Before you start looking

Who Will Take Care of Fido

"But, Mom, I promise!" Steve wailed. "Ple-e-e-ase!" So Mom and Dad went to the shelter and picked out a puppy. The first few weeks were great; Steve named the puppy Sam and took him out to play every morning before the school bus turned down his street. Every afternoon, he rushed home to play with his new friend -- for the first few weeks

Then his interest began to wane. Now Mom had to ask several times before Steve would take Sam out or feed him or fill his water bowl. Within two months of the puppy's arrival, the child's "I promise" had turned into "'Not I!' said the little eight-year-old" and Mom took care of the pup all by herself.

The picture is typical: Mom usually ends up taking care of the pet the kids just had to have. Unfortunately, the decline of the child's promise and the rise of Mom's responsibility often cause tremendous stress in the family relationship with the dog, and the purpose for getting a dog in the first place becomes clouded in anger and frustration. Families can avoid the fights over dog care by making some simple decisions before the pet is purchased.

A dog should never be purchased without the expectation that the child's interest will ebb and flow, but the dog's need for attention will remain constant. This puts Mom in the hotseat from day one, and if Mom is uncomfortable there, the family should forego the pet for at least six months and then reassess the situation.

A pet should not be purchased to either satisfy the child's demands or to teach a youngster a sense of responsibility. Instead, the pet should be welcomed as part of the family and the children encouraged to participate in its care. A child should earn the right to have a pet, any pet, of his own by joining the adults in the family in feeding, walking, and training the family dog.


The battle over puppy housetraining often sets a negative tone for the whole relationship with the dog, especially if a child has promised faithfully to bear the burden of getting the dog outside. A little preparation here can avoid the tension and ease the training process.

Puppies do not soil the house out of spite or stupidness; they soil the house because they are too young to have control or because they have not been taught to do otherwise. Here are some hints to make housetraining easier:

  1. First, buy a puppy from a breeder who has already started housetraining by putting the puppies outside every morning and after meals and praising when they relieve themselves.
  2. Buy a crate and a baby gate or two to keep the puppy confined when you cannot watch him.
  3. Feed a dry food, preferably the brand used by the breeder.
  4. Confine the puppy to rooms with tile or other washable flooring so mistakes don't ruin carpets.
  5. Feed on a schedule and take the puppy outside to the appropriate relief spot immediately after he eats.
  6. Don't play with the pup until he relieves himself..
  7. If he doesn't urinate and defecate within 10 minutes, bring him inside and place him in his crate for 10-15 minutes, then try again.
  8. Take him out on a leash to his bathroom spot so he learns to relieve himself under your control.
  9. Keep the bathroom spot clean by picking up feces every day.
  10. Realize that a puppy should have a schedule, that he should be taken to his outside relief spot last thing at night and first thing in the morning as well as after meals and naps, and that he should be praised when he does his duty. .
  11. Failures in housetraining are human mistakes, not puppy errors. .
  12. Never punish for mistakes.
  13. If you don't have the time or patience for the task of housetraining, buy, rescue or adopt a dog from a shelter that is already housetrained.
  14. If a puppy reaches four or five months of age and is still having regular accidents in the house, make sure he does not have a bladder infection, intestinal parasites, or other medical reason for his failure to signal that he needs to go outside.
[More on housetraining]


Along with housetraining, teaching manners to puppies before they develop bad habits is crucial to the next dozen years with the adult dog. Every day is a learning day for puppies, and whether they learn manners and other appropriate behaviors is the responsibility of the adults in the family. It is counterproductive to leave these responsibilities to the child, even if he has pleaded and promised and pledged his undying devotion to the pup. Mom should be the one to decide whether the time is right to get a dog with the full awareness that she will be responsible for the animal's well-being and for its integration into to family circle.

These are the make-or-break weeks; dogs that don't get proper training during this time are often relegated to the back yard or worse, to the local animal shelter. Even an eight-week-old puppy can learn to sit before he gets a treat or a meal. He can also begin to learn to walk on a leash, to ride quietly in the car, to wait before going out the door or jumping out of the car, and to keep his feet on the floor when greeting guests. The key is gentle guidance, consistency, and consideration for a puppy's fragile spirit. The techniques for teaching manners while guarding the puppy's temperament and personality make up obedience training.

A few dollars and a few hours spent in obedience training will pay big dividends: the family will have a dog that is truly a joy to have around, a dog with manners that does not chew the furniture, steal cookies from the baby, jump on Aunt Martha with his muddy paws, or act like he's in harness for the Iditarod every time a leash is attached to his collar. Furthermore, a well-behaved dog does not disturb the neighbors; the neighbors do not complain to the government and the government does not pass foolish laws limiting everyone's right to own a pet.

If you live in an apartment...

Many dogs, purebred and mixed breed, can live happily in the city as long as their needs for exercise and companionship are met. Choosing an apartment dog requires a bit more research than choosing a dog for the suburbs or country.

Norma Bennett Woolf

This page is a part of the Dog Owner's Guide internet website and is copyright 2021 by Canis Major Publications. You may print or download this material for non-commercial personal or school educational use. All other rights reserved. If you, your organization or business would like to reprint our articles in a newsletter or distribute them free of charge as an educational handout please see our reprint policy.

We will be modifying the Dog Owner's Guide site with new and updated articles in 2021 as well as new booklists so check back often to see what's new!

Contact us