Ron Hines DVM PhD
Starting Out Right – Things To Do and Consider Before You Buy Your Puppy
Adopting or buying a puppy is a big responsibility. You are adding another member to your family for the next 10 to 18 years. Are you ready for this commitment? If you are reading these articles, your answer is probably yes.
Although individual temperament within a dog breed can vary greatly, breeds of dogs have distinctive personalities associated with them. These personalities generally relate back to why the breed was developed.
For example, terriers were bred for intelligence, and agility in catching rodents and small game. Some are still quick and snappy in family situations – especially with children. Labrador Retrievers are big and generally gentle and good-natured. Visit kennels and breed club and get a feel for the temperament of the breeds you are interested in.
Some breeds that are known for being particularly good around children. Breeds like Labradors, Golden Retrievers, Beagles, Basset Hounds, Collies, Boxers, Pugs, Boston Terriers, Standard Poodles, Chesapeake Bay Retrievers and Newfoundlands.
Mixed breed dogs can be just as affectionate – they often have the temperament of their predominating breed. Mixed breed dogs also often have less health issues. If you adopt a mixed breed dog that is already an adult, you also know what you are getting. One must be cautious about purebred dogs obtained from shelters. Unfortunately, many were surrendered because of behavior or health problems.
The sex of the dog you adopt or purchase is also important. As a group, male dogs tend to be more aggressive, territorial, independent and head strong. Females are often more tolerant, less likely to urinate to mark their territory and (sometimes) more gentle, nurturing and loving.
Rule Number One
Never ever purchase a dog or puppy from a pet store, third-party vendor, roadside hawker, jobber, or anyone else that did not personally breed the puppy. Never purchase from a breeder that will not let you see their entire premises. Never purchase from a breeder who will not give you references of prior satisfied customers. Never purchase from a breeder who will not inform you whom their veterinarian is and let you speak to their vet. Any breeder worth his salts would not send his/her puppies to a pet store. It is the unscrupulous breeder’s product, the puppy that a breeder does not want to guarantee and the unfortunate output of puppy mills that find their ways to pet shops.
The most reliable way to find a good puppy is through the advice of trusted friends who owns dogs that you admire. The classified ads and the internet are much riskier. When you visit a breeder, observe both the parent dogs as much or more than the puppies. All puppies are cute and appealing, but you will end up with a dog quite like its parents. If excuses are made why you can’t, that breeder is not for you. Spend your time observing and interacting with the puppy’s parents and the puppy, not listening to sales pitches.
Take whatever conversation that passes between you with a grain of salt – as you would with any salesman. Pedigree and awards (other than field trial awards) mean very little when purchasing a pet. Actually, I find that the fewer awards the parents won, the better the puppy is likely to be as a pet. Would you want a pet that would stand rigid on a table in front of a strange crowd? Would you want a pet that was disinterested in its surroundings? Of course, if you take pleasure in showing your dog(s) at judged events, that is another situation. If you follow my advice, the only “judge” who is likely to be satisfied is you.
Rule Number Two
Rule number two is never rush into a purchase. Take your time – impulse shopping is never a good idea. The seller of a puppy should also allow you to have it examined by your own veterinarian before purchase. When you pick out a puppy, don’t choose the largest or the smallest, the fearful or the shyest. One that is in between in all respects is often the best choice.
What is The Best Age to Buy My Puppy?
The best age to buy a puppy is when they are 8-12 weeks old. Puppies should not be separated from their mother until they are 8 weeks of age. Beware of mature or half-grown puppies offered by breeders. Mature or half-grown mixed breed puppies from Animal Shelters are generally fine.
What Should I Look For When Choosing a Puppy?
Choosing the right puppy is so important – read as much as you can on the subject at a number of different websites – not just this one. But disregard A.K.C., PetsMart, Petco and other similar profit-driven advice. Their interests are not your interest. Institutions with a political or ethical agenda generally put a spin on their advice that favors their cause. That advice can be oblivious to you and your pet’s long-term interests. Read some of my links at the top of this page and the links on those pages as well.
Do I Need to Puppy-Proof My House?
You most certainly do!
