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One Year Later: Lessons from a New Pet Parent

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Owner hugging husky dogRecently, George Little celebrated his first anniversary with his adopted Siberian husky, Dodge. Dodge happens to be a bit of a celebrity — he was PetSmart Charities’® 5-millionth adopted pet.

But like any new family, George and Dodge learned a lot about each other in their first year together. I sat down with George last week and he shared some of their lessons.

Don’t rush the routine

When George first brought Dodge home, he was a bit nervous. It was really important to take the time to get to know Dodge’s ways, and let him adjust to his new home. George gradually started teaching him the right habits and was careful to stay patient.

It took a few months, but now George knows exactly how Dodge stands when he needs to go out, and Dodge knows precisely at what time of day he needs to remind George to feed him. And they have settled into a downright adorable morning routine:

“Every morning when I get up, Dodge hops up on the bed to the spot where I was lying,” said George. “He rolls over and plays on all the pillows. And he does this every single morning — the second my head leaves the pillow. It’s hilarious!”

Ask the pros for help

Dodge is smart, but he also has an independent streak that’s common among huskies. George found it very helpful to work with a professional trainer. Dodge has since stopped pulling on his leash, and doesn’t chase ducks or lizards anymore. He’s also become a great listener.

“Once, I accidentally dropped a piece of food inches from his paw,” said George. “All he did was look at it. Then he looked back up at me, as if to say ‘is this for me?’ I said no, and he stayed away until I picked it up.”

Dog snuggling in bedBe positive

All of those good habits didn’t develop overnight, George said. It’s important to stay positive with your pet and help him along the way. George gives Dodge regular positive feedback so he knows he’s doing the right thing. It helps reinforce training and ensures your pet knows he’s loved, he said. And Dodge reciprocates:

“Religiously, every single night before bed, I tell Dodge: ‘thank you for another great day.’ He lies down next to me, gives me a few kisses and then snuggles up at the foot of the bed. I didn’t teach him that — he started it on his own and that’s amazing.”

Keep challenging each other

Outside of training, George found that Dodge picked up on things very quickly. He’s learned which paw comes first when George towel-dries him from a walk in the rain, and how to sit properly in a kayak.

So, George knew it was important to keep challenging him to do more. On Christmas, George taught Dodge how to open his own presents. On Easter, George set Dodge up with his very own dog Easter egg hunt, complete with delicious treats.

“When Dodge came inside for his Easter egg hunt he started going crazy because he smelled the treats everywhere,” said George. “But he didn’t know what to do until I showed him how to get the treats out of the eggs. He picked it up really quickly. He cracked the very next egg open and took the treat!”

Give back — together

Dodge has also motivated George to give back to his community. They’re working on getting certified as a pet therapy team.

“Dodge could help so many people as a therapy dog. It’s a great way to share his personality with the rest of the world. And, it’d be great to be able to bring him everywhere,” said George.

“Kids love him, and he loves kids. I would love to take him into hospitals to work with sick kids. I also want to give back to my fellow veterans through work at VA hospitals. I know how guys in the military are with dogs. We rescued a few dogs when I was in Iraq and they were our unofficial mascots. It makes a big difference.”

George also uses Dodge’s story to encourage others in his community to adopt. “I’d never adopted a pet before Dodge,” he said. “I really think they know that they’re getting a second chance — because of that they will do everything they can to make you happy. I tell everyone I can that they should adopt and give these dogs a second chance.”

Dog on car rideAnother happy year on the horizon

George and Dodge have another year of happy memories to look forward to. In addition to pursuing therapy dog certification, they’ll be taking a few trips, including kayaking and possibly a trip to New York to give Dodge his first taste of snow.

Before we ended our conversation, I asked George what he thought Dodge’s favorite moment of their first year together was. He said that Dodge had a blast at the party PetSmart Charities threw for him when he first went home with George.

George’s favorite was slightly different:

“I’m lucky because my favorite moment with Dodge happens every single day, when I come home. Dodge goes nuts for 5 minutes straight: jumping up and down, rubbing his head on my leg. He’s so happy that I come home, and it’s the greatest thing in the world.”

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