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How Do I  Love Thee?  By Mara Bovsun  Here are seven easy, fun, and free ways to show your puppy how much you care. 


The woman was walking along the avenue, holding a slender pink leash that was attached to a tiny ball of fluff who was chasing a bug. Suddenly, the woman started to tear up, scooped her puppy in her arms, and cried, “Do you have any idea how much I love you?” Few things in life evoke the kind of love people feel for their puppies, and when you love someone, you want to show it. Many dog owners resort to food. While effective, this traditional fastest route to the heart often causes some bad habits and an unhealthy pooch paunch. Others spend a fortune on fancy clothes, collars, bling, and pricey toys, only to be upset when their cutie prefers romping around au naturel while chewing on a stinky, muddy tennis ball. So what can a poor puppy-loving human do to express this deep love in ways a dog can understand? As it turns out, plenty! Some are the basics of responsible dog ownership. Provide healthy meals and a place to sleep.  


1. Teach them good manners (see “Training and Behavior” on page 14), so they can spend more time with us. Offer the best veterinary care possible. Beyond that, though, there are all kinds of tiny things you can do every day to tighten your bond. They’re easy, natural, and best of all, free! Here’s a week’s worth of small gestures— some backed by scientific research—to give your warm fuzzy the warm fuzzies. 

2. Sing Their Praises Are you embarrassed to use that singsong voice that seems to come naturally to some people when they talk to dogs and babies? If so, get over it. You’re missing out on a powerful mode of communication. Puppies, in particular, respond with wild enthusiasm to baby talk, new research shows, and the higher pitched the better. (For more on this, see “The Canine Mind.”) 

3. Play Daily Youngsters of all species learn by playing, so look for opportunities to find the fun in routine activities. “When we raised our puppies, a part of every day was called ‘puppy playtime.’ Every evening, there would be a time for games (find the toy hidden behind my back) and to play with toys. Fifteen years later, as seniors with graying muzzles, our dogs still initiated puppy playtime at the same time every night,” says Mary R. Burch, Ph.D., Director, AKC Canine Good Citizen program. The AKC’s S.T.A.R. Puppy program recommends a daily playtime, simple games that engage the dog’s mind and stimulate problem-solving abilities, like find it, fetch, and hide-and-seek. As the puppy matures, you can make the games harder and add some commands. A favorite of many dogs is “find the treat,” which can be as simple as concealing a treat in your hand. 

4. Give Them the “Eye” We all know that a staring contest with a strange dog is not a good idea and can be misinterpreted as fighting words. But with the puppies who live with us, looking into one another’s eyes is a good thing, what some refer to as an “eye hug.” Japanese scientists measured levels of oxytocin, known as the hug hormone, in dogs and their owners. In both species, gazing into one another’s eyes resulted in an oxytocin spike, similar to the physical reaction of a mother gazing at her infant.

5. Put on a Happy Face Those of us who live with dogs know how skilled they are at reading our emotions. No matter how hard we try, it’s nearly impossible to hide our feelings from our canine pals. It’s not known exactly what combination of chemical or movement clues gives dogs this insight. But new research has suggested that, like people, dogs can look at human faces and distinguish a happy expression from a sad one. A relaxed smile can signal to a dog that their beloved two-legged friend is feeling good, and that makes the dog feel good, too.

6. Pet Them! Ample research supports the idea that petting our dogs is good for us, reducing blood pressure and boosting happiness hormones. There are few scientific investigations demonstrating the same effect for animals, but do we really need a study to prove that our dogs really like to be petted, stroked, and scratched? They tell us every day, with wagging tails and wiggling butts, happy groans, and rollovers that scream, “Give me a belly rub! Now!” When you find Spot’s spot the reaction is rarely subtle. Dogs tell you if they like, or don’t like, how you are handling them, no scientific papers required. 

7. Be There Most people lead busy lives, but if you bring a puppy into your home, be prepared to pass up some activities and trips to places where dogs are not welcome. Puppies are social creatures and they have to learn to be comfortable with time alone, and may act out by chewing or barking. It’s not reasonable to expect that you’ll be able to stop everything and just hang out with the puppy (as appealing as that may seem). When possible, however, it’s a good idea to put optional outings on hold while your puppy is young and learning to deal with time away from the people he loves. 


Celebrate This One-of-a-Kind Gift In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s 1943 children’s classic The Little Prince, there is a scene in which the prince meets a fox who explains the concept of taming a wild thing, and how it will set this pair apart from all other little boys and foxes. “To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world,” the fox explains. Your puppy may be the same breed, come from the same breeder, and may even be related to another dog you’ve loved and lost. Remember, though, while all members of a breed will share certain traits, every dog is an individual. Don’t look for your beloved partner of the past. Instead, revel in the little being who has come into your life, and throw yourself with joy into the journey with this new partner, who is unique in all the world. 

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