A Dog's Life: Helping A New Canine Friend Get Acclimated To Your Family
by Karen Koch
TheSyndicatedNews columnist

Karen Koch is former writer and editor for the Los Angeles Times. Currently, she is a freelance writer who specializes in stories related to family, education and lifestyle.

When B.J., a 35-pound terrier mix, arrived at the Seki home in February 2005, Leah and Chris Seki weren’t convinced he was the dog of their dreams.

The Buena Park, California couple had promised Canine & Kitty Coop, a Long Beach area animal rescue organization that they would try the dog out at their home in the hopes of adopting him. But they were worried that the 3-year-old dog didn’t have the energy to keep up with their two sons, Christian, who is now 9, and Sean, who is now 5. B.J. moved kind of slow and mostly just stood at the door as if he was waiting for someone to pick him up.

“Luckily Mary [Chatman, who is now the adoption coordinator for the Bumper Foundation rescue group in L.A.] told us to keep him a week so we could get to know him better,” said Leah Seki. “Anyway, we are glad we did because he’s been one of the best dogs either Chris or I have had. He’s so calm and gentle with the boys, but he’ll still play fetch with them, too. We were concerned at first that he wouldn’t be active enough for the boys…but he finally did start running around and now the boys can’t catch him!”

Ahhhhh--what a difference a few days (or weeks or months) make when a new dog joins the family. Whether the dog is a mere pup or an older canine, patience is the key, particularly if your home is already inhabited by other pets or children, say animal experts. They offered some things to think about before your heart gets stolen by a fuzz ball with pleading eyes and a perky, wet nose.
First days

As you’re getting your dog used to its new abode, keep in mind that “it’s easier to ease into a situation rather than unwind a bad situation,” said Janet Hicks, an animal communicator and one of the founders of the Bumper Foundation. So, take things slowly!

For instance, Chatman warns against giving a pooch free rein of the house until you’ve determined if it’s housebroken. She also suggested installing a doggy door and teaching the dog to use it by luring it through the hole with treats.

It’s also wise to keep a leash on the dog for a while whenever it’s in the house, said Suzanne Mackay, co-owner of Doggie Land, a cage-free doggy daycare and boarding and training facility in Harbor City, Calif. It’s not necessary to constantly hold onto the leash. The strategy is to give you something you can quickly grab to gain control of a situation if the dog misbehaves.

If your new 15-pound pug leaps up onto your sofa and claims it as his bed, Mackay suggests reclaiming it immediately—even if she looks awfully cute up there. To help make it clear who the alpha member of the family is (you!), don’t allow the doggy to jump on the furniture unless it’s invited, Mackay said.

And if you’re dying to introduce your new bundle of joy to your family, friends and the whole neighborhood, hold off a little while.

“Don’t have a party the night your dog comes to live with you. That’s an invitation for disaster.” Mackay said. The dog is overwhelmed enough without having to meet dozens of new people.

One person that you might want to introduce your pup to right away is a professional trainer, suggested Randee Goldman, founder of Lhasa Happy Homes Rescue Inc., a small-breed rescue group based in Santa Monica, Calif. If your pet is a rescue animal, a trainer can assess if the dog has any issues and help you work through them. Mackay, who has a bachelor’s in animal science from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, even offers free training evaluations of dogs.

Kid and canine capers

OK, so you think you’ve adopted the sweetest dog on the entire Earth. And, hey, maybe you have but, nevertheless, you can’t expect a dog to be a saint, the animal experts said. It’s the adults’ job to supervise the kids and canine and make sure that the children don’t push the pet to its limits.

Kids need to realize that “a dog is a being. Kids think they are cute and fuzzy like a stuffed animal” and sometimes treat them as such, Hicks said.

Prior to adopting, parents should teach kids proper manners around dogs. This includes first offering a hand for a dog to sniff, petting under the chin, letting the dog do the approaching and not pulling the dog, Goldman said. Mackay added such rules as no staring at the dog, no tug-of-war games and no interaction with the dog when it’s sleeping or eating.

