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Before you bring a pup home

While a dog will enhance your life, you have to understand that he is not a toy. He has emotions and his own likes and dislikes and getting a dog is a big responsibility
Pups should have a separate play area

Brinda Sarkar   |     |   Published 07.08.20, 03:05 PM

With everyone home during the lockdown, many families are bringing home pet dogs. But there’s a lot to consider before making this big decision. Paramita Das, canine trainer and behaviourist and a resident of FE Block, held a webinar recently to address the issues. Here’s the first installment of what she had to say-

While a dog will enhance your life, you have to understand that he is not a toy. He has emotions and his own likes and dislikes and getting a dog is a big responsibility. Here are some pointers to consider before becoming a pet parent-

Ask before you get a pet

The average life span of your dog would be 12-14 years so ask if you can make that long a commitment. Do you have the time, money and will you make the effort?

Time- Keeping a pet means grooming him, training him, taking him to the vet for his shots and check-ups. Grooming is easier for short-haired dogs like Dachshund and Labradors but they will still need nails clipped, ears and anal glands cleaned periodically.
You must also be up for unpleasant jobs like inspecting your dog’s poop to report to the doctor and checking his coat for ticks and fleas.

Money- The pet will have his share of expenses. It is sad that many dogs are being abandoned during the lockdown as their pet parents have lost their jobs. So be careful about your decision.

Support system- Getting a dog has to be a family decision. Don’t take home a pup if your husband detests them. Yes, most of the time the person who hates the pup comes to love him the most after six months but what if this isn’t the case in your family?
What if you live alone and get Covid? Who would look after the dog for you? For that matter, who will look after him when you go for a vacation? Will you keep him in a creche, will a family member stay back with him or will you only go on pet-friendly holidays? What if you get a job out of town? Your dog has left his species to be with you and are you thinking of leaving him behind?

Allergies- Get your family members tested for allergies before bringing home a dog.

Puppy or adult dog

While most people melt seeing a puppy’s eyes, a pup comes with caveats. His baby teeth will be needle-sharp and you will be bitten as he grows.

Your expensive shoes may get chewed up and you will be stepping on his pee everywhere till he gets toilet-trained.

That way, adopting an older dog will be easier as he will be toilet-trained but you’ll miss out on the fun of watching a pup grow. There’s no right answer for this but you have to sure of which you want.

The right age

You must never separate a puppy from the mother before 60 days (eight weeks).
For the first 60 days of its life, a puppy is learning “primary socialisation” from his mother and siblings. He gets immunity from his mother’s milk too. After about four weeks (30 days) the mother needs “me time” and leaves the pups from time to time to play by themselves. When she returns, if the pups jump at her to have milk, she growls in a way that trains them. It teaches them that they are not to jump unless the other person wants it.

If the pup bites too hard while feeding, again, the mother smacks him. The pup understands that he should not dig his teeth hard on skin.
If this had happened on a human, the human would have thrown his hands and legs in the air and created such a fuss that the pup would think biting was a game. The best trainer for the pup is his mother and even the best human trainer comes nowhere near her.

After about seven weeks the mother starts rejecting the pups and this is the right time to bring home one. This is when “secondary socialisation” starts (to be discussed next week).

How to choose

Check the mother- After about seven weeks, the mother should let you touch the puppies. If not, she may have a behavioural problem, which may be passed on to her children. The mother should be friendly and not display visible signs of genetic problems. For instance, if she limps she may have hip dysplasia, which again may be passed on to her kids.

Health and behaviour- Yes, even the sick puppies need to go somewhere but they need homes that are committed to caring for a weak dog. The average person should check for overall good health — the pup shouldn’t be skinny or with a poor coat.

As for which pup to pick from a litter, it requires detailed study. A first time pet parent, for instance, is better off not picking a dominant or excessively timid puppy as he lacks experience to raise him. It would be easier if the pup’s nature compliments your and your family’s temperament.

Living conditions- In all my years of experience, I have come across very few cases of genetic aggression. It is mostly “learnt aggression”, that can arise from childhood.  

So if there are five pups, there should be more than five water bowls and toys for them. Then the pups do not need to fight for resources and are not prone to food aggression or possessiveness.

The sleeping area should be clean, hygienic and the toilet area must have a different ground texture, even if it is simply paper. That is how the mother teaches her pups where to do their business.

Getting an adult dog

Sometimes a family can adopt a dog that is given up another family due to some reason. Such dogs fit in seemlessly in their new homes; actually it depends on the new family.

However, before taking in an adult dog a family should run behavioural tests to see if he is possessive, aggressive or has fear issues. For these, it is best to consult a professional.

