Seven Things to Forget About Your New Silky

by Sandy Mesmer

You are in love. He or she is a dollbaby. He cuddles up to you just like your old dog did. Or perhaps, just like your old dog didn’t. He has the most beautiful eyes that piece your soul. She is the life of the party. He is delightfully content to sit on your lap. This is the dog for you and your family, the creature who will share your life for (hopefully at least) the next 15 years. This is a decision partly based on levelheaded pragmatism – she’s the right size and activity level for you and your family – and gut instinct. He takes your breath away.

But when you get home everything changes. He nips your husband. She shreds your favorite pillow. He won’t eat anything except boiled chicken. She loves nothing better than to patrol your backyard, barking constantly. And the very worst of all, at least from what I hear – he lifts his leg on the couch.

What happened? Was it some traumatic experience bubbling up from a canine unconsciousness? Was it some genetic miss-step, causing mental train tracks to zig when they should have zagged? Well both of these can play some role. Early negative experiences can certainly cause a dog trouble and yes just like us humans there are wall-flowers and glad-handers. But the clue lies in this: Your new puppy was fine when he or she left the breeder or shelter. He developed these habits chez vous. So the solution then also lies –

With you.

Look at it this way. It’s not so much the positive stuff you failed to do, but the negative things you did instead. If you are lucky enough to be reading this before you have indulged in these activities, these are the things to avoid. The correct behavior – and here I’m talking about you, not the dog – will fall in place quite naturally if you eliminate the incorrect behavior first.

So here is my advice, which has more to do with your correct attitude than every tip and technique you may need. For that I could write a book! And anyways, for specific questions there is nothing better than your puppy’s breeder or the shelter she came from. Good breeders and shelters stand behind their dogs and are available for questions for the life of your animal.

And maybe someday I’ll write that book.

So here we go. From 7 to 1, here is each rule, followed by what you SHOULD do:

7. My puppy really is a little human on four legs.

7. Correct rule: My puppy is not human, but a dog with canine needs and desires. The faster I recognize this and help my puppy to be a better dog rather than try to make him an ersatz little person, the better the two of us will be.

Let’s start with the obvious. Puppies make nice differently than kids. Most kids I know do not stiff each other’s nether regions to say hello! Also, a dog’s teeth often function as our hands do – and they explore their world with them. This can land your little guy in serious trouble when he decides that that cool snake-like thing along the floor might taste good.

To keep your puppy from sampling the furniture and cords, you can buy a jar of petroleum jelly. Put about two ounces into a bowl. Dump a whole spice jar of cayenne pepper into this. Mix well preferably not with your hands. Keep the mixture in a small container; it’ll keep practically forever. Slather it on chair legs and electrical cords that might be puppy teeth targets. After sampling, your puppy will get the most surprised look on her face and back up shaking her head, but she won’t be electrocuted. Fair exchange.

Rough housing with your puppy can encourage him to treat you like a dog, and that is not a good thing. Close encounters with puppy teeth can be considered “cute” – but again, your puppy is not human. Allowing his “little nips and nibbles” is teaching him to bite you. Puppies don’t know that us silly humans have this weird naked skin. You have to teach him this. When your puppy nips you, say “OWWWW!” Then he knows and will back off.

Instead of allowing your puppy to “play” maul your arm, play tug of war or fetch with your puppy. Encourage him to play with toys; most dogs love this.

Then there is the matter of dog clothing. My first dog, a 13 lb. Yorkie named Robbie, had a green wool jacket. Robbie just barely tolerated this but we lived in Germany at the time and he needed it. When we’d get back home from a walk and I took it off, he would rub his way all the way across the living room carpet in a joyful excess of relief to be rid of the thing.

But “dog fashion”? No. No way. Yes our dogs are small. But they do not belong in a tutu or a satin jacket, as some sort of perverted accessory. Most small dogs have the hearts of a lion. Would you put a pink satin jacket on a lion?

