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How to outthink your dog.

Raising a pet is much like raising a child--it can be both frustrating and rewarding. "If a child annoys you, quiet him by brushing his hair. If this doesn't work, use the other side of the brush on the other end of the child."

The advantage of a pet is that you can choose what you are getting. When selecting a puppy, study the breed characteristics of the animal of interest. Place more emphasis on behavioral characteristics than on cuteness, for behavior determines the enjoyability of the pet.

You can follow certain guidelines. Males are more likely to be aggressive and destructive than females. Often, owners feel confident that castration will take care of these undesirable traits; it is true that castration is likely to be successful for a limited number of undesirable behaviors, such as roaming, mounting other dogs or people, urine marking and aggression toward other dogs.

Select your puppy from a litter that is healthy and has received adequate nutrition and medical care. Because the behavior of the puppies will likely resemble that of the mother, watch the interaction of the mother with members of the family, strangers and other dogs or cats. Puppies should be adopted between the ages of six and eight weeks for optimal socialization with both dogs and people. Adoption before six weeks may hamper the puppy's relationships with other dogs; adoption after eight weeks interferes with socialization to people.

During this weaning and adoption period the puppy acquires many social responses that can make it a desirable pet. However you behave toward a new puppy, you will be unwittingly reinforcing its actions. The reinforcement can be positive or negative. Positive reinforcement increases the probability the puppy will repeat his behavior; negative reinforcement decreases the probability. Negative or positive reinforcement must occur as the behavior takes place, not afterward.

I prefer positive reinforcement in house-training. Often, people think that by chastising a puppy for soiling the house, they are providing negative reinforcement--but because the chastising usually occurs after the fact, it is really only punishment and is not helpful in preventing future behavior.

Obedience training should begin when the dog is a juvenile. During this process, the owner should establish his dominance over the dog. Dogs are social animals, and peace in their society is maintained by dominant-subordinate relationships. Dogs also relate to people as they would to members of the canine pack: They will attempt to dominate their owners. Do not take a subordinate role to your dog in any encounter. Unruly puppies who start controlling their owners at an early age may create serious problems when they grow up.

Owners can also control behavior between dogs. Dogfights are often a sign of the dogs' failure to establish a dominant-subordinate relationship. Owners often make the mistake of siding with the underdog out of a sense of fairness; instead, the owner should decide which dog is dominant--usually the dog that eats first and controls the most desirable resting place. The dominant dog should be treated with all the respect that belongs to the top dog.

The arrival of a new baby can spur another kind of dog aggression--sibling rivalry. The best solution: Withdraw all attention from the dog when the baby is not present, but provide affection and food tidbits when the baby is present. In this way, the dog will come to appreciate the appearance of the baby. A similar approach may be used on dogs that fear or dislike certain people, such as the mailman, or just men or women in general. Gradually expose the dog to the disliked person while presenting the dog with rewards.

Dogs may also become aggressive when attempting to guard what they perceive as their territory. When you are present during such an occurrence, bring the dog under voice and hand control. You may be able to condition the dog to be less aggressive by providing positive reinforcement when people visit.

Remember--it is really up to you as the owner to determine whether you'll run your dog or he'll run you.

Questions for the Vet Dear Dr. White:

My grown dog (Lhasa apso), has "bowlphobia." She will not eat food out of her bowl but will eat when her food is placed on a paper napkin. If someone fills her bowl with food, she will go hungry and cry because of her persistent fear of the bowl. Have you ever heard of a similar case? Is there any way to cure this? This started after a neighbor had taken care of her for the weekend. Could something have gotten in her bowl that frightened her? Ann Marie Simmons Rochester, Michigan Dear Ann Marie:

This is indeed an unusual case. Perhaps you should purchase a new bowl of a different shape and size. I recommend positive reinforcement training with the new bowl.

Start with the dog's favorite food tidbit or treat in the bowl. When she approaches the bowl, talk to her in a calm, soothing manner. When she takes food from the bowl, praise and pet her. If she makes an emotional response to the new bowl, ignore her. Take the bowl away and try again at another time. Do not praise or pet her except when she has the "goodie" from the bowl. These policies should please you and your dog. H.E.W. Dear Dr. White:

We have a wire-haired pointer who is very intelligent, aggressive in her bird hunting and a one-family house pet. Never have I felt an animal's devotion more than Katie's devotion to our family.

What stumps us is her behavior when we leave--be it at home, in the truck or in her pen. Besides the continuous barking, she also rubs her furry sides on upholstered pieces or bedspreads.

Can you give us any pointers about what to do? Flo Picone Smithsburg, Maryland Dear Flo:

Your dog is showing signs of separation anxiety similar to those suffered by young children when their parents leave them. Naturally, you cannot explain to the dog that you will be back shortly.

I recommend giving the dog some type of long-lasting food reward to create a positive emotional state that overrides the separation anxiety. The dog should be left alone initially for only brief periods, which can then be gradually increased. H.E.W.
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:includes letters
Author:White, H. Ellen
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Article Type:column
Date:Sep 1, 1985
Previous Article:Putting up the garden.
Next Article:At home with James A. Michener.

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