In the Philippines, there are over 11,000,000 dogs across the country and more and more families choose to open their hearts and homes to these loyal animals every day.
For many first-time dog owners however, the prospect of a new pet can be challenging. They want to be able to give the dogs the best life they can, after all, but it comes with a lot of challenges. But while taking in a new pet is definitely not easy, it certainly is worthwhile and extremely fulfilling if done well. For first-time dog parents out there, Cesar’s Recruit: Asia Season 1 Winner, Ethan Loke, shares his insights and tips.
Loke, who was the only Singaporean on the show, joined the competition because of his fascination for dogs. His determination and skills impressed world-renowned dog behaviorist Cesar Milan as well as dog fans across the globe. Loke took home the prize and title of being the first ever winner of Cesar’s Recruit: Asia. After more training and studying, he shares his tips for first-time dog owners.
1. It’s a “we” relationship, not an “I” relationship.
Loke shares that he feels like a lot of people take in new dogs so that they have a companion or something to cuddle with. However, owners should not just think of what they want, but also include the needs and wants of the dog. It should not just be an “I”-centric relationship, but rather a “we” centric relationship.
“If you think of fulfilling your needs for partnership, fulfilling your needs for companionship… that’s part of the perks of having a dog, but it shouldn’t be your only reason to get a dog,” Loke says.
2. You are a parent first, playmate second
In tangent with the last point, Loke shares that owners should learn how to be the ‘pack-leader’ or the ‘parent’ first and foremost before anything else. While plenty of new owners will want to mostly cuddle and play, the discipline and structure should not be overlooked.
“It’s almost like raising a child,” Loke shares. “You have to discipline the dog, you have to give the dog structure, you have to set the routine.”
3. Teaching patience is a virtue
According to Loke, one of the biggest mistakes the first-time dog owners commit is focusing on obedience training without focusing on teaching the dog patience and how to wait.
“When they wait, they become calm, and when they are calm, they become relaxed. So nurturing calmness, nurturing relaxation, nurturing that waiting state of mind is the top thing to do,” Loke comments. “To fail to do that is the biggest mistake because then you get a lot of over excitement kicking in, you have dogs that don’t know what to do when they’re lost because they’re not calm or relaxed enough to wait for their owners to guide them. They go into other states of mind like excitement, fear, insecurity.”
4. Introduce them into the home gradually and set them up for success with structure
An important thing to do when bringing a new dog home for the first time is to make sure that the introduction of the space is controlled. This is so that the dog understands the rules of each space one by one.
“Make sure the dog is more confined first and then understands the rules of that confined space before you start expanding throughout the whole house,” Loke shares. “Don’t give the dog full ownership of the whole house. Let him experience being in a small area, which is very easy to understand — he has a bed and a toilet. And when you expand the boundaries — you have a play area, a living room, and a toilet. And then it gets bigger and bigger. It always has to be gradual.”
This advice is especially true when it comes to house-training the dog. Structure is vital and structure can only be taught when it is done in steps, says Loke.
“Let’s say you have a toddler — if you put a toddler a room which is very big, then they get to choose: this is my play area, this is my toilet, this is my living room. They might not make the right choices. They are making the wrong choices because they have too much freedom. So that’s why I say structure,” Loke adds. “For a dog, if you give it such a big space, it will designate its own spot. […] If you implement more structure, you are setting you dog up for success.”
5. Adopt responsibly
It’s a current popular movement to adopt dogs instead of shopping. However, for families that are thinking of adopting, they have to prepare extra carefully.
“I advocate responsible adoption,” Loke comments. “Meaning that it has to be the right fit and the right energy. Street dogs tend to have a higher survival instinct, so [dog-owners] have to be prepared to handle a dog that is more determined, who is a little bit more tenacious, a little bit more defensive when it comes to being confronted. So you do need to have a little bit of experience in that aspect.”
6. For families that have children, parents must train their children to be mini-pack leaders
It’s common for families to take in a new pet because their children want a dog. However, similar to the first rule, the children must also learn to be a parent to the dog as opposed to a solely a playmate. The parents must also then provide this guidance and mentorship to their children to help be that leader for their dog. It will teach them a lot about leadership in the end.
“Parents should never get a dog only because their child wants it,” Loke says, because he believes that it is a team effort that must be led by the parents. “When [the family] does get the dog, […] [the parents] must be the pack leader. The dog is always the follower, just like how the kids follow the parents. They must always be prepared to supervise, they must always be prepared to set the rules and be sure that the kids are reinforcing the same rules for the dog. So in a way, they have to train mini-pack leaders.”
“Once you get a dog for the kid, your responsibility is not only to be a good mentor and guide to the dog, but also apply a mentor and guide to your kid. It’s good, because the kids grow up to be responsible, the kids grow up to take responsibility, and they learn leadership.”
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