Monday, August 15, 2011

Puppy's first night at home - A few quick tips

I am convinced that in any of life's endeavors, one path to success is always easier than the rest (the only exception I've found so far is dieting - every road to Svelte City that I've attempted has been paved with painful self-denial and physical exertion).

While I cannot claim to have found the easy path to all of life's challenges, I do have some tips to help new puppy parents avoid common but unseen pitfalls that can lead to stress and anxiety during your puppy's first days home.

Before the homecoming
  1. Purchase and set up a play pin prior to your puppy's arrival and make sure that it contains all the basic necessity such as a doggy bed (an old pillow will do), water and food bowl, a few toys. See my must haves list on Amazon.
  2. Create the puppy's den near or within the area where most of your household activities take place. Keep in mind that your puppy will be spending a significant amount of time here during the first 6 months, so it should be sufficiently out of the way from day-to-day traffic.
  3. Food: I will make a separate post on food selection, but if you are bringing home a puppy younger than 3 months (especially in a breed where hypoglycemia is a concern), you may wish to purchase some goat's milk and or full-fat natural yogurt (I like Fage Greek Yogurt).
Day of homecoming
  1. Make your best attempt to bring the puppy home as early in the day as possible. Spending the day to acclimatize him/her to your home will help reduce stress of the first night alone for your puppy (and consequently you).
  2. Ask the breeder for a toy that has been used with your puppy and his litter mates. The scent will help alleviate the stress of a new environment, especially when your puppy will be alone.
  3. Feed your puppy in his play pen as soon as you arrive home (continue with the same food as the breeder). This will initiate the positive associations for your puppy to his new den. Do not punish your puppy in his den, or use it as a form of punishment.
  4. Spend as much time as possible with your puppy in his play den. Dogs want to be where you are, and being together in the area where you will leave him alone later on will make it feel less like a punishment.
  5. Divide periods of play time with short periods of alone time. Leave the puppy in his pen on the first day for 20 - 30 min at a stretch to get him used to your absence. Better still, give him a new toy before your departure to build positive feelings with being left alone.
First Night
  1. Play with your puppy before bed time. A tired puppy is a calm puppy and less likely to fuss.
  2. Place the toy you have obtained from the breeder near his bed.
  3. To simulate the warmth from litter mates, fill a clean sock with uncooked rice and heat in the microwave in 30 second increments until sufficiently warm. You may wish to use multiple layers if you puppy is an active chewer.
The first night is always tough. Resist the urge to check on your puppy frequently or respond to whining once you have taken care of all of his needs (food, water, warmth, etc). Good luck!

Friday, August 12, 2011

How to convince your husband (wife) to get a dog - Part 2

Now that you have picked your breed, the real campaign begins.

STEP 3: Build desirability in your product

Brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel built their desirability with consumers over decades and centuries, so forget the idea of trying to convince your spouse of the value of dog ownership overnight. To increase desirability, protect against negative emotions associated your product. Here are a couple of do's and don'ts.

  1. Look for opportunities where he can experience well-behaved, clean dogs at their best. Check your local Meetup to see if there are any appropriate doggy events in public places and drop by with your spouse in tow. For instance, the pet supplies store on our block often hosts parties for new puppy parents in their back garden, which is visible from the street. Even the most resistant heart will melt at the sight of an arm full of puppies playing together. WARNING: this does not apply to stores that sell pets. NEVER ever buy a dog from a store as you are 1) feeding the puppy mill industry and 2) running the huge risk of future medical and behavioral problems of your pet.
  2. Watch movies or TV shows together that portray a dog's positive effect on human owners. I put a number of pet related shows on DVR from Animal Planet.
  3. Organize trips to pet-friendly locations to show how the addition of a dog would make vacations more fun. Last fall, I planned a mini-vacation to an upstate lake-side inn that was pet friendly. My husband shockingly confessed that it wouldn't be so bad to have a dog after seeing all the well behaved pets with their owners at the beautiful location.