Puppies are very destructive, fun-loving critters. Just accept that if an object is within a puppy’s reach, it is going to get chewed up. Puppies have a deep-set urge to chew on any and everything. So make the decision early on that the puppy will not have free-range of your house. Plan on it living temporarily in a playpen, on a porch, enclosed patio or other room with a mopable floor that can be puppy-proofed. Puppies love to chew electrical wires, eat inedible foams, cardboard and plastic, leather and cloth items. Amazingly, most of these items pass through the puppy without more than some colic and diarrhea. But some result in medical emergencies.
Keep plenty of rawhide and similar chew sticks available for your puppy. Try to purchase American or European-made products from a reputable company. When you catch your puppy chewing on something he shouldn’t reprimand him with an oral NO! When it is a safe alternative you have given him praise him effusively. Children’s toys make exceptionally poor and dangerous puppy toys.
There will be a lot of backsliding because a puppy’s urge to chew is so great. Don’t criticize a puppy too much. Try to clear non-chewable items from his environment instead or restrict the pups roaming area. When items cannot be removed (such as doors, etc.) some suggest a bitters spray. It has been my experience that those sprays rarely work. Besides, their horrible taste tends to eventually get on everything in the house. Your puppy ain’t misbehavin’ – it’s just part of training your new puppy
How Should I handle Puppies and Small Children?
My children were about 7-8 years old before they were mature enough to interact with small puppies. If your children are younger, you might consider delaying purchase of a puppy for a few years. If you do purchase a puppy while you have younger children, you will need to keep both the kids and the puppies under close supervision when they are together. You also need to have that puppy checked carefully by your veterinarian for parasites of all kinds. I suggest a PCR stool test for worms – not just a standard fecal flotation. (see here)
Keep in mind that the intestinal parasites of puppies can pass to children causing major illnesses. I suggest that children under 7-8 years old be given stuffed animal toys rather than live animals to play with. Besides the risk to your young children – small kids are just too tough on a delicate puppy. If you must purchase a puppy when your kids are younger, stay with a larger working breed such as a Labrador or Golden Retrievers. Or adopt a mature dog from your local shelter that is known to have a good nature toward children.
Successful integration of children and puppies relies more on teaching your children than on teaching the puppy. Your kids need to be taught to cradle the pup when picking it up and holding it. They must not drop the puppy, shout, over play or fall on it. They should never be allowed with the puppy unsupervised by a competent adult.
What Should I Expect on My Puppy’s First Visit to the Vet?
Set an appointment with your veterinarian or one recommended by neighbors as soon as possible. Ideally, it will before you have actually purchased this puppy and can still return it to the breeder if the veterinarian detects incurable problems.
Bring a stool specimen with you. Do not feed the puppy within four hours of the car ride (firsts rides often cause nausea). Bring all the paperwork that accompanied the pup when you purchased it. Be aware that many States have “pet lemon” laws that protect you.
Puppies should get booster vaccinations every 2-3 weeks for canine distemper, canine adenovirus, parvovirus and coronavirus. They should also be wormed several times with pyrantel pamoate. If they have tapeworms too, they need a medicine specifically for that. (read here)
Many puppies come with a few roundworms and some with hookworms. This is not necessarily the breeder’s fault when it is roundworms that are found. (ref) Puppies should receive a rabies vaccination at 12-16 weeks of age. I prefer they don’t receive leptospirosis or Lyme disease vaccination. Rely on just isolating the pup from sources of those diseases until it is mature.
When the mother’s immunity (passive immunity) is still present in the puppy, these vaccines do not work. Veterinarians give multiple vaccinations because they do not know exactly when the puppy’s immune system is ready to protect it. The 8-9 week vaccinations often does not work because mother’s antibody still in the puppy’s system neutralizes the virus before the puppies own immune system has time to develop antibodies. But if waited until 16-18 weeks to give these shots, some puppies with low maternal antibody levels would have already caught the diseases.
Keep your puppy away from all other dogs until two weeks after its last vaccinations. Avoid taking the pup to commons areas like dog parks public grassy area, parking lots and pet stores until they are twenty weeks old and fully vaccinated.
What Can I Expect On My Pup’s Fist Veterinary Hospital Visit?
Most veterinarians or their assistants would inquire where the puppy was obtained and how long it has been with the family. Then some standard question such as if there has been any coughing, sneezing, vomiting, diarrhea or lameness seen.
