Care and Handling

Feeding

Puppies are active and need three meals a day until the age of six months, when they need two meals a day. A puppy needs a balanced diet containing protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals. A diet of cooked meat, eggs, milk, and cottage cheese, or commercial puppy food provides the necessary nutrients and calories for a growing puppy. By the age of one year, a dog needs food only once a day and is ready for commercial dog food or a diet of meat, eggs, and cheese.

Water should be provided with meals and after exercise. Since many dogs develop tartar, a thick deposit of bacteria and food particles on the teeth, knuckle bones or commercial dog biscuits are recommended to help break down the deposits.

Housebreaking

By the age of three months, the puppy is able to control its bladder and bowels. At this point, it is ready to be paper-trained or taken directly outside. Paper-training for puppies is ideal for persons who live in apartments or are away from home during the day. It is an intermediate step in housebreaking, and should eventually lead to taking the puppy outside.

In paper-training, the puppy is confined to a small, easily cleaned room such as the kitchen. Initially, the floor is entirely covered with newspapers. The puppy is placed on the newspapers after meals, in the morning, and after activity. The puppy will typically sniff the newspapers, walk in a circle, and find a desirable spot to relieve itself. Once the puppy shows a preference for a particular spot, newspaper is placed only in that spot. Each time the paper is replaced, it is moved closer to an outside door, in preparation for the next step—placing newspaper outdoors on the grass. When the puppy relieves itself on the newspaper outside, it should be praised.

Newspaper is kept inside, as a precaution, until there have been several days of success with newspaper outside. The inside newspaper is then removed and the puppy is taken outside frequently throughout the day. The puppy will sniff around on the grass, relieving itself when it finds a desirable place. At this point the puppy should be completely trained, able to go long periods without soiling the floor. At night, the puppy can be confined to a bed, such as a wire cage, box, or crate lined with a mat or blanket. Most puppies will not soil their beds overnight.

Obedience

By the age of four to six months, the puppy is ready for obedience training. Most puppies are completely trained in about three months. Training sessions should last about 10 minutes. They should be conducted once or twice a day. A training collar, or choke, and a leather or nylon leash, or lead, are used. There are five basic commands: heel, sit, stay, come, and down. During training, the puppy should never be struck with the hand or with a rolled newspaper or other object. Instead, the word “no” should be used in a firm and authoritative way. Puppies need correction when they disobey and praise when they obey.

The puppy should first be taught to heel—to walk on the trainer's left with the shoulder next to the trainer's knee. The trainer should shorten the length of the leash until the puppy is in the correct position. The trainer should then begin walking in a straight line, giving the command "heel,” giving a quick jerk on the leash to get the puppy to follow. Once the puppy masters heeling in a straight line, it can be taught to continue heeling while the trainer turns to the left or right. The puppy should completely master this command before it is taken out in public, particularly on a crowded sidewalk.

Once the puppy has mastered heeling, it can be taught to sit. When the trainer stops walking, the command "sit” should be given, and the trainer should gently push down on the puppy's haunches until it is in a sitting position. The trainer should then begin walking again, giving the command "heel,” and giving a short jerk on the leash to get the puppy from a sitting to a standing position. The trainer should stop periodically, giving the command to sit. In a few sessions, the puppy should sit, without being given the command, whenever the trainer stops walking. Eventually, the puppy can be trained to sit at the curb before crossing a street, allowing the master to check the traffic conditions before proceeding.

After the puppy has been trained to sit, it can be taught to stay. While the puppy is in a sitting position, the trainer places the left hand in front of its muzzle and slowly backs away, giving the command "stay.” At first, the trainer should walk just to the end of the leash. Once the puppy has mastered this command while on the leash, it should be taught to stay while off the leash. This command is difficult and may take several sessions for the puppy to master.

The puppy should next be taught to come. With the puppy in a sitting position, the trainer should walk to the end of the leash, giving the command "come” and snapping the leash quickly to get the puppy to walk towards him. Once the puppy has mastered this command while on the leash, it can be taught to come while off the leash.

In later training sessions, the puppy can be taught to obey the command "down.” For this command, the puppy should be in a sitting position. The trainer gives the command, gently lifting the puppy's forelegs off the ground and easing the puppy into a prone position, placing the forelegs on the ground. The trainer should repeat this procedure, physically helping the puppy into the correct position until the puppy assumes the position on command.

Grooming

A dog's coat requires grooming to keep it healthy and free of dirt; the frequency depends on the breed. Brushing the coat removes dead hairs and distributes oils through the coat. Combing the coat helps untangle mats and clumps of hair, which occur frequently in long-haired dogs. A variety of combs and brushes for grooming can be bought at pet shops. Once a month, the toenails should be trimmed with special nail clippers and the ears should be cleaned with a cotton ball soaked in mineral oil or alcohol.

Dogs should not be bathed frequently since baths remove the skin's natural oils and dry out the coat. If the dog has dandruff, dirt, or an objectionable odor in its coat, it should be dusted with a dry, powdered shampoo or given a bath with mild soap or baby shampoo. A dog's teeth should be scrubbed periodically with a small toothbrush or a gauze pad dipped in baking soda.

Exercise

A dog needs daily exercise to remain healthy and physically fit. Daily walks or runs will help the dog retain muscle tone and vigor.

Shelter

A house dog needs a bed to retreat to when it is tired or sick. A dog bed can be made by placing an old blanket or rug in a basket or box. Dog beds may also be purchased. They are usually wicker baskets or plastic boxes with pads in them. A dog's bed should be placed in a secluded, draftfree site. Outdoor dogs need a protected shelter, such as a doghouse with a mat or towel on the floor.

What Are Your Responsibilities as an Owner?

When you get a dog, you take on responsibilities to your pet. You promise to give the dog love and keep it healthy and safe. That includes making sure the dog is properly fed, exercised, and taken to the veterinarian when needed for any illnesses or injuries.

Another responsibility of owning a dog is to have a vet spay or neuter that dog so the animal will not be able to produce puppies. (A vet spays female dogs and neuters male dogs.) Thousands of unwanted puppies are born every year.

Owners should also make certain their dog receives the necessary vaccinations (shots). That may include a vaccination against rabies, a terrible, painful disease that can be deadly.