Never leave a child under age 12 unsupervised with a dog—even after you’ve gotten to know the dog, said Mackay.

“It only takes a split second for a child to make a mistake, which can result in a serious injury. Dogs often act reflexively in self-defense. An innocent gesture such as touching a sleeping dog unexpectedly can cause a lightning-fast bite," she and Charlotte Bell wrote in their "Basic Rules for Keeping Your Children Safe Around Dogs" list.
Above all else, encourage kids to stay calm around the new dog.

“Sometimes kids are excited and want to scream but [you] need to discourage them from doing this,” said Hicks, who suggested explaining to the child that “this is a new experience for the doggy” and it’s feeling nervous.

Make sure that the dog has a quiet place of its own that is out of the path of the children, suggested Mackay.

Feline alert! Feline alert! %img%

OK, so no doubt you’ve heard the saying “fighting like cats and dogs” but if you take things slowly there’s no reason that the fur has to fly in a household of canines and felines.

Mackay said it’s critical to set up situations where neither animal feels cornered. During the first introductions, keep the dog on a leash and make sure that the cat can easily escape. Walking around holding the cat up high helps give the dog the perception that the cat has a higher status in the family so it’s less likely to challenge it.
Of course, the dog is really going to want to smell the kitty. A relatively safe way of doing this is by putting the kitty in a crate and letting the dog walk around it and smell it, she said.

During the early stages of the relationship, Mackay suggested keeping the dog on a leash and using citronella-based Direct Stop. You can carry it around on your belt or put bottles around the house so you can spray the canine whenever and wherever it starts to harass the cat.
Chatman also advocates spraying the dog with water or shaking a can filled with pennies to startle the canine out of misbehavior.

“After awhile they start to relate the shaking of the penny can with what Mommy doesn’t like,” she said.

Worse comes to worse, you can try a trick offered by Mackay. She knew someone who put a drop of the same perfume on all the cats and dogs in the household so they would all smell the same.

“The hissing and growling stopped greatly,” she said, since animals “function very much on smell.”

Leader of the pack

If you think your pup is lonely and in need of a canine companion, Mackay said it’s best to pair a male with a female dog because they are less likely to fight. Also, when selecting a second dog, you should consider size, age and energy level.

“Is it really appropriate to have a 70-pound Labrador with a 10-pound Chihuahua?” she asked.

It actually might be a match made in heaven but the pet owners should proceed with caution with this concept.

The first doggy date should be on a walk in neutral territory, suggested the canine experts. A dog “might feel territorially threatened and a negative aspect of [the dog’s] personality might come out if you just have the [new] dog show up at the house,” Hicks said.
Before the new dog arrives at the house, make sure to pick up all the food and toys, Mackay said. Walk the new dog around the house on a leash but don’t take him to places he shouldn’t go—such as the other dog’s sleeping quarters. Keep a leash on both dogs for awhile but drop the leashes.

To make the original dog feel less threatened, make sure it gets everything first, including food and attention, Mackay suggested
Be sure to get both dogs their own stuff, including toys, beds and food bowls, said Hicks, and don’t fundamentally change your relationship with the original dog. For instance, if you always take a morning hike with your dog, then still take it but maybe invite another person to tag along with the new dog.

Goldman said she’s had adopters complain when the new dog wasn’t playing with the original dog, but she said “it’s better [when the dogs] are ignoring each other rather than in each other’s face” in the beginning.

It’s natural for the dogs to try to figure out “who is going to be the boss,” said Chatman, who experienced this firsthand with her own miniature poodles, Chablis and Champagne. Chatman and her husband felt bad about leaving Champagne home alone when they were at work so they decided to get him a companion.

As the Chatmans watched the new dog, Chablis, stand guard over the food bowls, they were skeptical about whether this canine relationship would work. But eventually they became best buds, even sleeping on the bottom of the bed together.

Patience pays off again.

Published: Jul 29,2008 17:58
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