Astute veterinarians try to gain some insight into your family structure and the temperaments of both the owner(s) and the puppy. They are not prying into your personal life or nosy – it just gives them some guideposts based on their past puppy examination experiences and what they have learned over the years about puppy health.
Most will check that your puppy’s belly button (umbilicus) has properly healed. Checking the open or soft spot at the top of the puppy’s head (the fontanelles) for proper size and an examination of the dog’s teeth, bite and palate will follow. Cleft palates are never normal. They come in all degrees of severity. Most can be corrected surgically. Some breeds are prone to severe overbite or under-bite. That can require orthodontic treatments later. The pup will be checked for fleas and ticks and evidence of tapeworms. It should be checked for unstable kneecaps (patella). It should be checked visually and with a UV lamp for evidence of ringworm. Its ears should be checked for ear mites, infection or other abnormalities. Female puppies should be checked for puppy vaginitis – a common, rarely serious, occurrence. Any evidence of skin infections warrants treatment. A puppy’s heart beat and pulse need to be examined. Other than curable anemia due to heavy hookworm or flea infestation, abnormal heart sounds can be a cause of great concern. Your vet will palpate the puppy’s abdomen, gauging the size and shape of its kidneys, its bladder and the consistency of its intestines. The pup’s eyes will be examined with an ophthalmoscope for defects and its eyelids for proper conformation or misplaced lashes. When your vet has told you the findings, ask any questions you may have.
How Do I Get My Puppy Used to Its New Home?
An 8-12 week-old puppy gets over the loss of its littermates and mother quite quickly. All the family members should take turns playing with and holding the puppy. Alternate play times with quiet time in the pen or room you have prepared for it.
Do not worry if the puppy seems anxious for a few days. Observe that it is eating and drinking normally. It will probably whimper and wine the first few nights. Please try to ignore this and not take the puppy to bed with you.
Keep the puppy isolated from small children or other pets in the household for the first week or two. Be patient. Remember a puppy’s attention span is quite short. Also realize that puppies do not gain control of their bowels and urination until they are 16-20 weeks of age. So don’t criticize it for accidents.
I generally suggest the puppy continue on the same diet the breeder was feeding unless it was a low-quality diet. Price generally determines diet quality. If I do change diets, I do so gradually.
Puppies need lots of sleep. They do well when air temperature is between 65-78 degrees F.
Each puppy is an individual; if sights and sounds frighten it, modify the environment accordingly. Go by a pet supermarket and purchase a loose-fitting light-colored nylon collar. Purchase it a few sizes too large and punch more holes with a heated nail or soldering iron. Use an indelible marker to write your telephone number on the collar – do it right now, before you forget! You can take your puppy for short car rides and let it observe the scenery. You can splurge on some puppy-safe toys.
Are There Some Minor Problems That Are Going to Happen No Mater What?
Don’t expect your puppy to come at first when you call its name. That may take a few weeks. Don’t worry about its short attention span – it’s normal. If the puppy falls asleep in the middle of an activity, that is also normal. Try not to become upset at broken heirlooms or unwanted presents on the carpet. The fault was yours in not removing breakable items or getting the pup out the door fast enough.
Remember that bowel and bladder control is not fully developed in young puppies. Pet and touch your pup a lot during this period and do not scold it for errors. Instead, praise it when it does well, stroke it and give it its favorite doggy treat.
Puppies tend to dream and twitch in their sleep. That is normal. They also get hiccups quite frequently.
Puppies will also have bouts of diarrhea and gagging after eating cardboard, aluminum foil, etc. Usually, no more than a little cat laxative from a tube is required – but the eating of sharp, long stringy or indigestible items can become a medical emergency. If diarrhea is bloody or accompanied by abdominal pain, fever, weakness (lethargy) or depression, take your pup to your vet immediately.
Why is My Puppy Biting Me?
There are two types of biting, normal playful biting and early aggressive biting. The former is normal; the latter needs to be immediately attended to.
Playful biting and nipping is one of the most common activities of a litter of puppies. It is normal behavior. Once you and your family substitute for their littermates, the pup naturally continues to chew on you. No mater what the activity, you eventually find your hand inside its mouth. Puppies have very sharp teeth and soon your hands and arms show it.