Once the pup comes home

From the age of 60 days (eight weeks) to about 20 weeks, the pup’s sense of smell, sight and touch is developing rapidly and he is curious about his environment. Ideally you should expose him to 100 new experiences every month at this stage.
Throw steel vessels on the floor, open and shut umbrellas before him, burst fire crackers, play Rabindrasangeet and rock music….

Otherwise your summer-born dog may panic on Diwali night or in winter, when he sees people wearing hoodies.

You also need 100 new people to handle him in this period. Sadly, we live in an age when we have 5,000 friends on Facebook but none that we can call to play with our pup.

Nonetheless, allow the puppy to explore. Unless the pup explores now, his curiosity will get replaced by fear later and you’ll need a behaviourist to help him out of it. You’ll complain that he bites but you won’t realise that he bites out of fear and not aggression.  

 Impose limits

Your dog is learning from his first day and unless you teach him what’s acceptable, he will be teaching you his rules. This is especially the case with headstrong breeds like Beagles (more on this later).

The more restrictions you put on your dog early in life, the more freedom he’ll enjoy later and vice versa. Otherwise, if you let him tear things and jump over people in his early days, you’ll have to keep him tied up later on when guests come calling.

It’s all right to keep your dog in a crate for a couple of hours but don’t let it be only to discipline him. Make the crate a den that dog loves - make it is big, well-ventilated and enriching. Keep chew toys or ones home-made toys made of old towels and jeans.

What breed to get

Choose a breed that suits your lifestyle. Spend time researching breeds and don’t just pick one up as it looks cute.

Activity level- Do you sleep till 10? Do you watch TV all evening and want your dog to sit next to you or are you a runner who wants to take your dog on treks? Do you have kids at home or adults?

These questions are important in picking a breed. People think Labradors and Golden Retrievers make great companions but this is not what they were bred for. These dogs were bred to retrieve fishermen and hunter’s catch. So you may want to relax in the evening but your

Lab is energetic and wants to play then. Mind you, not giving your dog exercise amounts to cruelty.

People think they can make Calcutta comfortable for a Siberian Husky by air-conditioning his room but that’s not enough. These dogs were bred for endurance, to survive miles in the snow. To keep a Husky healthy you have you wake up at 4.30am and take him for a long run before it gets hot. Can you do that?

After the lockdown we all know how frustrating it is to be stuck indoors. This is how your dog feels if you don’t let him out.

Flooring- Breeds like Labs and Golden Retrievers are prone to a condition called hip dysplasia. Pups of these breeds should not be running on marble floors, that can be slippery. Grown-up dogs with this condition should not be walking on marble either.

Games- Beagles are extremely popular as they are compact-sized with short coats but they are also stubborn. You have to design mentally stimulating games for them else they’ll get frustrated and destructive. Beagles are scent hounds and so they see the world with their noses, even more than other dogs. To keep a Beagle happy you can hide his toys in the house or in the park and ask him to find them.

Training- Should you want breeds like German Shepherd Dogs, Rottweilers and Belgian Malinois, you must train them well. These breeds were meant to rear sheep and cattle and nipped the legs of these animals when they tried to go astray. Unless trained, these dogs may bite children they see running. One need not always hire a professional trainer, you can do it yourself but you need to learn it yourself.

Lockdown pups

While many homes are taking in pets now, it is not without challenges.  

No touch and feel- Many breeders are not allowing people to go over and see the litters. But it is not enough to choose a puppy by simply seeing his video. How will you check if his living conditions are clean? The deadly parvovirus is doing the rounds the now but how will you check if the pup is healthy on camera?

Lack of socialisation- Secondly, even if you get home a puppy, how to give him 100 new experiences and 100 new people to interact with every month? The best you can do is dress up in different get-ups yourself. Wear a hat, shawl, lungi, hoodies, crawl on the floor, stand on a chair… even if your smell is the same, at least you’re looking different to your dog.
While exposing him to these new experiences, do not force him to go near it. Allow him time and distance and he will explore and overcome the fear himself.

Separation anxiety- Dogs are getting used to their pet parents being around all the time now but what will happen when the lockdown is finally lifted? You will go to work, movies, wedding ceremonies and your dog will be miserable home alone.  
The solution is to not to allow him to around you all the time. Encourage him to relish some me-time. In fact, right from the day he comes, don’t spend the first 48 hours glued to him. He’ll cry for a bit but then quieten up. Otherwise he’s training you to be at his beck and call.
You can keep your dog home alone for six to seven hours safely as that’s how long he can hold his bladder.

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