Bringing Home Your New Best Friend

Adding a pet to your life is a big step. Pets provide companionship, love, and fun, but they’re also a big responsibility because another life is now entrusted to your care. If you’re about to become a first-time pet owner, here are a few tips to help you prepare.

Choosing the Right Pet

Don’t buy a pet on impulse. Even if the puppy at the store is the cutest thing you have ever seen, if you weren’t planning to get a pet, go home and do some thinking and research before you pull the trigger. If you live in a second-floor apartment, for example, a puppy that will grow into a large dog may not be the best option. Consider how much space you have inside and outside, how much time you have to devote to your pet, and how much your pet will cost in terms of veterinary care, food, supplies, and more. Popular pet options include dogs, cats, fish, birds, guinea pigs, hamsters, lizards, and many more. Think about your health as well; if you’re allergic to cats, for instance, don’t get a cat, even if your kids are begging you.

Where to Get Your Pet

While pet stores exist in most areas, you should also consider adopting a pet from your local animal shelter. The staff there can help match you with the right pet, or you can check with local rescue groups that help animals recover from difficult situations before placing them in new homes. A resource like Petfinder, which lists thousands of pets available to adopt from shelter and rescue groups in the United States, Canada, and Mexico, can also be helpful. You can search by pets available in your area as well as by type of pet.

Preparing Your Home

Once you have decided on a pet, prepare your house before you bring the pet home. Make sure you have whatever food and water are necessary, along with the proper cages, leashes, toys, collars, and other supplies. Contact a vet to schedule a visit and make sure they can accept your pet as a patient. Determine if you need to add a fence or any boundaries to your yard to keep your pet contained.

Settling In

Time your pet’s arrival for a weekend or other time when you can be at home for an extended period. This will help your pet adjust to its new surroundings, which is especially important for rescue animals that may be understandably fearful because of how they have been treated in the past. Establish a bond by building trust and communicating with your furry friend. Also, spend time playing with and loving on your new pet; this will go a long way toward helping them get to know their new environment. If you have children, this a great time to get them involved in starting a relationship that may last for years.

Starting Off Right

Once your pet is home, it’s important to help them establish definite daily patterns, including eating, sleeping, and playing. Research when and how much they need to eat and what their bathroom needs are. Teach them where their food and water will be, and show them where they can and cannot go in your home and yard. Go above and beyond to give them as much human interaction as possible. Playing with them is one of the best things you can do as they adjust to living with you. If you have a dog and know you will be working long hours because of your busy schedule, look into hiring a dog walker to keep your dog active and entertained.

No matter what kind of pet you decide to bring home, it’s a big deal. Enjoy the process and celebrate your new arrival — just make sure to prepare everyone in the house before you bring your pet home. Follow the tips above, and before you know it, you’ll have a new member of the family!

Photo from Pixabay

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Help for Hand Shy Dogs

If your pup flinches or backs up a bit when you reach toward their head, they may be hand shy.   Here are some ways to practice desensitizing them to this issue.

Accept Reaching Hands and Touching

This exercise will help hand shy dogs become more comfortable with being touched. It is important to begin practicing with familiar and accepted adults first. Again, keep in mind that your objective is not for the dog to merely tolerate, but rather to remain relaxed and enjoy the process, and that an inexperienced helper can get bitten if you proceed too quickly without making sure that the dog is truly accepting rather than merely tolerating the touching.

Goal 1: Relaxed Dog will accept face touch from owner and/or helper.

1. Reach toward dog, stop 6 in. from side of dog’s face, treat from other hand.

2. Repeat reach toward dog, stopping 3 inches from face, treat from other hand.

3. Repeat reach, stopping 2 inches from face, then repeat stopping 1 inch from face.

4. Lightly touch the side of dog’s face.

5. Repeat toward chin.



Goal 2: Relaxed dog will accept collar and body touch from owner and/or helper.

1. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog’s head with the other.

2. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the dog under the ear and on the ear.

3. As you feed the treat with one hand, touch the side of the dog’s neck.

4. As you feed the dog with one hand, touch the collar.

5. As you feed with one hand, touch the dog’s chest, front legs, back, lower back, belly, down the back legs, the tail, and finally the paws.

6. Progress to touching from different positions and at different speeds.

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How to Use Food Rewards in Training

Using food rewards is generally the easiest way to teach your dog what you want from him.  But its important to use them effectively and not over use them.