6. Crate? What Crate?

6. Correct rule: All puppies need to be comfortable for a reasonable period in a crate.

Dogs are hard-wired to be den animals. They love tiny enclosed spaces, like under your bed, or at the bottom of the sofa cushions. So the “cruelty” and “inhumanity” of a dog crate are really neither. A dog that knows his crate is a safe space will often want to sleep there even with the door open.

Obviously a puppy who isn’t used to a crate or who has been kept crated way too long on a regular basis will not enjoy himself there. The way to fix this is to start to feed your puppy in his crate, with the door open. Once he has gotten used to the fact that his crate will not, in fact, bite him, you can shut him in his crate for a short period. Cool toys, especially the sort that you can stuff with bit of food or kibble will help keep him occupied. If he cries, put the crate in another room, with a towel over it as necessary. If he’s persistent, get earplugs. If you let him out when he cries, you are teaching him to cry and bark to get his way. Do you really want a crying and barking dog?

Another great way to convince your puppy not to bark is “shut-up water”. This is plain water in a spray bottle. When he cries and barks in his crate, spray him with the water, adjusted to a single stream. Your puppy will be surprised when the water hits him. Because he is a dog and not a person, he will not connect the water with you. This will often keep him quiet long enough to let him realize that even with a closed door, the crate can actually be a pretty cool place.

A crate trained dog is safe and easy to travel with. In their crate in the car, they are safe and secure, even in an accident. A crate trained dog is happy to be left over dinner in a hotel room, as she has her house with her. It’s your puppy’s home, his bedroom, and his security blanket.

5. My puppy will potty train himself.

5. Correct rule: Your puppy will never self- potty train, and definitely needs your help to learn the rules.

Unfortunately, it is very easy to teach your puppy to soil your house. All you have to do is let your puppy roam loose. When he needs to go, he will find a spot he considers suitable. Then it will smell good, so he will want to go there again. And again. This will not change no matter how much you jump up and down.

But potty training done right is relatively easy. Start with a well pottied and exercised puppy. Put him in his crate to sleep for three to four hours. Or for all night, as the case may be. His bladder and rectum will fill but as a dog will naturally not want to mess his bed, he will hold it. When you take him from his crate, go with zero detours outside to his spot. Watch him go and praise praise, praise. Then bring him in to a somewhat restricted area – in my house I put a baby gate across the entrance to the kitchen – and hang out with him. I put down a newspaper or two just to make sure. After about a half hour to an hour he will curl up to go to sleep. Then put him back in his crate and repeat.

Are small dogs harder to train than big ones? Perhaps the big ones are easier because they make such big messes that their owners take their training very seriously. Perhaps it’s harder for the little ones because their puddles are so “cute” — I don’t know. But if you follow this standard, very simple program your puppy should be potty trained within several weeks.

4. She can eat what we eat.

4. Correct rule: You puppy has very specific nutritional needs. If you don’t supply these needs you run the risk of raising an annoyingly persnickety dog, or even stunting his growth.

As I said before, dogs are not people. They have very different digestive tracts than we do, and quite different food needs. That’s why a balanced kibble is by far the easiest and safest thing to feed them. There are many brands of premium kibble available; the best is the one your dog likes the best. Beware however the bargain brands, as their formula changes according to market pressure.

Just like giving your toddler candy right before supper, don’t feed your dog table scraps. He will not be able to appreciate his regular food. Dogs just can’t handle the amount of spices most humans seem to like. I give my dogs veggies for treats – carrots, cauliflower and broccoli are all favorites, and it doesn’t spoil their appetite. Feeding your dog the wrong foods on a regular basis can lead to a lethargic overweight or underweight animal and you can significantly shorten your dog’s life span if you feed him inappropriate foods.

3. East, west home is best. My dog can hang at the house – why should he ever go anywhere?

3. Correct rule: No matter how happy and social your puppy is, he needs to get out and meet lots of other dogs and people to fully realize his potential as a valued member of your household.

