CRESTVIEW — He's cute. He's huggable. He's adorable. The way he tumbles over his big paws and his floppy ears seems precious.
But after a few weeks, the new puppy in your life might become tiresome — especially after he gnaws your favorite slippers to shreds.
The secret to raising a cooperative, well-adjusted dog is comparable to raising cooperative, well-adjusted children, experts say. Both need structure and — in canines' case, at least — an unequivocal understanding of who is the alpha dog.
"Structure and guidance and sprinkled with a little bit of love" is how Marietta Birdsell, a certified volunteer puppy raiser for Canine Companions for Independence, puts it.
Since 2001, Birdsell has raised 10 dogs in her Crestview home. Each graduated to commence adult training for ultimate placement with a disabled person.
Stevenson — her most recent puppy, who left her care in November — receives advanced adult training at CCI's southeast regional dog training center in Orlando. Birdsell expects to receive a new eight-week-old puppy in March.
"It's hard to believe I've been doing this so long; my first puppy is on the verge of retiring," she said, adding that annual Christmas cards help her keep up with her former charges.
Understanding the attributes and unique care required by the breed of dog that you are interested in is the first of several crucial steps in dog ownership, she said.
"Do your research before you bring the puppy home," Birdsell said. "It's always a good idea — especially if you're bringing home a purebred puppy — because there's an awful lot of information available about the temperament of purebred."
When the live-action version of Disney's "101 Dalmatians" opened in 1996, families rushed to buy the spotted dogs, never realizing they were unsuitable for households with lively children and have an unusually high rate of medical issues.
To prevent a similar occurrence, Birdsell said, it's important to know the dog's grooming requirements, how well the animal gets along with children, and the dog's ultimate adult size.
New owners can learn about a rescue dog's potential traits, even if it's a mixed breed, by researching the apparent breeds represented in your shelter puppy.
"Shepherds are shedders extraordinaire. Labs shed as well," Birdsell said. "You have to be interested in what the dog will look like as an adult and (determine) if your home and yard will accommodate the size of the dog."
Housebreaking your pup
Training your new puppy correctly is "work-intensive" but ultimately rewarding, Birdsell said.
For instance, monitor the puppy throughout the day rather than leaving it to fend for itself while you're at school or work, she said.
Provide constant positive reinforcement and give your puppy his own place to snuggle — Birdsell recommends a kennel, or crate.
"The whole idea of crate training is that it replicates the den where the puppy was born," she said. "In its early stages of growth, before the puppy can see or walk, they spend a lot of time next to Mom. When they eliminate (have a bowel movement), she cleans them.
"As they grow and start to explore their surroundings, they will remove themselves as far as possible from Mom because they will not poop and pee where they sleep."
Simulating the den to foster instinctive behavior is a key to helping the pup establish its special potty place.
"The best way to housebreak a puppy is to use the crate method," Birdsell said. "A lot of people who are not acquainted with the crate training methods think it is inhumane and cruel, but it is anything but that."
Purchase a kennel big enough to accommodate the dog when he reaches full size and divide it into a smaller unit so it serves the puppy. As the puppy grows, move the divider and enlarge the space, she said.
"You want to provide the puppy a secure space and you want the space big enough so the puppy can stand up, sit, curl up (and) turn around; but not so big that he can scooch into one corner to sleep but then scooch into the other corner to do his business," Birdsell said.
The crate method
"The point that many people have a problem with is they think you just throw the puppy into a crate and leave it to its own devices. An 8-week-old puppy is going to have to be let outdoors every hour," Bidsell said. "When the puppy is tired, you put the puppy in his crate and he takes a nap. As soon as he wakes up, you need to be available to scoop him out, put a little leash on him and take him outside."
Leashing him early in his life prepares the puppy to be tethered when you walk him outside, Birdsell said. He will also associate the leash with going on an outing and having fun companionship with his owner.
"Praise the puppy when he does his business properly," Birdsell said. "Choose a praise word and repeat it. Have a little of his kibble (dry dog food) as a reward, so he associates that with the place where he eliminates. Play with him a little bit, (and) then when he gets tired, put him back in the crate. You also want to reward every time the puppy goes in the crate."
A crate will serve the dog well in his puppy years, but it will become his private home throughout his life, the trainer said.
"Crate training provides a place where the dog can go to have peace and quiet," she said. "You teach the dog that it is OK to be in the crate and behave appropriately. You are setting up several behaviors that will be positive behaviors as they grow older."
Observe the puppy's behavior
Getting to know your puppy's behavior is important, Birdsell said.
An attentive owner will soon recognize the signals a puppy gives when he needs to have a bowel movement. She then can intervene to ensure the dog poops where he should.
"Minimize the opportunity he has to make mistakes," Birdsell said. "There will be times when he is out of the crate. They will play and play and play, (and) then all of a sudden they will drop and have to go. You need to know his behavior so you know when to scoop him up and take him outside.
"But there will always be a few accidents. Don't make a big deal out of it."
Reward positive behavior
"Every step of the puppy's training should be positively reinforced," Birdsell said. "One common mistake people make is they allow their dogs freedom of the house too soon and they come home to a mess or a puddle on the floor.
"The instinct is to punish the dog when you notice he has made a mistake. The problem is the dog does not associate the punishment with the mistake he made two hours before. He associates it with you coming home.
"If you are in a situation like that, where you find a problem, the only thing you should do is clean up the mess. Don't punish the dog, because from the dog's perspective, you are punishing him for coming to greet you when you come home."
Birdsell said this is one of the reasons she advocates constantly monitoring a new dog. Puppies, like infants, shouldn't be left unattended.
"The time to catch that mistake is when you are keeping your eye on the puppy," Birdsell said. "The time to correct it is when it's happening. Most of the time, you just have to yell at the dog. He will stop and that will give you time to scoop him up and take him outside.
"Then reward him when he does his business where he should."
Puppies, like children, have short attention spans. Positively reinforcing correct behaviors works well with both groups, Birdsell said.
"Feed puppies by hand," she said. "Between the morning meal and afternoon meal, I have his breakfast kibble in my pocket. We work on (the commands) sit and stay and lay down. Every time we do it, he gets a kibble.
"Don't work a puppy more than a minute or two at a time, but do multiple training throughout the day. We'll work on each command about 10 times. Give him a reward each time he does it right.
"Training should be very upbeat and positive. It boosts the puppy's confidence and strengthens the bond between you and the puppy.
"Puppies are very much like children: they will graduate toward the behaviors that get the positive reward. That behavior is most likely to be repeated."
Contact News Bulletin Staff Writer Brian Hughes at 850-682-6524 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @cnbBrian.