  1. EVER buy a puppy on impulse or from a pet store. Think about what will happen to your relationship if that cute puppy in the store turns out to require expensive medical treatment or develops hard to break habits like coprophagia (eating poop) or incessant barking, both of which are more common with puppy mill dogs.
  2. Don't expect miracles to happen overnight. To do this properly, which is to say to make him to want to have a dog and not only acquiesce to your demand, you need time to win his heart and mind.
  3. Don't push too hard in the beginning. Any good salesman knows that getting the client into a defensive position is the easiest way to lose the sale.

STEP 4: Research breeders and stage the "sale"
  1. Search for the national or regional association of your breed online and look for a list of breeder referrals in your state (here is the one for Pomeranians).  
  2. Contact the breeders individually to see if they have any available puppies or planned litters in the future. Make sure to include a short description of your ideal puppy (sex, color, temperament) and your living situation. Breeders that I have come across tend to be wary of one-liner emails asking for puppies. 
  3. Make sure to ask or confirm certain important information about the breeder (such as how many litters are bred each year, the genealogy of the litter being offered and of the parents, the environment in which the puppies are raised). A rule of thumb from my own experience in speaking with more than 20 breeders is that there is usually no mention of money in the first correspondence. Reputable breeders are more concerned about the quality of the future home for their puppies than making an instant sell. Be wary of breeders who ask for money straight away before making an assessment of the environment you are to provide for the puppies. 
  4. Make a short list of breeders that match your needs and within a reasonable distance of your home, then begin to drop hints to your spouse about your research. Always be positive try to make it sound interesting and fun.
  5. Plan a day trip to visit the breeder that also incorporates a fun activity for him. For instance, consider perhaps combining it with a visit to a microbrewery, local winery, or cheese producer (getting him a little inebriated before meeting puppies will definitely not hurt your chances). You might also consider activities like, hiking an easy trail, karting, or even apple picking. This will depend on the interest of your spouse. The point is to give him something to be excited about for the trip. 

STEP 5: Closing the sale

If you have done your homework and have given the idea enough time to brew, by the time you reach the breeder, your spouse should be at a point where he is no longer actively resisting the idea (if he is, then you have proceeded too quickly and need to go back a step and repeat). At this point he should be in a state of undecided inertia, and all you need to do is close the sale.

  1. Refrain from becoming overly excited or offering your opinion on the puppies immediately. This is the time to allow him to "fall in love" with the pups without any distractions. Doing so will allow him to feel that he is ultimately making the decision about the dog.
  2. Give into impulse at this point when you meet a puppy that both you and your spouse like (assuming all the homework about the breeder has already been done). Once he's on the hook, there is no need to give him time to second guess himself.

Finally, do give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back and bask in the glory of knowing that you have just added a wonderful new addition to your life that will provide endless love and entertainment for years to come.

One final note: I have not discussed the option of a rescue dog here on purpose. I believe that dogs in shelters make wonderful pets that could offer just as much if not more quality companionship and love as the top show dog.

In fact, I researched shelters and rescue groups thoroughly in step 3 and 4 of my own pet selection process, and found that
  1. there were no small-breed puppies that matched my needs (i.e. low daily exercise needs)
  2. as a novice dog owner I was not experienced enough to manage some of the behavior issues that came with certain older smaller dogs I did find, such as food guarding and fear aggression towards children.
I personally believe that it is more irresponsible to knowingly bite off more than one can chew when it comes to pet owning.

However, now that Figaro is 9 months old, my husband and I have been talking about adding a second dog to our home next year and with the experience gained from our first pup (from the more than 30 books I've read on the subject, and the hours of puppy classes we have attended) we are more than ready to take on a more needy pup, so stay tuned :)

Thursday, August 11, 2011

How to convince your husband (wife) to get a dog?

The first time I ever wanted a pet I was 10 years-old and the object of my affection was a 5 month old long-hair white kitten. My parents (quite rightly) believed that despite my teary promises to the contrary, I could not be trusted with yet another life, when the last one - a guinea pig named...uh...hmm...well I guess he didn't really live long enough for the name to sink in - met with a gruesome, early end in the back yard.

After the hopelessness of my pleas set in, I funneled my frustration into constructing elaborate fantasies wherein the adult me, the one no longer under the control of parents, would become the owner of a pet store (that looked pretty much exactly like my house), but instead of being in cages, all the animals would move about freely, sweeping the floors, picking up my clothes, and occasionally bursting into song.