Before your puppy has had her full battery of immunizations, you can invite friends and family over for puppy parties. After all, I’m sure everyone is dying to meet her! Just make sure everyone washes their hands well first.

You can also take your puppy with you in the car. Put his crate next to your seat — you have been crate training your puppy, right? Slide through the bank’s drive-through; let them know you have a dog with you. Your puppy will score a biscuit every time. If your dog is anxious in the car, many short fun trips that do not end up at the vet will really help. I have even gone as far as putting a crated puppy in my parked car for 5 minutes at a time to acclimatize them to my vehicle.

When your puppy is old enough, puppy kindergarten at your local dog-training club can really help. Take your puppy for frequent short walks; use a wide soft collar. There are lots of good books available on how to teach your puppy how to walk on lead and general obedience. Obedience and training classes are fabulous to socialize your puppy – and a well-trained dog is one you can take anywhere.

Some people love the dog park – small dogs can do well or poorly with this, depending on their temperaments. My Silkys have a terrier temperament. Not all of them are willing to play nice with strange dogs. Again – dogs are not people! If your breed was bred to be an independent hunter, don’t be surprised if they don’t care to be social with dogs they don’t know.

2. Job? Why should my dog need a job?

2. Correct rule: If you do not give your dog a job they will dream one up, probably one that you’d rather they didn’t do.

My Sheila has a job – she is the house maitre-d. When people come to visit, she greets them politely and plays with them a bit. I travel regularly for work, so Sheila also has the job of taking care of my husband. She hangs out with him in his office, especially in the evening, and chats with him in her own special way. The other night I heard:

“BARK!” and then, “Well, what do you want?” Silence. “Do you want to go outside?” Silence. “You want food?” “BARK!” Then the sound of toenails on terrazzo. Sheila has him well trained. He is her person, and she makes sure he knows he is needed.

I have a feeling that most content dogs feel that their job is to take care of their people. I once placed a young male with a family with a six-year-old boy and four year old girl. Murphy took on the job of being the playmate of the four year old.

She would whisper secrets to him and he would follow her wherever she went.

Park of having a job is being trained for it. A puppy that has been out and about, including at least some beginning obedience classes, knows what is expected of her and how to act with good canine manners. She is a joy to have around.

So there you have it. Six important rules to forget. But wait — there is one more. The Number ONE Rule to forget:

1. My puppy will automatically be just as delightful and sweet in their new home as they were at the breeder or shelter.

1. Correct rule: Dog ownership is a job that is dependent upon your active participation.

If you or I take a while to adjust to a new environment, so will your puppy. He’ll still be a great companion, eventually. But there will inevitably be areas that will require work. Perhaps she’s not thrilled about your husband. Or he doesn’t really like the cat. Good that he’s cute as a button right now, but he won’t stay that way – and it’s really up to you how he grows up

My friend Karen Huey encourages her new puppy owners to roll a day’s newspapers into a tight role, wrap a couple rubber bands around the missile, and then keep such a roll in each room. When the new puppy misbehaves, the new owner is to take the nearest rolled up newspaper, swing it high and…..

Rap themselves hard on the side of the head hard three times, and repeat, “I will watch my puppy better. I will watch my puppy better. I will watch my puppy better.”

Your correct attitude comes before any solution. Throw any “He’s been abused.”

“She’s over-bred,” (whatever that means) or any other excuse you may hear. We all have quirks and eccentricities. So will your puppy. It’s up to you to socialize and train him or her to be the best canine companion you’ve ever had. In my other line of work, I always tell parents: the wonderful and delightful and brilliant things that your children do – that’s them, not you. No way can you take credit. But their faults and bad habits, especially as teenagers or adults – those are definitely your responsibility because with each of them, you failed in your capacity as parent.

So — seven things. Good to either remember or forget, as the case may be.  And your potentially wonderful puppy can grow up to be the best companion you’ve ever had.

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