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The Holiday Puppy

The honeymoon phase of a relationship ends when your love and infatuation for the other has passed and you begin to see this fantastic new being in your life more realistically.

In the weeks after the holidays, therefore, it is not uncommon for parents to find that their kids may have been more excited about the thought of getting a new puppy than they were about the reality of taking care of it.

As the days go by, the number of family members standing in line for their turn to take the new puppy outside may start to dwindle, as well as the giggles when the new puppy carries off a favorite new Christmas toy. As a result, “little accidents” on the floor may become more frequent, and as little “Fluff Ball” also begins exploring his world with the only mechanism he has — his mouth — and the kids’ new Christmas toys are, one after the other, being eviscerated, the puppy’s cuteness factor may no longer give him automatic forgiveness passes from the kids.

If you find yourself in the situation I’ve described above, then the “New Holiday Puppy Honeymoon” has officially ended. But do not panic — it’s not too late to get everyone on track.

Step 1: Educate Your Puppy

Getting your new friend into a high-quality puppy kindergarten class as soon as possible is the number-one thing you can do to prevent behavior problems later on down the road. Between the ages of 7 to 16 weeks is the most critical time in your puppy’s emotional and social development. A quality puppy kindergarten class will focus on socialization, communication and problem-prevention skills. Even if you’ve raised dogs in the past or have another dog at home whom your puppy can interact with, it is imperative your family and puppy attend puppy class together. Check with your veterinary hospital to see if they offer a class or know where to refer you. A puppy class should be fun, focused on building a happy and positive relationship, and include the entire family.

You can also help by doing some “homework.” In my experience, I have found the following books to be helpful:

Culture Clash, by Jean Donaldson. When you get a new puppy, you have to realize that you have begun a relationship with an alternate species whose perspective of the world is very different from your own. Before you can begin to teach your puppy, you need to understand the world through his unique perspective. This book will help you to set appropriate expectations that are fair to your puppy.

Puppy Start Right, by Ken and Debbie Martin. This book is a positive approach to problem solving, prevention and training, without the use of punishment. It will teach you how to train the behaviors you do want in order to encourage and create a solid foundation of skills. These foundation skills are comparable to teaching good manners to children. For example, your puppy should learn to go to his mat or bed when the kids are eating. This will keep him from learning the kids’ snack time is a free-for-all!

Living With Kids and Dogs . . . Without Losing Your Mind: A Parent’s Guide to Controlling the Chaos, by Colleen Pelar. Kids and puppies are both egocentric — they believe the world revolves around their wants and needs! No doubt there will be confusion and frustration as you grow together, but this book will help you prevent miscommunication and get everyone on the right track to building a healthy relationship.

Clicking With Your Dog, by Peggy Tillman. Understanding and using the concepts of clicker training can become a common language between you and your new family member for the rest of his life. Clicker training uses positive reinforcement in combination with a signal — a clicker — to teach dogs how to behave properly. You can use clicker training anytime you want to teach your dog something new or improve on something he already knows. And if you can’t get to a puppy kindergarten class, you can also explore online training options for your new pup.

Step 2: Supervision and Management

Remember that an adult must be the puppy’s advocate at all times. What I mean by “being an advocate” is that an adult must be the puppy’s voice and his protector. Your responsibility is to make sure he is not put into situations where inappropriate behaviors or associations can be learned. Without your advocacy, kid and puppy feelings can be hurt and the relationship can quickly deteriorate. I remember returning from a business trip to find that my own dog had begun ducking his head when I touched his collar. It was only through intense interrogation that I discovered that one of the children had been pulling him off the couch by his collar, creating anxiety associated with his collar being touched.

So if your puppy urinates on the floor or chews an inappropriate object, the first question needs to be, “Who was supervising him?”

Kids can be rewarded for picking up their toys, shutting doors and otherwise following specific puppy management rules by being allowed to have supervised puppy play time. If your puppy cannot be supervised, he should be confined to a place where he can “do no wrong” and “no wrong” can be done to him.

Adopting a pet, any pet, means adding a new dynamic and relationship to your family.

The relationship you are now developing with your puppy will hopefully grow stronger and deeper over time — and last for many years — with many wonderful family memories. As with any relationship, there will be bumps in the road and communication errors, but with education and supervision those bumps will later become fond memories.

Julie Shaw is the single mother of three human children, including a child with cerebral palsy for whom she’s trained two service dogs to assist. She has been a veterinary technician for 30 years and is a veterinary technician specialist in animal behavior. She taught for 13 years at Purdue University’s Animal Behavior Clinic and is also an animal trainer, teacher and writer. Shaw speaks nationally and internationally on animal-behavior-related topics and can be reached at

By Julie Shaw –provided by

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