No matter how seasoned in pet care you may be, starting again with a new family pet can be a big task. Those first 3 years of your puppy, kitten or baby pocket pet’s life are super important. They are also super challenging. So here are some tips for you to use with any new pet to help make life easier.
Be a positive force in your pet’s eyes
The old days of punishing pets for bad behaviour are well and truly behind us. What you want to do with a new pet is reinforce the good behaviour and ignore the bad.
While we may think puppies or kittens give us guilty looks when we point out that accident on the carpet or the destroyed pot plants, what your new pet is actually responding to is the anger in your voice. Your family pet is showing fear and uncertainty.
Put simply, if your puppy soiled the rug while you were out, it doesn’t have the ability to connect that event with why you are yelling 3 hours later. It simply needed the toilet.
If your cat decided to destroy the pot plants, it did so out of frustration, boredom or curiosity. So it’s not going to understand that it’s a big deal to you. Yet.
What we do know about pets is they like our company. They look to us for support, affection, guidance and advice. So if you reward the positive, they’ll crave more of that attention. If you ignore the bad actions, this is usually enough punishment for a pet craving love.
That saying “be the person your pet thinks you are” should always be your guide.
Make learning fun
If you think about the world around a new puppy or kitten or baby pocket pet, it is incredibly stimulating. Everything is new to your new pet. The sounds, the smells, people, ideas and everything. It can be overwhelming and over-stimulating all at once. It’s like being on the world’s most exciting holiday with only a short time to see and do everything.
Rustling leaves blowing past, the whirr of a dishwasher, and the sudden movements of the kids at play- all of this action to a small animal is exciting and awe-filled.
And it is important to remember that your lessons have to compete with those sensations.
You have to make learning as fun as possible. You’ll need to cheer loudly and clap “toilet, yay!” to reward a puppy or kitten or rabbit for using the lawn or litter box properly. You will need to have some favourite bright coloured toys that make squeaky sounds or look incredibly fun to play with to distract nipping teeth. Using meal time to coerce that sit and the big reward will get your puppy or kitten thinking about the connection.
You have to be more fun than the carnival that is being new in this world. So if you have to channel your inner entertainer, act like a clown and get the jazz hands happening, do it!
Be ready with the treats
Puppies are especially food orientated, but all pets will respond well to treats. Think about how you can use treats effectively to aid with producing good behaviour in your new pet.
A couple of ways you can help your new family pet to listen to you with food are:
- Reducing meal sizes to treat throughout the day for good behaviour
- Have a mix of treats and every day food. For puppies, include things like carrot and apple slices. Kittens like cooked chicken. Rabbits like their leafy greens
- Carry the food with you so that you can reward on the spot. Have some treats in a zip lock bag in your pocket or wear a bum bag or similar. Whatever helps you make the most of those good moments quickly!
Be liberal with the praise and reward the good
Your new family pet will learn so much faster if you praise and reward the good behaviour. But that doesn’t always have to mean food.
Our pets love positive talk. Praising them with a hearty “good boy” or “good kitty” really helps go a long way to raising a happy pet. Using regular praise in conjunction with food rewards helps to affirm the connection during training. But you also need to prepare them for praise being its own reward.
You can also mix up the way you reward a young pet without using food. Play time for example is a great reward. So too is favourite toys being brought out post a successful toilet trip or lesson. And playing with you, the kids and other pets in the house also serve as a fun reward. So make time to play with your new pet each day and to supervise their safe, positive play with both human and animal family members.
The game of leave
You can teach both kittens and puppies how to fetch for fun. Fetch also serves as a great way to remove items your new pet has stolen that you may not want them to have through creating a connection with the term “leave” that is positive.
Introduce fetch by encouraging your new family pet each time they pick up an appropriate toy. Make a big deal out of praising and making it look like a super fun item leading to a great play activity.
When you take the toy from your new family pet, praise them for giving it to you. Make it a big “good boy! Yay! Bring the ball!” moment so they make the connection. Use their name so they also make the association that you are calling them to you.
When your new pet brings the toy back after a throw, swap the toy for a treat. When they drop the toy in favour of that treat, praise again with “Good boy, leave!” so your pet begins to understand leave means to drop something and that they’ll be rewarded for doing so.
If your puppy or kitten picks up something you don’t want them to have, don’t start scolding or chasing. Simply act as though you are about to play fetch and call your pet to you. Once they arrive, treat them or distract them with a more appropriate toy. Use “leave” so they make a connection. Praise for them leaving the inappropriate item alone and reward with a game of fetch or a treat.
That way, your new pet will learn to bring you what you want them to leave whether its play time or not. Saving you from frustrating moments of chasing them around the house while they destroy things you would rather they didn’t have.
Again, it’s a case of making good behaviour fun.
We love new pets at Fox Valley Animal Hospital
It’s true that we have some of the most loyal pet parents in the whole of the upper North Shore. Many of our pets and their families have been with us since Dr Alex first took over almost 20 years ago. But we still get excited when we see new, fresh faces walk through the door.
New families or new pet family members really give us a lot of joy. We love seeing kids walk through with their first pet as much as we love new neighbours to the Wahroonga and Turramurra area.
That’s why we do what we can to make your connection with a new pet as fun and rewarding as possible.