Toys for dogs! Sounds strange but it is true. In nature while a pup grows with his littermates in a lair has leftover bones of the part of the kill that his damn had brought home, plus plenty of sticks lying around. Being pack hunters, they instinctively devise games of mock killing and carrying away a part of the ‘kill’. Much before these games are devised, pups begin to play games of holding the prey and jerking it-of course the prey at that stage are mostly the littermates and sometimes even an ear or tail of the dam. Playing is a way of their interaction with the dam and the littermates. In addition the games of mock hunting, holding the prey in mouth and running away and tearing the prey apart are all based on their pack and hunting instinct. I will write about doggy instincts some other time. This blog is specially meant to press home the point that toys are important for the personality of the dog and also to keep the animal in him under control.
When you bring home a plus six weeks old pup, the only thing he misses on day one is the company of his littermates, body warmth and loving licks of his dam and the games he used to enjoy with them. In the breeder’s kennel the puppies had a ‘place’ of their own, where thy used to romp around and dam would return every two hours to lick them and sniff them and sit with them for a while. In case they began to pester her she would first push them away, those who still persisted would be growled upon. Still a pup or two will not leave her and the dam would just hold one by the scruff of the neck, jerk him hard and put him back with a deep growl with all the anger in her eyes. If the pup went quiet with this punishment she would lick him over, as if trying to say ‘you are a good boy’. In the new place all these games and affections are missed by the pup.
As a new owner you can’t possibly spend all the time with the pup, nor can you lick him to comfort him. But if you provide him a variety of toys to play with in his ‘Play Pen’, more than half of his discomfort and your problem are solved.
What should be the puppy’s toys like? The bond of friendship between a dog and man is without any cast or creed. A pup may be acquired by the richest man in the country or even by the beggar on the street. For the pup a master will remain a master irrespective of his status. Likewise toys for the pup can vary with your budget. I have found some practical toys quite useful. Initially at the age of around 7-8 weeks a foot ball with a tiny piece of chocolate pressed tightly in the grove makes an excellent toy. In the hope of licking off the chocolate, the pup keeps on rolling the ball and does not get bored. He might get tired and sleep off and start rolling it again after his nap.
Around 12 to 16 weeks pups start cutting their teeth. They need to gnaw things. Initially raw hide chew bones and chew toys are very useful. Earlier such stuff was not available in the country and we used to make do with femurs of buffalo. Problem with pups of this age is that they get bored with the same toy too soon. It is better to have a cong ball-a ball with a bell inside which makes soft sounds as it rolls and a set of calcined bones. Give him the ball to play with and also a bone. As soon as he starts rejecting the bone, replace it with a fresh one and immerse the used bone in meat soup and let it dry. This becomes ‘attractive’ to the pup again. Thus you can keep him engaged with bones and balls for quite some time.
By the time the pup has crossed four months he needs to be trained. While I will deal training separately in my blogs, here I just wish to convey that retrieving objects (ball) is one of the most useful trainings, if you can not run with the dog. You keep on throwing the ball and your dog will go on retrieving it any number of times.
Apart from usual doggy toys, chews etc pieces 50 cm long large diameter PVC pipes, scooter tyres (duly sterilized with boiling water) and your used old socks stuffed with newspaper make excellent toys for pups. They love to rush inside the pipe from one end and rush out from the other. Similarly they find the hollow space in the scooter tyre attractive and love to sit there and watch the surroundings. As per the aptitude of the dog you have to devise your own toys. For example, Roby my so called Alsatian loved to climb ladders and trees. Part of his play pen extended in to the garden with a mango tree in a corner. Roby enjoyed attempts to climb the tree and chase squirrels. I had placed a small ladder too and he devised his own games climbing the tree with the ladder and also hiding under the ladder with a bone.