The Science of Treats

  • Treats need to be pea-sized OR SMALLER and easy to get to (pocket, training pouch or nearby table top).  They should be soft so your dog can chew quickly without leaving crumbs on the floor – plus soft treats are easier to break into small enough pieces
  • Distracting environments call for better treats.  You can usually get away with something like Cheerios or kibble in the house with no distractions, but for outside leash walking practice, whip out the cubed cheddar or hot dogs.
  • When in working with distractions, or a particularly challenging situation, feed lots of treats in a continuous fashion – to help your dog be successful.
  • A mix of treats is ideal so your dog never knows what’s coming.  Figure out what your dog really likes!
  • If you are having trouble with a particular behavior such as housetraining or coming when called – use your dog’s very favorite treats for these rewards and ONLY for rewarding these behaviors.
  • Once a behavior is learned, start rewarding randomly – start with ‘2-fers’ and gradually vary the intervals in which you reward, slowly decreasing over time but continue to reward occasionally – ‘slot machine effect’

Treat ideas:

  • Cubed lunch meat (to dry it out a bit, microwave it 3 times for 30 seconds sandwiched between pieces of paper towel)
  • Shredded or string cheese
  • Cream cheese, peanut butter, Easy cheese (a lick per behavior – also great for grooming practice and stuffing in Kong when your dog will be alone for awhile)
  • Cereal such as cheerios
  • Kibble (dry food) – try placing some in a paper bag with some bacon to ‘stinkify it’
  • Kitty treats or food
  • Freeze dried liver treats
  • Beef Jerky
  • Apple pieces
  • Cooked green beans, carrots, or peas
  • Hot dogs, Liverwurst
  • Popcorn
  • Imitation crab (try peeling layers apart and freezing them in a colander to dry them out)
  • Meat baby food
  • Hard boiled egg white pieces
  • Commercial dog treats (be sure to check ingredients to avoid preservatives, artificial colors and by-products)
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We all want wonderfully behaved dogs, but it doesn’t happen on its own just because we wish it.  It takes time and effort to create the kind of dog and relationship you want. Here are some basic principles that can help you have a better behaved dog.

  • Have realistic expectations about your dog. No matter how good your dog is, things will get peed on, chewed or scratched/dug up. Barking / meowing, door dashing and/or pulling on the leash can happen with even the best animal.  Accept the fact that dogs are living beings and not china dolls to sit in the corner.  If you have a dog, some time during his/her life, you will loose something of value. 
  • To change behavior you have to be patient and persistent.  Change will not happen over night.  Sometimes it can take weeks or months to change behavior.  The more time you spend and the more often you work with your dog the quicker the change. Despite what some books say, most puppies can’t be housetrained in 7 days.
  • Recognize and meet your dog’s behavioral needs.  Dogs have needs for exercise, social contact with people and other animals and mental stimulation. Problem-solving toys, can provide mental stimulation. Games such as ‘find the hidden object’ and events such as agility can provide all three. 
  • Make it easy for your dog to do the right thing.  Arrange the environment so that the behavior you want is easily produced. The more often desirable behavior happens the stronger it becomes. For example, minimize distractions when you’re trying to teach your dog something new. Put scratching posts where they are easy for your cat to find and use. 
  • Make it difficult for your dog to do the wrong thing.  Arrange the environment so it is hard for your dog to make mistakes.  The more often unwanted behavior happens the harder it is to change.  Close the blinds to keep your dog from barking at those that pass by.  Scoop out your cats’ litter boxes every day.
  • Realize that animals don’t do things out of spite, for revenge or just to make your life miserable. They do what works – that is, what meets their behavioral needs, gets them rewards or allows them to escape or avoid bad things. They sometimes do some things because they are ill.  Dogs counter surf because they occasionally hit the jackpot of a sandwich or chicken leg.  Cats sometimes pee out of the box because they are sick even when they don’t act sick.
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Using Positive Reinforcement vs. Punishment

Dogs are very efficient in their behavior.  If a behavior is inherently pleasurable (eating, playing, chasing, etc), or if doing a particular behavior gets something pleasurable for the dog (like food, attention, or social interaction), the dog will repeat that behavior more and more often.  If a behavior is not pleasurable, if it does not work to obtain something pleasurable, or results in something unpleasant, the dog will use that behavior less and less. 

Whenever you interact with a dog, you’re constantly giving her feedback about what works to get the good stuff and what doesn’t work.  If a dog jumps up and gets attention, even if the attention is that you push him, then he knows that jumping “works” -– that is, it gets him attention and social interaction.  If a he accidentally bites you in play and you don’t end the game, then he learns that play biting “works” or at least is not a serious impropriety -– the fun continues. So you can see why it is very important to provide consistent consequences to your dog’s behavior to be sure he is getting the right messages from you. This is a big responsibility.

