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Ask The Sassy Vet: Preparing Your Family For A New Pet

ExpertsPost Category - ExpertsExperts

So far, I’ve covered where to look if you’re in the market for a new pet, and how to prepare your pet for the addition of a baby in the house.  The next logical topic to cover? How to prepare your family for a new dog. This one’s a breeze, because I’m living it!

Patrick the Border Terrier arrived last Christmas on Santa’s sleigh, and what a year it’s been! My son was almost two when Patrick arrived, and we spent hours before the arrival of our new dog practicing “niiiiiice” and “geeennnntle” patting on stuffed toys. We went out and bought dog toys, a crate, little matching bowls and leashes; stocked up on high quality puppy food, doggie shampoo, towels for dog use and a dog bed. Being a specialist in veterinary surgery, I asked my general practice colleagues about vaccination schedules, deworming, and flea, tick, and heartworm preventative. All very important things, no doubt.

Then there were the things I forgot. Cloths or paper towels – loads of them! Your new puppy, or even your adult dog, will likely have accidents in the house for a few weeks. Baggies to clean up poop outside and a water bottle to wash the pee away – essential if you want to avoid the angry shouts of the neighbourhood ladies. Find the local hangouts for people with dogs, so your pup can be well socialised (something I can’t stress enough, in a city full of unsocialised dogs).  Our helper found a morning group for Patrick (and made some friends herself!) and went every day. Contact a dog trainer and use them, or join group classes near you.

If your new dog is a puppy, expect things to be chewed. Lots of things. Children’s toys are a favorite. Shoes are a classic. Puppy teeth are sharp, and teething is painful so even the gentlest puppy might cause some ouches on the kids. Puppies tend to think children are littermates, and littermates naturally chew on each other. Teach your child to get up and walk away, with a quick “ouch” so that puppy knows gnawing is unacceptable. Puppy behaviour can last more than a year (trust me on this one!), so find your patience if you can. Any form of attention, positive or negative, can reinforce bad behaviour. If puppy loses your attention, he’s unlikely to repeat the behaviour.

An adult dog can make the most wonderful addition to a family. But just imagine the change that dog is going through. Moving is stressful for anyone!  Be patient, be cautious, be loving, and be gentle. Teach your children to look for signs that your dog needs a break. If he’s resting, cowering, or looks generally uncomfortable (if you can see the “half moon” whites of his eyes, for example), it’s time to give him some space. Most dog bites come from a pet that a child already knows, but for whatever reason was pushed beyond his tolerance threshold. Remember that any bites breaking the skin should be evaluated by a doctor.

What if you have a dog or cat in your family already? At first, a new dog may act timid in the domain of another dog, but as the relationship matures, dogs like to achieve a pecking order or rank. Sometimes it’s breed-specific (terriers and other little dogs tend to be dominant over gentle giants), other times gender plays a role. Remember that puppies as young as five months old can reproduce, so spay or neuter to avoid having two intact dogs. If your current pet is a geriatric one, a puppy could be like a breath of fresh air… but might also be disruptive and generally annoying to an older pet. Take it slow. Introduce them for short times at first and gradually increase the amount they spend together each day.  Cats may take even longer to adjust, but will very quickly show a puppy who’s boss! Always supervise new animals together at first, preferably on leash. If you do experience aggression, separate the animals, contact a veterinarian immediately to care for wounds, and consider professional behavioral training.

Overall, there is no gift you can give your children like the gift of a new dog. This Christmas, my husband referred to Patrick as “the gift that lasted all year and beyond”. He’s a companion, a brother, a shoulder to cry on, and a load of laughs for the whole family. And he’s ours, forever. 

I wish you the best of luck with your new addition as well!



bio picSassy Mama Alane Cahalane is an American veterinary specialist who lives and works in Hong Kong. As Hong Kong’s first and only specialist in companion animal surgery, she treats dogs and cats with cancer, orthopedic and neurologic disease, and other diseases that require advanced surgery. She lectures to veterinarians both locally and regionally, and is committed to educating the public on pet health issues.  Alane is also a mum to two terrific kids and a terrier named Patrick.  

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