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Your Dog's Place in the Family

By: Joan Paylo

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You have just got a new dog... and now she needs to be accepted into her new pack – otherwise known as your family.

From the moment she arrives at your home, she'll bond with you, realizing she is dependent on you – her new "lead dog."

To help her connect with you, reward her with praise, but remember that firmness on your part – plus consistency and gentleness – will teach her to trust you.

All in the Family

Even before you bring your dog home, discuss the ground rules for what your dog will be allowed to do and where she can do it. Remember that it's easier to prevent a bad habit from developing in the first place than it is to correct it. If the dog knows how tasty the garbage is, or how chewy a sneaker can be, you'll have a hard time making her forget. If you want your dog to stay off the furniture, everyone in the family must agree on the command that will keep her from jumping up. If you don't want her to hound dinner guests, never give her table scraps.

Children should be taught that puppies and dogs are not play things: If the dog is a small breed, show the little ones how to pick her up properly by supporting her bottom with one hand and her front shoulders with the other. If she is a larger breed, show them how to pet her and play with her in a way that she enjoys.

Even if the dog doesn't immediately warm to one or more family members, they should be taught to treat her with respect and, above all, to avoid pressuring her for affection. She'll come around when the time is right for her. And she'll be grateful for their tolerance.

Be Consistent

Post your dog's schedule and training commands on the refrigerator, near the front and back doors and on the children's bulletin boards. Your dog craves routine, so be certain that she is fed measured amounts two to four times a day; that she is walked and put in her crate, all on a strict schedule. You'll also want to be sure that "sit," "down," and "come" all mean the same thing when those words are spoken by the members of your family. The dog wants nothing more than to please you, so don't confuse her.

For the most part, aim to imitate the way your dog's mother taught and disciplined her: Correct her swiftly and firmly, but don't raise your voice. Have her wait for you at a door so that you always enter or exit before her. Before you feed her, eat your own dinner.

Grooming her and examining her teeth and ears is another way to remind her who's in charge. If she is introduced to grooming gently at an early age, it will be fun for her and will provide another opportunity for her to be close to you.

Play and Explore the World

A simple game of catch or fetch can develop into more sophisticated interplay and communication between you and your dog. You two will learn to read each other, varying the pace of the game, with your dog sometimes deciding to change "catch" to "fetch" and letting you know what she intends to do.

The entire family can participate in games that will teach your dog people's names, and the names of objects and places. Hide-and-seek, for example, can help your dog distinguish between "find Tommy in the kitchen" and "find Mary in her room."

Relax with your new dog. Talk to her, so that she understands your various moods and tones of voice. Take her on walks. This will give you a chance to help her adjust to sudden noises, such as fire trucks and motorcycles. Observe how she interacts with wildlife and other dogs and note where she might need training.

After you've exposed your dog to car trips, stairs, elevators and parks, expand her world. Help her negotiate crowds, stores, and school zones, where there are groups of strange children. Expose her to men and women of all ages, abilities and races.

Your dog is wired to behave like others of her breed and her wolf ancestors. Though the role of predator, hunter, or herder comes naturally to her, your job is to shape her into the best human companion she can be.

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