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Your Puppy's Place in the Family

By: Joan Paylo

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Now that she's left her mom and littermates, your puppy needs to be accepted into her new pack – otherwise known as your family.
From the moment she arrives home in her eighth week of life, a crucial time in her development begins. Over the next four weeks, 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 later. 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 teach her to beg for table scraps.

Children should be taught that puppies and dogs are not toys: If your pup is a small breed, show the little ones how to pick her up by supporting her bottom with one hand and her shoulders with the other. If she is a larger breed, show them how to gently pet her and play with her.

Even if you pup doesn't immediately warm up 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 it seems right to 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," "no," and "come," mean the same thing when those words are spoken by any of 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 your pup and examining her teeth and ears are other ways of reminding her who's in charge. If she is introduced to groomed from an early age, it should become fun for her, providing yet 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 others' body language. Your dog may attempt to vary the pace of the game or decide to change a game of "catch" to "fetch," letting you know what she intends to do before she does it. Now that's talking!

The entire family can participate in games that will teach your dog people's names, and the name 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, for example, of passing 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 also like her wolf ancestors. Though the role of predator, hunter, or herder comes naturally to her, your job is to shape her behavior so that she becomes the best human companion she can possibly be.

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