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For Pet's Sake, Keeping Your Dog Happy, Safe and Healthy

Being a "parent" to a companion animal, such as a dog or a cat, can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. There are many things to consider when choosing the right dog for you. Also, there is a lot of responsibility and caring to ensure a loving and productive relationship with your dog.

First, when you decide to adopt a canine, think carefully about what type of dog is best for you. Also decide whether you want a puppy or an adult. Next, you need to consider whether to get the dog from a breeder, an animal shelter, or from another source.

For example, if you have small children, don't get a huge dog that may develop an aggressive personality. Or, if you don't have a ton of time to spend with this new family member, don't get a high maintenance dog. Let me share my personal experience with you. For over a year, my husband and I thought about what kind of dog we might like to have, as we have a small child and we are now expecting another. We knew that we wanted a small dog, but not one of the hyperactive types. For a long time, we just couldn't decide. We really wanted a purebred, but knew that would be expensive. One day on a whim, we decided to go to our local animal shelter "just to look around." And as luck would have it, they had the perfect dog for us, an adult beagle! I knew he was the right one when I saw him. He was just so calm and looked at us with those big, sweet eyes. He didn't bark the whole time we were there, which I thought was strange for a beagle. He was just so sweet and even-tempered that my husband and daughter fell in love, so he came home with us. He has turned out to be a nearly perfect dog. Sure, he tries to dig under the fence a little to get to the female beagle next door, and of course he barks if he sees something suspicious, but considering he's already housetrained and he is amazingly patient with kids, I can ignore a little barking.

Many different types of dogs come into animal shelters, and not every dog is going to be right for every household. And just because a dog is cute, doesn't mean he is right for you. Please take serious thought and consideration in choosing your new pet to ensure the right match.

It is very important to get your dog adjusted to its new environment as smoothly as possible. Dogs and cats are creatures of habit and thrive on a routine. You will need to give your pet his own space where he is comfortable eating, sleeping and spending time alone. Your puppy or dog will need an indoor living space that is quiet, warm, and all his own; where he can go to be all by himself. This space will be his "den." Using a crate for this purpose is very popular. There are many resources on the internet and in books that can help you with crate training for dogs. Make sure that this space is very comfortable so that your pet will want to use it. Also, just like human babies, puppies sleep a lot, as much as 20 yours a day! This necessitates a comfortable sleeping area.

You don't want to overwhelm your pet with his new surrounding, so introduce the household gradually. Begin with the areas in which your dog will spend the most time. Usually the outdoor area where you want your dog to eliminate is a good place to start. After he has used it, praise him and then go indoors and introduce the rest of the family. Next, with your dog on a leash, show him the eating and sleeping areas that you have already set aside for him. The first few hours and days need to be quiet without too much handling and interaction. Let your dog adjust at his own pace. Different animals will take different amounts of time to get used to their new home. Some adjust in a matter of hours or days while others need weeks or perhaps a month or more. Just be patient during this stage.

Next, let's think about house training. This is very important and should also be on a schedule. Without a schedule, you may find yourself cleaning up accidents more often than you would like! Once again, you shouldn't have any trouble finding resources to help you house train your dog.

Once you bring your new family member home, he needs to pay a visit to the veterinarian. He or she will want to make sure that your dog is up-to-date with vaccinations, doesn't have heart worms, and gets on heart worm medication. Your dog will need this medication for the rest of his life. While at this visit, you can express any other concerns or questions that you might have.

If your pet is not already spayed or neutered, this needs to be done. Pet overpopulation is a huge problem. Besides reducing pet overpopulation, the spay/neuter procedure has several other benefits:

  • makes pets better behaved and more affectionate
  • neutered males aren't as prone to roaming, which reduces their chances of getting lost, stolen, or killed
  • Spaying a female before her first cycle reduces the chances of mammary tumors. It also eliminates cycles all together and the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer. Spaying and neutering can now be done at a very early age, sometimes as early as two to four months of age.

    You'll want your pet to always be healthy, so pay close attention to your dog and know its typical behavior and appearance. If you notice anything out of the ordinary, call your veterinarian.

    Next, to ensure your pet's safety you will want to equip them with an ID. Pets go missing every day, and sadly, it is usually a lack of identification that prevents the pet from being returned to its owner. The three most common choices for pet identification are dog tags, tattoos, and canine microchips. When choosing dog tags, in addition to the rabies tag, the dog should bear a tag with the owner's name, address and telephone number. Be sure to check with your local animal control to find out about local pet licensing laws. Your pet may need a city license in addition to any other forms of identification. Tattoos have been a form of identification used in the last few years. If your pet gets lost, this method of identification allows your pet to be traced to the animal hospital that performed the tattoo. The hospital will search their computers for the owners, and if the information they have is current, they should be able to return the pet. With micro chipping, a veterinarian injects a tiny computer chip, about the size of a grain of rice- just under your pet's skin, between the shoulder blades. Then the number on the computer chip is entered in an international database, like the Central Animal Registry. If your dog or cat is found, any animal hospital, shelter, or humane society can use a microchip reader to read the ID number on the chip. The veterinarian or worker then contacts the database and gives the number given off by the microchip. The database matches the number to your name and phone number. The chip can't be damaged or lost, and it lasts for the pet's lifetime.

    Putting your dog on a proper diet is very important. At your pet's first veterinary checkup, ask the vet to recommend a proper diet for your pet. You should also be aware of how to tell if your pet is getting overweight and what his proper weight should be. Also, ask about acceptable treats; table scraps are usually not a good idea. Just like humans, it is very unhealthy for an animal to be overweight. As your pet ages, his dietary needs will change; so at each yearly checkup discuss this with your vet.

    Interaction and play with your dog are essential to a healthy and happy dog. Regular exercise is a must, and depending on age and physical condition, 15-20 minutes of daily exercise is adequate. Dogs love going on walks, and they are good for you too; so this is a great option for exercise. Make sure to spend time with your pet every day to encourage a strong bond between you and your dog and to ensure that he learns "social skills." Training is also an important part of having a good relationship with your dog. Start at early stages with house training and basic discipline, and move onto obedience later. Always to be sure to include play time in the training regimen! Puppies can be hard to train at first; because they are so young, and they have too much energy to pay attention to much else, but it needs be done.

    Adopting a dog into your family is a big step. These animals take a lot of care, time, attention, and money. Caring for a pet takes commitment and a lifetime responsibility, but if done properly can be very rewarding. Remember, providing total health care, a loving home, discipline, attention and praise can help to ensure a lasting relationship with your companion.

    To contact Sarah Hoffman, Email Sarah at sarahlorrain@msn.com
    Copyright © 2003, Sarah Hoffman, all rights reserved
    Llano, TX
    October, 2003

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