The good news is that we can easily use the way dogs learn to “sculpt” their behavior, by consistently rewarding the desirable behaviors we see and ignoring or interrupting the undesirable behaviors.  Gradually, you will see your dog behaving more and more in desirable ways, and less and less in undesirable ways.

But what about, for example, dogs who jump all the time?  Well, that’s just it: no dog ever jumps literally all the time.  Even with a dog that jumps a lot, there’s a moment when she isn’t jumping, so reinforce that moment with attention and some food!  If you don’t like what she’s doing, show her what you would like her to do instead and then reinforce the new behavior. Ie, tell to Sit and provide attention for that.

Repetition and patience are key elements in dog training.  There’s never a magic moment when the dog understands the meaning of our requests.  Animals gradually become conditioned through lots of repetition that certain behaviors in certain situations will or will not “pay off.”  

We use these principles -– rewarding desirable behaviors and ignoring undesirable behavior or removing rewards when the animal behaves in an undesirable way – in training, and do not use physical punishment.  Dogs make associations with you and with the situation every time you interact with them.  Thus, an unfortunate side effect of using punishment to try to train animals is that, while they may learn to respond to cues, or to stop doing something you don’t like, they may also form negative associations to you, to the situation, the environment, to people in general, or to training.  

Furthermore, often you don’t get the result you wanted from trying to use punishment to train.  Take for example a dog jumping on people.  It’s not a desirable behavior to people, but in the dog-dog world this is usually an appeasing, friendly greeting gesture.  If you use punishment to try to get the dog to stop jumping, you have to use a severe enough punishment the first time that it effectively outweighs the positive associations of the friendly greeting gesture.  If the punishment is not severe enough, then, you are not effectively damping that behavior.  You may even unintentionally be rewarding it.  Furthermore, even if you succeed in punishing severely enough, some dogs may try to stop the punishment by offering an appeasement gesture rather than by stopping the undesirable behavior– so the result might be more rather than less jumping.

So, using punishment to train is pretty inefficient, difficult to do correctly, and, in order to be effective, must be severe.  A much more efficient, friendlier way to train is to teach the dog a desirable, incompatible behavior: ask yourself, “If this is ‘wrong,’ what is ‘right’?  In the case above, you could train the dog to sit to greet people instead of jumping.  

Please keep in mind, physical punishment can jeopardize your relationship with your dog or cause her to become defensive or fearful. Surely that is not your goal. Besides, dogs aren’t trying to be “bad” when they do something you don’t approve of; they are just being dogs. It is unfair to punish a dog for being a dog. It is up to you, as the human with control of all of the resources, to sufficiently and benevolently teach your dog the rules of the house and to train him to meet your expectations.

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Some Facts on Doggy Sleep

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Using a Release Word


When working on STAY, its actually most important to focus on teaching your dog a Release Word.   Instead of working on how long you can get your dog to STAY, focus on teaching him when he has ‘permission to move’.   Once your dog understands that he has to wait for that magic word, it will be easier to build up longer STAYS.

The Release Word tells the dog that she no longer has to hold the position you put her in, whether it’s sit or down or heel. It is the command that gives you unquestioned leadership, since the dog cannot release itself. Once you have chosen the release word, it should stay consistent throughout the dog’s life.

We suggest you use a word that has no other connotations to it – “Release” is a very good one. Others are – “Dismissed,” “Go Play,” “At Ease,” “That’ll do.” “OK” is difficult — you should say the name first, to get the dog’s attention, and to differentiate that word from all the other times you say the word OK in conversation. Don’t use “Good Dog,” since you’ll be using that phrase to praise the dog.

Use the release word to literally release a dog from an exercise. Whether she’s watching you or on a sit or down, it works the same way. When you’ve decided the exercise is at an end, say the release word you have chosen, then step away from the dog, and invite her to take a break.

Teach your dog what the RELEASE WORD means:

  • Ask the dog to do something she knows how to do (maybe “sit”).
  • When she’s sitting, say your release word, and give her a treat.
  • Do that about 5 times, and she’ll begin to understand.
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Using Time Outs Effectively

There are many ways to do an effective time-out. The most important element is good timing.  As soon as your pup begins to jump up on someone, bites too hard, barks for attention, or is heading for food on the kitchen table, say something that informs him that he just earned himself a time-out (like “Too bad” or “Time-out”), and then swiftly escort him to his time-out place.  The whole idea of a Time Out is to withdraw attention.  All attention is very rewarding for your dog and withdrawing attention is a very effective negative consequence.  None of this should be done in anger – just a neutral “Too Bad” and then either remove the pup or remove yourself for 30 seconds.

