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By Gina Spadafori
Pet Columnist

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Structure, Socialization & Love Get Puppies Started

While I've fostered homeless pets transitioning to new families for more than 30 years, only in the last decade have I been raising puppies for other people. I'm good at it, my house is set up for it (no carpets, easy-clean surfaces), and most of all -- I love it!
It isn't a "job," and no money changes hands. But I work from home with a flexible schedule, and that makes it easier to do the early training and house-training. I love having puppies around, and since I know what I'm doing, the friends I do this for now and then end up with a pretty nice youngster in a few months' time. There's still a lot of growing and training to do, but a good foundation has been laid.
What do I get out of it? Puppy breath, and lots of it.
I'll soon be starting with another 10-week-old puppy, so I'm getting the house puppy-proofed and dragging the crates and pens out of the shed to help with the house-training. After a couple of months, the retriever pup will go home with friends for good, and I'll let my own pets recover for a while before I start another puppy project.
While it's unusual for most puppies to be given a head start with an experienced puppy raiser, the practice has long been part of the lives of service dogs, such as those who assist wheelchair users or the vision-impaired. The advantages of a loving, consistent and structured upbringing are many.
While the chances are that you'll be raising your own puppy -- most people do, after all -- making the most of those first few months is key to a great start.
Your puppy wants to be part of your family, and he craves loving leadership. So if you're starting with a puppy, here are a few things to keep in mind:

  • Bond with your puppy. Dogs are social animals. Don't throw your pup into the backyard, however nice the doghouse you've put there. Make your pup a member of your family.

  • Socialize your puppy. Be careful with this until all the puppy shots are done -- no parks or areas where other dogs frequent. You don't want your puppy getting sick. But after the veterinarian gives the go-ahead, pull out all the stops. Expose your pup to all the sights, sounds, smells, people and other animals that you can.

  • Never let your puppy do anything you wouldn't want a grown dog to do. Puppies jumping up are cute. Dogs doing the same are not. It's always easier to prevent a problem than to try to fix it later.

  • ]Teach your puppy using positive methods, and make training fun! The dog-training world has made great strides in developing positive training techniques. Find a book, a tape, a class -- or all three -- that will help you make the most of these exciting new ways to train. And don't overlook puppy classes -- they're great for socialization.

  • Realize your puppy will make mistakes, and don't get angry when he does. Puppies are babies! Don't expect perfection and don't be heavy-handed. It's better to distract and redirect puppies than to punish them.

Love your puppy, play with your puppy, enjoy your puppy. But you should always, always be thinking of how you're molding this little baby into the confident, obedient dog of your dreams. Time passes all too quickly in the life a puppy.
The great life you want with your dog starts with the effort you put into a puppy. Keep your attitude positive, and enjoy every minute. I know I do. - By Gina Spadafori
Body language key to safer petting
Q: We've been adopted by a cat, and he's earned his way from "stray we fed" to "our outside cat" to "sometimes inside" to "sleeps anywhere he wants in the house." He's usually affectionate and loves to purr, but now and then he just gets wound up and claws and bites us when we're petting him, just out of the blue. He never breaks skin with his teeth, but sometimes he hurts with his claws. It seems to be a game with him, but we need it to stop. Advice? -- via email
A: Human stupidity (from the cat's point of view, that is) in misreading or ignoring body language earns more than a few cat lovers a scratch or bite from time to time -- the result of misinterpreting a cat's "I've had enough" signs.
The classic example of this phenomenon is the cat who, while being petted, "suddenly" grabs the hand that pets him with teeth and claws, to the shock and sometimes anger of the human doing the petting.
In fact, these "out of the blue" attacks rarely are that. Before the biting or clawing, a cat gives out subtle signs of diminished tolerance. Primary among them: an increase in the stiffness and twitching of the tail.
Often, the problem starts with petting your cat's tummy, a very vulnerable area for any animal. Your cat may even offer his belly out of love, but after you start to pet, he may become increasingly uncomfortable with the attention. Most cats just don't like tummy rubs, although exceptions to this rule certainly do exist.
Watch your cat's body signs: If he's tensing or that tail starts twitching, stop petting immediately. Not only does doing so save you claw and teeth marks, but stopping before your cat strikes also slowly builds up his trust in you and his tolerance for physical attention. -- Gina Spadafori 
Are parasites becoming resistant to control?

  • Researchers are warning about the development of heartworms and other parasites resistant to products commonly used to kill them in domesticated animals. Speaking at the Western Veterinary Conference, Dr. Dwight Bowman of Cornell University cited evidence of resistant heartworms in the southeastern part of the U.S. Dr. Christy Corp-Minamiji, writing for the VIN News Service, quoted several researchers who likewise believed the wide use of products for parasite control and prevention was driving the evolution of pests resistant to the drugs, which are in common use for both pets and livestock. 

  • "Green" does not necessarily mean "safe for pets" when it comes to household products, veterinarians at the University of California, Davis, and the ASPCA's Animal Poison Control Center told The Associated Press. Of particular risk are homemade cleaning concoctions, some of which contain essential oils, such as citrus or mint, that are toxic to cats. 

  • Proposals to tax veterinary services are again being floated as part of larger strategies to balance state budgets. Veterinarians in Ohio and Minnesota argue that the proposals put veterinary care out of reach for many in struggling communities, and drive others to cross state lines for care, putting local veterinary businesses at risk. California, Michigan and Georgia have previously floated plans to tax veterinary services, but only Hawaii, New Mexico and South Dakota currently levy sales taxes on pet health care. -- Dr. Marty Becker and Gina Spadafori

Date Published: 3/18/2013 9:26:00 AM
Date Reviewed/Revised: 03/18/2013


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Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of Dogs for Dummies, Cats for Dummies and Birds for Dummies. She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her at

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