I have found that hugging the puppy to your chest while at the same time surrounding its mouth with your second hand and saying NO! in a stern voice eventually breaks this habit. Be sure the puppy can breathe freely when you restrain its muzzle. This technique will not work if other members of your family are encouraging rough play and biting. This is often the case with children and teenagers.
Providing plenty of chew toys for your puppy also helps. Encourage your pet to play with them whenever he greets you. Praise him when he chews the right things and replace household articles in his mouth with dogie chew toys. You can also spray bitter apple on your hands to discourage mouthing. The disadvantage of this is that some of it often ends up in your mouth and eyes.
The second type of biting is much more serious. It is aggressive biting or, in some cases, fear biting. It is the most common reason dog placements do not work out. Aggressive biting is accompanied by vocalizations (growls) and an intent stare. It is not a continuous action but a snap, release and retreat. The same restraint of the mussel will work with these animals – when accompanied it with a sharp, loud NO! They also need some dominance training as soon as possible. Families in which the pet considers itself the “top dog” are never happy families.
Aggressive dogs do not like restraint – they like to be in charge. If you succeed in restraining them it often changes their entire personality for the better. I like to roll them in a beach towel and watch television or do some other activity with them in my lap for 30 minutes to an hour until they realize that you, rather than they, are the boss.
Also, helpful are mild-mannered games such as fetch, hide-and-seek, sniff-out-the-treat, leash training and romping play. It is very important that you cure your pet of biting aggressively before 16-20 weeks of age. The longer the pet maintains this bad behavior, the harder it will be to break him of it. In a normal pack situation, his brothers and mother would not stand for such activity. Now it’s your responsibility to socialize him by teaching him how to control himself in a group setting.
It is important that calm, mature children interact (socialize) with your puppy so that it does not grow up to bite children. The two reasons mature dogs bite is because of unrestrained dominance or fear.
It is terribly important that you never allow your pup to bite aggressively without reprimanding it in no uncertain terms. Curing this problem the first time it occurs is much easier than waiting until it has happened three or four times. If you are unsuccessful, consult a professional dog trainer.
To get your puppy to obey you on this you need his trust and respect. You win his trust and respect by teaching him general commands when he is a small puppy. Never become angry with your puppy. He is just doing what dogs do. Reprimands should always be oral, not physical. Approval can be a stroke, a loving pat and a treat.
Getting physical with your dog only encourages fear biting. The most physical I ever get is to keep the dog still against its will – a sort of doggy time out.
Another common fault of owners is inconsistency. The reward or punishment for an action should always be exactly the same. Puppies and mature dogs reprimand a biting puppy by biting it back harder. This is why puppies raised in groups rarely bite their owners or guests. Cure puppies of jumping in the same manner.
How Do I Encourage Good Behavior?
Puppies are never too young to encourage good behavior.
Dogs are very astute in judging their human owner’s moods and desires and what they can get away with. They are more intelligent in this respect than any other creature on earth.
The NO! command should not be over-used, but it should be used to discourage willful negative behavior of all kinds. Good behavior in one respect – say leash training – makes good behavior in other respects much easier for you to teach to your puppy. That is, good behavior is cumulative and grows on itself. The more you teach your puppy, the easier teaching him something else becomes. Fetch, roll over, sit, shake hands, etc. all encourage good behavior in general.
After a while, you and the puppy will be in tune understanding each other’s desires. You will be closer and better friends as well.
Many kennels hold puppy obedience classes. Schedule one soon after your pet has received its last puppy shots. Follow this up with ten-minute training periods at home. Remember to use praise and stroking much more frequently than NO!s. A good rule is never to use the NO if you cannot follow it up almost immediately with praise. Leash training is very important for puppies and dogs in general. It is much more than keeping them close at hand. The mark of a well-trained, happy dog is a slack leash with the puppy neither lagging behind nor forging forward. This defines the relationship between you and your pet -you in control, the pet secure in answering to your command.
What Can I Do About Whimpering at Night?
First, be sure the puppy is comfortable, not hungry or thirsty and not having to go potty. Assuming it doesn’t, the hardhearted way of dealing with this is to ignore it if you can. Eventually, the puppy will stop whining and go to sleep. A ticking alarm clock or radio may reassure him.
Sometimes a soiled garment with your body scent placed in his crate will offer that needed reassurance. After a night or two, the pup will stop whimpering and go to sleep relaxed. This approach may also lessen the likelihood of separation anxiety later in life. The reason he is crying is that he is a pack animal that beds down in groups.
