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How To Open Your Heart As A First Time Dog Owner

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After adopting your dog, there are a few things you might want to know to help you adjust if you’re a first-time dog owner.

The Welcome Home
When you first bring your dog home, it might run amuck which can be troubling if you’ve never had a dog before.  It may also look surprisingly bigger than it did at the kennel.  Add in some barking you don’t understand, and you may be tempted to put it back in the car to return it.

As frantic as you feel, be patient. The dog needs to get to know you as much as you need to adjust to it.  It won’t happen all in a day, but it will calm down with guidance.

Settling In
Put your dog on a schedule so it knows what to expect.  Include times for toileting, feeding, walking, playing, cuddling and sleeping.

Dogs are more “settled” after being exercised.  When they go out for a good sniff around the neighbourhood, they not only get exercise and a change of scenery, but they feel they’ve done their work for the day.

It’s important to walk your dog around the neighbourhood the first few days after bringing it home.  Dogs have been known to escape from even the most vigil owners.  If they know their neighbourhood, it will be easier to find their way back home.

When you need to leave your dog home alone, develop a routine each time you leave.  Lead it to where you want it to stay and say a few farewell words.  In time, it will know what’s expected and see you do return.

Commands
It’s important to talk to your dog and create commands between you.  It’s helpful to say “Let’s Go”, or “This way”, and leave the word “Come” for specifically calling it in.  If you use “Come” too much, its power is lost.

Dogs can also learn hand gestures, such as hands up for “Stop”, pulling hands towards you for “Come”, and pointing to what direction you want it to go.

Use praise, petting and small treats to reward successful behaviour.

Taking the Lead
It doesn’t matter if you’ve adopted a puppy or an older dog, it won’t be disciplined until it learns your language and routine. A dog feels more secure when you decide what it should be doing and enforce it.  If you don’t guide it, it will boss you.

The dog will likely bond with one member of the family more than the others—probably the one who takes it for the most walks, spends the most time with it and feeds it.  Once it chooses its favourite friend, it may endlessly follow them around the house.  To offer some relief and teach it to be independent, kennel it or put it on a leash tied to a chair leg or railing for short periods of time.

Kennelling
A kennel is helpful for giving your dog breaks of time alone.  Don’t shove the kennel in a dark corner though, the dog needs companionship.

Dogs that have been penned-up are tempted to bolt out an open door if given the chance.  It’s a safe habit to put the dog in a kennel before opening the door to visitors or when leaving the house.

Your dog may feel overwhelmed when left alone in a big house, evidenced by indoor toilet surprises or damaged belongings. A kennel will define its space, and give it a safe hidey-hole.

Classes
Obedience classes provide socialization and stimulation.  It’s important that you have good control over your dog before taking it to class.

Off Leash
You may observe off-leash dogs frolicking alongside their owners and become tempted to take your dog off leash too.  Resist the urge until it has had several months of learning the “Come” command with success.   Dogs with a strong prey instinct are easily tempted to chase wildlife, and you may lose them.

Safe Training/Running Areas
Other than a large fenced-in yard, try to find a gated tennis court or outdoor arena (in the off season) in which to run your dog.

Many cities have off leash parks.  Many of them are not fenced in.  If you feel your dog can obey the rules, respect other dogs and owners and not run away, then try it.

If your dog gets away, it will usually run the direction you’re walking, so try changing directions walking away from it, and hopefully it will turn around.

Final Thoughts
Take things a step at a time.  Get tips from pet store clerks, groomers, vets, neighbours with dogs, etc. One word of caution: every dog is unique, not all advice works for all dogs.  Don’t get discouraged. Trust your instinct and love your dog.

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