When my daughter was born I had lots of ideas about who she would be and what she would like. As a veterinarian, I knew that genetics were a huge part of who she would be, but I was happy to shape the rest exactly as I saw fit. I felt confident that she would be a tomboy like me. That would be something that she would just genetically desire. Even if she didn’t, I would shape her by avoiding dolls and pink frilly things while exposing her to the great outdoors and my love of science.
I know that all of the experienced parents are on the floor laughing right now because they know what is next. My daughter is a pink loving, tulle and lace wearing, sparkly headband donning, certified princess. I can’t figure out how this happened as I never exposed her to this type of thing or fostered it. I had to revise my goals because I couldn’t fight this apparently genetic need to be pink.
When I got my puppy, Maverick, I made goals for him as well. The difference between Maverick and my daughter was that I actually had some control over what Maverick became. My goal was for him to become a good family dog who was friendly with kids, adults, and dogs. And he is just that. Here is my recipe for a good family dog.
Mix 1/3 part really good temperament and breeding with 1/3 part socialization and 1/3 part obedience and structure. The good temperament comes from going to a reputable breeder who breeds for temperament and health.
Socialization is the process by which a puppy learns to relate to the things in its environment. This is best done in puppies between the ages of 3 and 12 weeks. Pups should stay with the litter until they are 8 weeks old because there is a sensitive period of socialization. The period where pups are very receptive to socialization to other dogs is between 3-8 weeks of age.
Have you ever noticed that singleton pups (those that are separated from their litter early in life) have a hard time relating to other dogs? Part of this behavior pattern in singleton pups is due to the lack of socialization during this important period. The socialization continues with dogs, people, and places well through 4 months of age. From there, continued positive exposure about 1-2 times per week should continue until the dog is 3 years old. This is because social maturity (teenage years) in dogs ends at 3 years of age. By continuing with your dog through that age, you will have set him up for a lifetime of success.
Finally, there is obedience and structure. Now, I am not talking about perfect obedience. If you met Maverick, my puppy, you would see that he is not perfectly obedient. He knows what he has to know to be a good family dog.
Sit-Sit until I tell you that you can get up.
Down-Lie down until I tell you that you can get up. He is really good at this one because he is too lazy to get up.
Stay-Stay until I tell you to get up. He is also good at this exercise if he is lying down.
Sit is a little tougher for him.
Leave it-Drop what is in your mouth, look away from what you are engaged with, don’t pick that up and/or be quiet. This goes against all that you have learned about dog training because this cue can mean so many different things to the dog. I tell my clients that it ends up meaning "stop what you are doing with your face." An essential for a dog who lives with a child.
Come-Come running to me when I call you.
Go to your bed-Run to the nearest bed and lie down. This is an essential one for dinner time. I am not a fan of begging dogs. Lying calmly on a bed is an incompatible behavior with begging. It also keeps my daughter from rewarding him with food under the table.
So, there you have it, the recipe for a good family dog. It isn’t easy, but it is well worth it!
Dr. Lisa Radosta