Pets: Congrats on your new pet! Now what?

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For puppies, socialization during the first three months is critical. (File photo)
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By Kim Gilliam

The holidays are a popular time of year for people to get new pets. Some receive pets as a gift from a loved one, some are moved by the spirit of the season to adopt and others choose to take advantage of down time to introduce a new animal into the family.

Now that the holiday season is over, it’s time to start integrating your new housemate into your household routine. Recognize that transitioning from the rush of the holidays back into everyday life can be as stressful for a pet as it is for you.

First, make sure your home is pet safe. Leave no dangling cords or wires, no small toys or choke hazards on the floor, no toxic plants and no candies or other foods within easy reach.

If you haven’t already done so, make a vet appointment so you can begin vaccinations, schedule your pet’s spay or neuter surgery, discuss any health concerns and be made aware of any issues typical to your pet’s breed or age. This also gives you a chance to ask for any pet care and feeding advice needed and have your new pet microchipped if they aren’t already.

Next, you need to focus on housebreaking or litter box training. This will require patience, and you’ll need to proactively anticipate your pet’s needs, rather than react to an accident, which will stress you both out.

Dogs will need to be on a consistent walk schedule based on their age. Be sure to reward them for doing their business outside. Cats should be introduced to their litter boxes immediately, with two strategically placed so they don’t have to go far and it’s easy in, easy out. Cats are very sensitive when it comes to the substrate used, so it may take some experimentation to find what works. The best way to start is with good quality litter.

You will also want to focus on three key areas: training, socialization and exercise.

Crate training is a key part of housetraining any new dog, as it gives you the ability to confine them when unsupervised. Make sure you give the dog an opportunity to play, eat and eliminate before you crate them. Do not use a crate for punishment so that it can provide a place of comfort and security where your dog can relax.

Start obedience training basics for dogs by teaching them commands like “sit,” “down” and “stay” using treats and praise as rewards. Look for a trainer or classes to start formal obedience training.

For puppies, socialization during the first three months is critical. Gently expose them to various people, places and situations. As they reach six months, you can introduce them to as many new people and situations as possible, such as people in uniforms, babies, toddlers, elderly people, physically challenged people, car rides, elevators and stairs. Give them treats and praise to help make each new experience a positive one.

Exercising your pet properly from the start with focused play time, walks, scent activities and more will have huge health benefits and help reduce destructive, boredom-related behavior.

If the holiday pet is joining other animals in the household, introduce the pets to each other slowly in a controlled environment. Reward the pets with treats and praise when they are behaving well in each other’s presence but be ready to separate them at the first signs of stress. Just remember, it may take time for the resident pet to accept the new addition on their home turf.

Enjoy this time getting to know your new pet. It may take several weeks for their personality to shine through, but if you provide consistency in what you expect of them and focused time together, they will relax into their new environment and form a lifelong bond with you.

The writer co-owns Frolick Dogs, an indoor dog gym in Alexandria, with her husband, Kevin Gilliam.

(Pets: Protect your furry friend from freezing weather)

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