If you intend to make him (or her) a lapdog, you can place its crate in your bedroom when you go to sleep. Be sure to take the pup outside to relieve itself before placing it in the crate. If you come to reassure the pup when he whines, it will reinforce its urge to whimper and make matters worse.
You can look at the brighter side too – a puppy that begs for your attention by whimpering will be a close member of your family when it grows up.
Playing with the puppy vigorously until he is sleepy just before bedtime also lessens the problem. Use the NO! command once or twice if it continues to whine when you leave.
What Should I Feed My Puppy?
There are so many good brands of puppy and dog food on the market today that it is difficult to recommend a specific brand. But, to a large extent, price dictates quality. I prefer dogs and puppy foods manufactured by larger companies because they tend to have better control over the quality of their ingredients. The products of smaller manufacturers tend to vary more from batch to batch. That is because smaller companies do not have the financial resources for frequent quality and nutritional control nor do they employ full time veterinary nutritionists.
What Happens When My Puppy is Teething?
When your puppy is 4-5 months of age it will begin to get its permanent teeth.
The first to fall out and be replaced are the pup’s incisors or front middle teeth. This begins a painful time for the puppy. At about five months of age his canine teeth (fangs) begin to loosen and the gums surrounding them become inflamed and may bleed. During this time, its molars and premolars also loosen and are shed.
These puppies will drool, and their appetite may slacken off. Some even run a fever. Their urge to gnaw on things may increase.
Feeding your puppy moistened food at this time greatly eases its teething pain. It may lap up chicken broth-moistened dog chow when it would refuse solid foods. Luckily, this period is short.
By the time the pup’s permanent canine teeth are a quarter of the way in, its gum inflammation should cease.
In toy breeds, puppy canine teeth sometimes do not fall out, and the permanent canine teeth sprout out just ahead of them. These retained deciduous teeth (puppy teeth) should be removed when a female is spayed or a male neutered. If the puppy is mellow, this can also be done with only local topical anesthesia.
How Should I Housetrain My Puppy?
When you housetrain your pet, you are taking advantage of a dog’s natural tendency not to soil his den.
Remember that a puppy has very little bowel control until it is 16-20 weeks of age. Never scold your puppy when it has an “accident”. Just praise the pup when it does right.
The secret of success is to start with a “den” area much smaller than your house. A dog transport kennel (crate) works well for this. The crate should be no longer than two times the length of the dog and half as wide as it is long. It should not be stiflingly small.
All systems of house training are based on the fact that puppies have to relieve themselves immediately after waking up and immediately after eating. As soon as either of these events occur, carry your puppy out of the house to a spot you have chosen to be his bathroom. You will know that it has to go when the pup begins sniffing an area and circling.
You can seed this outside area with some of its stool accidents that occurred inside your house. When the puppy has an accident in the house, clean it up immediately with a strong-scented cleaner, take the puppy to its”bathroom” and praise the pup as it sniffs around.
When the puppy relieves itself at its”bathroom” shower praise on it and stroke and pet the pup effusively. Keep this up without deviation. That is, the dog is always supervised and corrected when he poops indoors and praised when he poops outdoors.
Until the puppy is four months old or so, you will have to get up during the night when the puppy wines and take it outside. Younger puppies cannot hold their bowels an entire night. The secrets of success are patience, constant supervision and consistency. Do not deviate from your behavior and the puppy will eventually fall into line.
Some common mistakes are:
Using a crate that is too large. That allows the pup to use one corner as a bathroom.
Obtaining an untrained puppy at an older age – it has already lost its inhibition about soiling its “den”.
Using doggy blankets or other porous material in the puppy’s crate that holds the odor of feces.
Not taking the puppy to the “bathroom” area frequently enough. Young puppies need to be provided the opportunity to eliminate every hour.
Not feeding your puppy at fixed, regular intervals.
Not supervising your puppy close enough. Remember, some puppies are just harder to train than others.
When and How Should I Begin Basic Training With My Puppy?
All puppies need basic obedience training. It should start at home.
You may be willing to put up with a wild, rambunctious pet, but your friends and neighbors won’t. An untrained pet is also a threat to itself, running out into traffic, getting into dogfights, getting lost, or jumping up and injuring the elderly and the young. Unruly pets are also very difficult for me to examine when they are ill – so there can be health consequences as well.