Once I finally managed to chased down adulthood, my priorities had shifted somewhat. Priorities like climbing the corporate latter, managing roommates, and keeping up with friends, had pushed my Disney fantasy onto the back burner; which is why after ticking off the career then marriage boxes, I could turn my attention to realizing my pet owning dream. I quickly discovered however, that in marriage I was once again under the veto power of another, but this time I was an adult and armed with the experience of a career marketer and a detailed campaign built on proven tactics. I believe that the following steps may be employed against husbands, wives, parents alike with equal success.

STEP 1: Know your customer and determine the points of resistance to conversion
 Make a mental list of why your loved one doesn't want what you want and separate the list into items which you can affect control over and those you cannot. Here are some examples of points of resistance (POR) that you can overcome:

1. Loss of sleep/time - feeding, walking, grooming playing with puppy
2. Increased financial burden - vet, food, grooming, walker, boarding
3. Loss of spontaneity in every day life - can't head out to the Hamptons for the weekend on a whim
4. Loss of general life mobility - can't move into that fabulous apartment where dogs are not allowed
5. Loss of social life - those after work drinks now come with a starving dog and pee stained floors
6. Loss of status in the relationship relative to the dog
7. Saying no to maintain power in the relationship

Examples of POR that you cannot control:

1. Medical issues such as allergies
2. Excessive fear or dislike of dogs

STEP 2: Pick a winning product
*Only attempt the following steps once you can commit to sustaining the full cost (not just money) of overcoming the PORs on your list.

Being open to and spending the time to research a variety of breeds is a crucial step to your final success. If you already have a breed in mind, gather all the information you can and try to estimate the chance of success with your target demographic given the constraints in the macro environment. For instance, don't waste your time pushing a Great Dane on someone living in a 400 sq ft studio or a Rottweiler on a dog-attack survivor, you will have better shot of selling a table saw to a debutante. I learned this lesson the hard way when I tried to push one large breed after another on a man who's deal-breaker was the idea of getting up at 7 am on weekends to do anything.

Think about what you want out of your dog-owning experience and try to marry it to your spouses lifestyle. For example, I required an intelligent, obedient breed, and my husband wanted low energy dog that he didn't have to walk. This ruled out all large breeds, which was a difficult pill to swallow as I've always shunned the idea of owning a small dog. My vision of the perfect dog was one that was large and regal and could have stalked the halls of Pemberley or Mansfield Park. But alas, this was a compromise I had to make if I intended on having a career outside of agriculture while owning a dog at the same time.

I then consulted the list of dog breeds ranked by intelligence and picked 3 breeds that I could live with - toy poodle, Papillon, and Pomeranian, respectively ranked 1, 8, 23. A special note of advice: for the best chances, don't limit yourself to 1 option but don't go beyond 3 or 4 breeds when offering the choice to your loved one as he may fall victim to the tyranny of choice.

Once you have gathered all the information in your arsenal and have arrived at your short list of winning "products" you want to sell, the real campaign begins.

Source: American Kennel Club:

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Puppies vs babies

Eleven moths ago, I became consumed by that annoying question, which inevitably plagues all newly married 20-something professionals - what's next? What was one supposed to do with all these highly-developed organizational and management muscles developed during the wedding planning period? Clearly these skills were intended to be a warm-up for even more demanding work a head.

The obvious answer was of course motherhood. In fact, the signs were everywhere - the all-knowing smiles and winks at office baby showers, the "who's next?" that comes with every pregnancy announcement on Facebook. It was clear that I was in that period of life where I need to "mother" something - but what?

After some thought, I came to the conclusion that a puppy is a pretty good starting point. For one thing, it simulates the "death-due-us-apart" exit clause of babies but with a more abbreviated (and digestible) time table. For another, my husband and I were simply not ready for the rigors of full-on parenthood (in fact, it took my DH another 4 months to be talked into even puppy parenthood...more on that later).

Fast-forward to Christmas eve 2010. It's threatening snow and bitterly cold, DH and I are driving across the Brooklyn Bridge and my cashmere coat is covered with carsick from an 8-week old 1.1 pound fur ball of a Pomeranian, whom we have named Figaro. The adventure begins...