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Puppy parties: The fun way to raise a people-friendly dog

Saturday May 30th, 2009

Puppies who enjoy the company of people grow into adult dogs who enjoy the company of people. And dogs who like people are less likely to bite--not to mention more fun to be around. Until your pup is old enough to venture into the outside world, puppy parties are a great way to introduce her to humans of all kinds in the safety of her own home.

Read on for Dr. Dunbar's guide to throwing the perfect puppy party:

Safety tip: Your puppy is still vulnerable to doggy diseases, so ask visitors to leave their shoes outside and wash their hands before handling her.

Turn your puppy into a party animal

First impressions are important, so make meeting new people a positive experience for the pup. Give each visitor a bag of kibble mixed with treats so your puppy will be inclined to like her guests right away.

Gather the guests together and work on your puppy's come, sit, down, and roll over commands, using kibble as a lure and reward. Once your puppy is responding reliably, have the guests take over. Try to get each person to get the pup to come, sit, lie down, and roll over three times in a row for a single piece of kibble. If your puppy is regularly handfed her dinner this way, she'll soon learn to love guests.

Invite plenty of men, strangers, and kids

Many dogs are more afraid of men than women, so stock up on beer, turn on the game (or, stock up on ice cream and settle in for a good conversation--you know your friends better than I do), and invite as many men as possible to come over and handfeed, handle, and train your puppy. This is especially important if there are no men living in your home.

Throw lots of children's parties as well. Even well socialized dogs can get into trouble with kids, since children's antics can frighten them or incite them to nip and chase. But for the lucky pup who's hosted numerous parties with kids laughing, screaming, running, skipping, and falling over ... well, that's just old hat. As a rule of thumb, before your puppy is three months old, try to make sure at least 20 children have handled and trained her.

1. Start by inviting just one or two well-behaved kids over to meet the puppy. (Three children plus a puppy emit energy levels unmeasurable by any known scientific instrument, and, after all, we're trying to teach the puppy and the children to be calm and mannerly.)

2. Add friends' and relatives' children to the guest list--kids your puppy is likely to see regularly or even occasionally for the rest of her life.

3. Finally, bring on the neighborhood children. Dogs are less likely to bark at kids they know and like, and children are less likely to tease a dog they know and like, so give the neighborhood kids and your puppy ample opportunity to get to know each other.

For the first week, make sure your puppy's interactions with children are carefully controlled and calm. Thereafter, however, make the parties festive--balloons, streamers, and music, treats for the puppy, plus presents, noise-makers, and costumes for the children all help set the scene.

Bottom line: The main rule for puppy parties is to mix up the guest list a lot, so your pup's not just meeting the same people over and over. The more strangers your puppy meets now, the more comfortable she'll be around people as an adult.

Play lots of party games

Puppy Push-ups, Biscuit Balance, and Drop Dead Dog are great games to get a kid (or even an adult) puppy party started.

Puppy Push-ups: Give the kids tasty treats, such as freeze-dried liver mixed with kibble, to use as lures and rewards. Have them sit in a big circle. The first child calls the puppy and has her lie down and sit up three times in a row before sending her to the next child--"Puppy, go to Jamie"--whereupon Jamie calls the puppy to come and perform three puppy push-ups, and so on. This is a wonderful way to practice prompt recalls and lightning-fast sits and downs.

Biscuit Balance: Offer special prizes to the kids who can get the dog to balance a dog biscuit on her nose for the longest time (the best sit-stay).

Drop Dead Dog: Now give a prize to or whomever gets the dog to lie down and play dead for the longest time (the best down-stay).

By Ian Dunbar, a veterinarian and animal behaviorist, and author and star of numerous books and videos on dog behavior and training, including Before and After Getting Your Puppy and SIRIUS Puppy Training. He lives in Berkeley, California.

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Why shyness is a problem

A two- to three-month-old puppy who won't eagerly approach people, or who stays away altogether, isn't just shy--she's way behind in her social development, and is in danger of being intolerant and frightened of people for the rest of her life.

The (other) bad news is, if you don't take steps right away, the problem will get worse and future attempts at socialization will become less and less effective. The good news is, the solution is simple and usually takes just one week.

For the next seven days, don't put any dogfood in the food bowl; invite over several different people each day to handfeed your puppy her meals. Once the puppy happily accepts food from the hand, your guests may then ask her to come, sit, and lie down for each piece of kibble. Strangers will soon become your pup's new best friends.

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