The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Lifestyles

December 22, 2013

Ryan Richardson: New pets take some getting used to

JOPLIN, Mo. — This time next week, Christmas will be complete. All of the wrapping paper will have been put away, the decorations and outdoor lights will start to come down and plans for New Year's Eve will begin coming together.

The last week of the year has been my favorite since I was kid. We would play with our new toys, while school was little more than a fleeting memory.

For many of you in the area, this week may be your first chance to spend time with a new pet that you brought into your home for Christmas. Maybe it's a tiny kitty, or perhaps an older rescue dog from a shelter that you've chosen to be part of your family.

In last week's column I mentioned a checklist of things you should consider before bringing home a pet. If you read that column and decided that an animal friend would make a good addition to your family, I want to congratulate you! You are about to embark on a wonderful journey.

This first week together is going to be an adjustment for you and your pet. The animal is in a new environment, and your initial behavior will set the tone for how your new pet reacts.

Don't feed your dog table scraps or let your cat discover the bathtub unless you don't intend to let them have access to these privileges on a regular basis. Much like children, pets learn repeated behavior and come to expect the same treatment.

The biggest thing I regret when I first got my dog is letting her sleep in my bed. After some time, I realized this wasn't something I wanted to continue, and it took me a full year to get her used to sleeping in a different room.

With that in mind, you can start reinforcing positive interactions with pets now. Use this early time to socialize your pets with other pets and people, so  the interactions become more normal.

Get dogs enrolled in a training course so they can get used to playing with others. Teach your cat to not be afraid when your kids go to pet them. Remember, socialization is a learned behavior.

The most important thing you are going to learn when you welcome a new pet into your home is patience, especially with pets that are young. If you adopted your pet from an animal shelter, it likely was recently fixed and may still be healing from surgery. Your pet may still be sensitive, so be patient while it recovers.

Young pets tend to make messes in homes, either by tearing up household items or by using the bathroom where they aren't supposed to. This is normal, and it will go away. I went through three iPhone cables and a TV remote during Cami's first three months as a puppy. Potty training was a lot of work during the winter months, but we pulled through with teamwork. You will, too.

If you made the leap and got a new pet for the holidays, I'm proud of you. The work you will put in will be rewarding as you embark on this lasting friendship.

If you are new to this column, you should know that I always welcome emails with questions, advice and feedback. I won't always have answers, but I'll make sure you get pointed in the right direction.

Happy new year, and have fun with your new buddy.

Contact Ryan Richardson about this column or other topic suggestions at rrichardson@joplinglobe.com or 417-627-7363.

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