'Tis the season for training new gift puppies

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As a dog trainer and behavioral consultant, my busiest month is January.

Around December, many families acquire new puppies as holiday gifts. Amidst the excitement of the season, new people, places and generally distracting environment, these four-legged family members are not their normal selves.

The coming of the New Year and quieter times gives owners a chance to embark on the training necessary to teach the dog how to become an acceptable pet and acclimate to an everyday routine. Dogs are creatures of habit and do not like change.

If you have a new puppy the most important things to do within their first four months are potty training, eliminating nipping and biting, redirecting chewing to positive items, good manners including not jumping, proper greetings with children and adults, and socialization with dogs.

A pup trains easily with treats, toys and play, praise and touch rewards. Leadership skills demonstrated by the owner are critical at this time so they learn to respect as well as love you.

Knowing what to do and NOT do, so that mixed signals are not sent to your dog, might make the difference between a healthy relationship and one that is fraught with difficulties.

Most owners have had dogs before, but somehow memories of puppyhood are very short, and we simply don't remember doing all this work, or maybe someone else did it for you.

Basic obedience should begin early and include Sit, Stay, Recall, Come (the most important safety command), Down, leash walking and more. These and solving behavioral issues need to be incorporated into your earliest training plan with both puppies and older dogs.

Adopted dogs, whether adolescent or older, might need special, dedicated attention, because you might not know the history of their earliest months or years.

Making a plan on how to spend your time introducing the dog to his new life will help not only the dog adjust but your family as well. Don't be surprised if your new dog, if older, is not quite what you expected.

Lifestyle and family type play an important role in these early weeks. Can you get home during the day? Do you have children under 5? How much time during the day can you devote to the dog? How long will the dog be alone each day?

Are you home too much? Do you have other pets? Are you expecting a baby? Will your dog be exposed to men, women and children? If the dog was rescued, are you aware of any history? Are you prepared to be patient with any behavioral issues?

Personally, I look forward to January. Meeting new people and dogs that will become part of my life, as I become part of theirs, is as extremely rewarding as it is challenging. Giving a family confidence that their new dog will indeed become the dog they want, with work and patience, is the best reward.

Abby Bird is owner of Alpha Dog Obedience Training. ajbird@hargray.com

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