If you are unsure what to do, puppy kindergarten class can be a lot of help. Pups need their basic vaccinations before attending these classes so, in any case, you will have to train them at home until they are 20 weeks of age.
Training sessions should be short (about 10 minutes) and frequent during the day. It can be a lot of fun. Start with the basic No’s when the pup nips playfully and Great Dog! when the pup does the right things.
Start by tossing a puppy-safe toy and encouraging the pup to bring it back to show to you. You can smear the scent of a little gravy on the toy to get his attention.
You can begin the process of “sit” and “stay” but do not expect too much at this age. If the pup even sits or stays for a heartbeat, praise it effusively and give it a treat (positive reinforcement).
Get the puppy used to a leash and collar as soon as you can. Be sure to check frequently that the collar is not too tight. The “sit” exercise helps curb dominance and aggression. While you say sit; hold one hand open at the pup’s neck and with the other, force its rump downwards. A similar technique can be used to teach “down”. Count to five, let the pup up, then praise it effusively and give it a treat.
Holding an unruly puppy in an enforced calm or in a beach towel for five to ten minutes also helps lessen dominance and aggression. Begin touching and massaging every part of the pup’s body including its face, mouth, ears, tail and paws. Every person in the family should do this.
Teaching the puppy to roll on its back and maintain this position for a few seconds also discourages biting, dominance and aggression. It is also never too early to train a puppy to accept brushing, clipping toenails, baths, touching its paws and opening his mouth to examine it.
Puppies should never be allowed to growl at family members without a sharp admonishment from you. They should never growl when a family member approaches their food bowel.
I do not encourage body harnesses. I see too many undisciplined dogs and harnesses give them an advantage in tugging. Purchase a woven nylon collar several sizes too large and melt additional holes through it.
I also dislike long reel-type leashes. The purpose of a leash is to keep your dog next to you – not to give it latitude to wander. The pup should wear the collar at all times and your phone number must be written indelibly on it. It upsets me so much when a client’s beloved puppy has wandered off and there is no way for the finder to return it.
Place the leash on the pup and start to walk in a straight line. Unruly puppies will leap ahead. When they do, reverse your direction. They will soon learn that they need to pay close attention to you so as not to be yanked frequently. Yanked does not mean jerked them through the air – just jolt the pup enough to gain its attention.
Ideally, the leash should always be slack. But do not expect miracles from puppies. Do not walk puppies under 20 weeks of age in parks where he could pick up parasites or disease or be attacked by other dogs. Reward successful behavior with caresses and treats; ignore unsuccessful behavior. The smaller a puppy is when you leash train it, the easier it will be on you. Puppies of large breeds can pull very hard. Letting a puppy have its own way is not a good way to win its love. It never works, and later in life you both will pay for that attitude. Dogs give their love unconditionally to those they trust.
How Should I Socialize My Puppy?
A properly socialized dog is a well-adjusted dog. It is neither fearful nor aggressive when it meets new situations.
It is very important that puppies be exposed to a wide variety of social situations in a non-threatening atmosphere. This includes, taking them to the veterinarian, going to the park, the woods, the mall, pet supermarket, children’s school playgrounds – but not doggy parks.
Take your dog to the vet the first time on a social visit – not for shots. You do not want your dog to fear animal hospitals. Bring some treats so that the Doctor’s staff can pet the pup and reward it. If your veterinarian is too rushed for that, look for another veterinary hospital
Take your puppy for rides in the car – begin on an empty stomach. Accustom your pet to loud noises. The younger pups are when they are exposed to new situations, the more confidently they will handle them later in life and the more trust they will have in your decisions. Begin socializing your puppy as soon as you purchase him but keep him away from areas frequented by other dogs until he is twenty weeks of age and fully vaccinated. Make your learning sessions brief. Remember puppies have a very short attention span.
When Should My Puppy Begin Obedience Classes?
Your puppy should receive his last set of vaccinations between 16 and 18 weeks of age. Allow these shots two additional weeks to fully protect the puppy. Then enroll him/her in obedience classes. Ask your local groomer or veterinarian which instructors he or she recommends. The objective of legitimate obedience classes should be to train your puppy and not to market or sell products.
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