Dear Matthew: My housemates and I have been considering getting a dog for some time now. We're all going to pitch in and take care of it, and one of us has volunteered to keep it after we all head our separate ways once we graduate from college.
So, right now, we're in the process of picking out a puppy. There's one we like, but he seems a little high-strung. And there's another that could be a possibility, but she's awfully shy. How much of an impact will a puppy's early personality have on the type of dog it grows up to be? What sort of an impact is this going to make on how we train our dog? We aren't necessarily looking for the most laid-back canine in the world, but we do want to know what we're getting into.- Josh in Boston
Dear Josh: With the right program, a dog of almost any personality type can be trained and made into a fairly well-behaved animal. That's the good news. But the amount of effort and vigilance required can indeed vary greatly between different individual dogs.
So, what does this all mean when you're picking out your puppy? I like to break down puppy personalities into six basic types, and I'll briefly explain the impact each personality will have on your training.
First, there are the high-energy puppies. That's probably the category the first dog you mentioned falls into. These dogs require firm handling, patience and subdued use of praise to avoid getting the animal too excited. You should use demanding and determined corrections on dogs like these.
A second type are the strong-willed dogs. They're stubborn and often resist the teaching process. Everything's going to be a challenge with these animals, so you must be assertive when training. Be patient but demanding and persistent, loud and firm. It's a battle of wills, but the trainer will eventually prevail.
Shy, insecure dogs comprise the third category. Like the second dog you mentioned, they can often display timidity or fear. They may be afraid of noise, sudden movements or strangers. The trick to training these animals is to be sensitive and understanding. Use a soft tone of voice when issuing commands, and use lavish praise after a correct response.
If your dog seems to be perpetually on Valium, it's a calm, easygoing canine. Dogs like this require additional motivation if you want to get them moving. Use firm commands tempered by affection, not anger. Harsh commands, noise corrections (such as shake cans) and most leash corrections will be counterproductive on these dogs. Be persistent!
An aggressive-type dog is the most difficult to train. I break this category into two divisions: dominant-aggressive and fear-aggressive. The dominant-aggressive animals are territorial, controlling and menacing. Fear-aggressive ones usually don't display violence or anger unless they are made to feel threatened or scared. In both cases, use light-to-medium leash corrections with a loud, firm voice. If you have an aggressive dog, I recommend visiting with a dog trainer for individualized attention.
Finally, the dream dog to train is the responsive type. These animals are eager to learn, willing to please and quick to understand. Generous praise while training combined with moderate use of the leash, shake cans and vocal commands should work fine.
Hopefully, this brief overview of dog personalities will help you deal with whatever type of puppy you bring home. Now, I recommend you pick up a good dog-training book and keep reading these columns to find out about how to deal with specific training issues as your puppy grows older. Good luck!
Dear Matthew: My cat has recently been afflicted by a bad case of fleas. He's got a collar, but that doesn't seem to do much good. Should I wait for a good cold snap to kill these pests, or am I going to have to take more drastic action?
- Liz in Minneapolis
Dear Liz: Fleas are less of a problem during winter, but if they're in your house, they could successfully avoid the cold.
To combat these pesky insects, I suggest you buy a bug-bomb flea killer. You and your cat should clear out of the house for a few hours so you can set a couple of them off. Also, if you have carpets, you should vacuum at least once a week until the problem is eliminated.
This will kill most of the eggs and larvae. Treat your cat with an anti-flea shampoo or take him to the vet to be dipped, which will kill the adult fleas actually on your cat. With any luck, all your fleas will soon be bothering cats in flea heaven.