  • To do a time-out when you and your pup are in a puppy-proof room, you can just leave the room and shut the door.
  • If your puppy is ok being left alone in the kitchen or family room, you can be the one to leave.  Say “Bye” and walk into another room and close the door behind you.
  • If your pup is in an area that will be fun or dangerous, you will need to tether or crate him for his time-out.  To crate him, simply place him in his crate and leave. A small utility room or ex-pen serves the same purpose.
  • A utility room makes a good time-out place.  If you are using a bathroom, make sure that toilet paper and shower curtains are out of your pup’s reach. The more puppy-proof the room, the better.
  • Tether stations can be used for time-outs and to keep your puppy out of trouble when you are nearby but unable to supervise him closely. It is handy to have several tether stations around the house, so that one is always nearby. Tether stations are simple to set up. Screw an eyehook screw into the wall or the floor and attach three feet of clothesline cable, with a clip at the end to attach to your puppy’s collar.
  • A good option for time-outs when you are out and about with your pup is to put the leash under your foot so that pup cannot go anywhere or jump up on you, and to wait for a few minutes, ignoring him completely. You can do this for pulling on leash if you are unable to change directions (because of traffic or pedestrians).
  • Regardless of what type of time-out you do, only release your puppy from his time-out when he has been well-mannered for at least one minute (no tugging, jumping, whining, pawing, etc.).
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Three Phases of Lure/Reward Training

Using food rewards is typically the easiest way to teach your puppy new behaviors but its important to not remain dependent on using these food rewards.   Here is a simple plan you can follow:


  1. To phase out food lures
  2. To phase out food rewards and replace with life rewards
  3. To increase reliability by calmly persisting and insisting

Stage One: 

Teaching dogs what we want them to do. Teaching dogs ESL — English as Second Language — English words for doggy behaviors and actions.

Food Lures -> Hand-signals -> Verbal Commands

Food lures are phased out once the dog learns the meaning of hand-signals (in the very first session) and hand-signals (hand lures) are then used to teach the dog the meaning of verbal commands. .

Stage Two:

Motivating dogs to want to do what we want them to do. 

Food rewards are phased out and replaced with Life Rewards.

Get More-for-less, i.e., more behaviors for fewer food rewards

Differential Reinforcement only rewarding your dog for above-average responses with better responses receiving better rewards and the best responses receiving best rewards.

Life Rewards — Food rewards are phased out entirely and replaced with Life Rewards especially the Big Two — Walking on-leash or off-leash and Playing with other dogs.  Big Two Interactive Games — Fetch and Tug

Stage Three:

Even though a dog may understand the meaning of the verbal command and has been motivated to want to comply, there will be occasions when he doesn’t.  However, there are infrequent occasions when absolute reliability is essential for the dog’s well being and safety.  Use persistence and insistence to get behavior.

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Teaching Your Dog to Take Treats Nicely

With dogs like this, teach them to lick for treats using the “fist of Kong” method.

1. Put a smear of peanut butter or cream cheese in the palm of your hand.
2. Make a fist and then relax you hand and move your thumb so that there is an opening near your thumb. You hand should be shaped like a kong.
3. Present your hand to the dog.
4. The dog will sniff and then use their tongue to get to the stuff in your fist. When the dog licks your hand, click (if you use a clicker) and then open your fist and allow him to take another lick or two.

After the dog gets the pattern, you can transition to solid foods, by using a peanut butter smear and also put a treat in your hand. When he licks, open your hand and let he eat the treat. The treat should be presented in a open hand with the treat resting on your palm (don’t present a treat between the finger tips).

In case where you can’t outlast the dog because he is chewing your fist, remove the fist, turn your back and walk away for 5 seconds. It might be necessary to tether the dog so that you can walk away. This doesn’t happen all that often because most dogs quickly learn that they can lick the peanut butter. For the first rep, present an open hand – this makes it more likely that he’ll lick when you present the fist (and it tests whether he’ll be interested in the smear you are using).

Once you’ve started doing this, use the lick for treats method for delivering treats while doing other training. So when you deliver a treat when luring a sit, use the fist of Kong.

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