Till now you have read about the play pen, dog house and toys for the new dog. But that is not the end of the list. A tropical country like ours faces extremes of weather. While the summers are almost boiling the winters are so chilly that even dogs find it uncomfortable. Therefore you need proper bedding for the dog. This is a debatable issue. An affluent owner may think of buying a branded dog mattress, while the other with a tighter purse may like to devise something else. If you intend to buy, please ensure that the mattress is filled with cotton and has a tough cover. All dogs love to dig their bed before sleeping-a thin fancy cover will not stand their sharp claws. The mattress should have slightly raised edge. Dogs love to curl up in the middle and put their chin on the edge to get a better view. If you wish to make your own mattress you can buy the material and get it stuffed with cotton and stitched. Long back I was taught by my guru Ramesh Dutt a very cheap and useful method to place a wad of newspapers in his box and put a thick Hessian cloth cover over it. He told me that Gunny bags used transporting sugar are ideal for this purpose. He even taught me how to make a bed for the dog by making diagonal two holes one inch apart at the four corners of the box and anchor the Hessian cloth at the corners with strings. This saves the bed from being dug. Newspapers provide the sue insulation against colds. I used this innovation all through.
Views can differ regarding dogs wearing coats in the winters. But one should use a coat only when the winter is at its peak with sleet and rain. Dogs are gifted with a coat by the creator and as such do not need one. But in order to satisfy your fancy you may use a coat only if very necessary. Once I met a lady with a beautiful Afghan Hound. It had a flowing coat and was a beautiful specimen. They were affluent people and dog was made to wear a coat and was lodged in a room with heating arrangement. One night the Afghan sneaked out and plunged in to the lotus pond. He died of pneumonia the next day. Therefore whether your dog requires a coat or not and when to put it on should be used with caution.
In my life time I have never used a coat for Labrador retrievers, GSDs, Lhasa Apsos and Pomeranians. My dachshund and miniature pincher however, loved to wear a coat at night. It was religiously removed early morning before being taken on a walk. On the other hand I find Labs and GSDs wearing colorful coats all day even during early winters of November in Delhi and Lucknow! Whether your dog needs a coat or not can be best judged by you. An extra coat if not required may lead to excess hair shedding. But in case you have raised your dog in synthetic environment of Air conditioners during the summers and heaters during winters, he may need a coat!
The list of articles seem to be growing-you will need grooming articles like brushes, nail cutters, nail files, shears (in case you have a breed which requires hair to be trimmed), hair drier, hand held vacuum cleaner, a grooming table (particularly for small and medium sized dogs). The use of these articles I will deal separately in some other blog, but you must teach your dog to accept the brush from day one. Each time you brush him, please do reward him with a tidbit of his choice. Pup will love to be brushed daily, thereafter. In case you have a double coated breed like a GSD, it is best to use a rake as well. This takes out all the dead hair from the undercoat and saves the atmosphere of your house from turning ‘hairy’.
I do not subscribe to the idea of tying the dogs, but yes I do train dogs to accept the link chain as fate accompli if need be. So you need a link chain of the lightest variety. People buy stout chains heavy enough to tie a buffalo-giving a plea that their powerful dog snaps the ordinary chains. This is not because of the strength, but because the dog has not been taught to accept the chain. Often I see people walking their dogs on the road. It is a real sight to watch with dog pulling the owner as if the owner is being taken on a walk and not the vice versa. Apart from training a single action or double action choke chain comes handy for walking and training a dog. Again its usage will be dealt sometime later. The Choke Chain or choke collar needs to be attached to a nylon leash (preferably of webbed material and one inch wide). Please ensure that the swivel hook at the end of the leash moves freely on its axis and it has a push button system with a proper spring. Many times dogs are lost because during an emergency the choke collar slipped out of the swivel hook because of a weak spring.
Armed with all the articles required for entertainment, training and grooming, now you are almost ready to rear the pup properly.
Please always remember that a pup is not like a new cellphone which gets outdated the moment you buy it. A pup is going to be with you on an average for 12 long years or may be more. He is going to see you through the thick and thin of life. So be prepared to rear the new family member in the best possible way. Please also remember that you may think that your dog is like a human but your dog never considers you to be a human being. For him you are either a pack leader or a pack member. Therefore, treat your dog like a dog but with due respect, love and compassion.
Be his leader rather than be led by a dog.