I’m going to say a couple of things about having dogs. I might ruffle some feathers, but I am not apologizing for that — not this time.
I adore dogs. They deserve all our love, compassion, and more! And humans owe them big. Dogs, as we know them, did not exist in nature. We created them by domesticating their wild ancestors. We created this type of creature that depends on us. It would be absurd to turn our backs on them by neglecting their complex needs.
I have worked with wonderful clients that have all kinds of animals. My clients take good care of them, for the most part. But I want to talk about dogs in particular. Dogs are intelligent, sentient, social beings, and many times “just the basics” won’t do.
Why do you have dogs? If the answer is purely utilitarian, please look for a loving, deserving family for them. Dogs love and need love. They are much better than us at seeing through our intentions and feelings. Dogs know when they are not loved. That can break a dog’s heart and spirit. So, if you have dogs but do not love them — truly love them, do yourself and the dogs a favor and rehome them asap.
Now, continue reading if you have dogs because you truly love and respect them. I have some pointers on behalf of my canine friends that might not be the usual things we think about, but this is not a manual on “how to own a dog.”
First things first
Microchip your dog(s) and keep the national registry updated with moves or any pertinent changes. There is no point in using the technology if you will drop the ball.
Create a name tag with your phone number (not the vet’s) and address for the dog’s collar. In case the dog gets lost, it is easier to reunite him/her with the owners if he/she have a tag on the collar that has the home number because the vet’s office is not open 24/7. It is important to have that tag because not everyone will be willing or able to take the dog to a place where the microchip can be scanned. And, as I learned the hard way once (happy ending, though!), not all places have scanners that can read all kinds of microchips.
Be a responsible owner and spay or neuter the dog. Unless you are in the breeding industry (which by now should be banned altogether, given the overpopulation of wonderful dogs in shelters that can’t find a loving home to no fault of their own), your dogs should be sterilized to avoid problems and heartaches when you have to deal with a litter of puppies. Chances are puppies will end up in houses where they are less than cherished, especially if the owners of these puppies did not have to pay a hefty price for them.
If you decide to leave your dog(s) kenneled when you are not home, please ensure that the kennel has adequate ventilation and that the dog has access to clean fresh water. There are water bottles for kennels that work with gravity and water demand as the dog drinks. They eliminate the mess.
Keep in mind that the dog will do his/her best to avoid soiling the kennel, but do not push their limits or abuse their good nature and respect for you. You don’t want their bladder to explode or the dog to be in pain. Keep in mind that you have a dog at home that has been kenneled all day.
Either go home asap and allow them to go potty or make arrangements with a neighbor or paid service to walk the dog at some time during your absence.
Ensure the kennel has a soft surface for the dog to rest on. Get a kennel cushion or place a couple of plush towels inside the kennel.
Find a good location for the kennel. Avoid direct sunlight or dangerous spaces with access to electrical cables, for example. When the kennel is in a space with a fan and/or windows, leave the fan on and leave windows open for the dog to enjoy natural light. It is best not to cover the kennel with towels or blankets. The dog enjoys seeing the surroundings.
Maybe leave the tv on or the radio at low volume for entertainment?
Consider also leaving a chew toy inside the kennel.
When the dog is very young and/or getting used to living in your home, leave a piece of clothing or bedding with your scent.
By the way, a kennel that is the appropriate size allows the dog to stand upright and move around. Ensure the kennel is the correct size for your dog. Can you imagine spending your days in a cage where you can’t even stretch your legs? That is a form of torture (and even then, the dog still loves you. Dang!)
Walking the dog
Smile, for God’s sake! I can’t tell you the many times I have crossed paths with people walking their dogs that look so miserable and act so anti-socially that they don’t even answer a “hello.” Keep in mind that it is your privilege to be in the company of such a magnificent creature and that he/she loves you! If this thought does not make you smile, read again the fourth paragraph above.
Allow your dog to sniff around. What is the purpose of walking your dog if you will be pulling him/her by the leash, even hurting them, when all they want is to “read the news”? Smells are to a dog like Facebook or Instagram is to you. That is how they know who is around and what is happening. This might be the only socialization the dog will get in his entire day!
Consider using a harness instead of latching the leash to the dog’s collar. When the dog pulls away or if you pull the dog, the collar hurts tender tendons in the neck. This kind of injury can be serious. And speaking of leashes, avoid those retractable ones. So many instances have been documented of those leashes causing severe injuries both to dogs and humans alike!
Food and water
Please thoroughly wash the dog’s bowls (both water and food) daily. It is disgusting that some people serve their dog’s food and water in filthy bowls! Especially the water bowl- it is not just a matter of replenishing the water. Every time a dog drinks water from a bowl, the saliva goes into it, and mixed with the water, it creates a slimy film in the bowl. But this is not their fault, and they deserve clean water. So let’s keep those bowls squeaky clean, yes?
If your dog is a medium or large breed, consider a raised feeder for their bowls. It is hard for taller dogs to eat or drink from a bowl on the floor. These raised feeders also help their digestion, given the better way they eat their food.
Do not give your dog human food. Yes, to human-grade food for dogs, but the food should be prepared for their special needs and calibrated in composition and caloric value. Absolutely no giving dogs your chicken bones and things like that. Although some dogs might behave as if they were garbage disposals, please keep in mind that they are not. Do not give them the stuff everyone leaves on their plates and much less the food that has spoiled in your fridge. You will pay awful consequences.
Hopefully, your dog has a comfortable bed of his own or at least a comfy, cozy corner to sleep and feel safe. Wash the bed at least every month. If the bed has a removable cover, even easier! If the corner where the dog sleeps is made of blankets or even towels, wash all that stuff regularly. Dogs need a clean place too!
Invest in training
Better to have a trained dog than to spend the few years he lives with us yelling at the poor creature when he/she does the wrong thing, according to our rules. Dogs are intelligent creatures. It is we, humans that are inconsistent and impatient with them. How are they supposed to learn when they are not properly shown what is expected of them?
Some breeds are supposed to skip bathing (or so I’ve heard). Even if your dog does not share your bed, please bathe them from time to time, groom them, clip their nails, express their anal glands (yep, that too!). Don’t want to do this yourself? Hire a grooming service. Don’t have the resources for that and don’t want to do it yourself? Don’t have a dog!
I have heard many times “we don’t want the dog inside because he smells”. And who’s fault is that? I bet you would smell ten times worse than any dog if you stop showering for several weeks.
The least you can do for your dog is to ensure that he/she has an annual checkup with the vet to receive their shots and, at minimum, one thorough dental cleaning per year. Bacteria from the gums can easily affect the heart of a dog.
Of course, every time the dog looks or acts strangely, you should take them to the vet to ensure his/her wellbeing.
Do not forget the heartworm medication every single month. It is very sad to see a dog suffering from heartworms when this is easily avoidable.
Kids and dogs
Kids and dogs are a great combination only when the children have learned to respect the dog.
Some people think it is quite funny or speaks highly of the dog when their children do all kinds of things to their dog, and the dog does not bite or snarl. Stupid, stupid!!!! They are pushing their dogs’ limits, potentially creating a dangerous situation for both child and dog. The dog is being harmed, abused, or at least disrespected. Adults model a terrible example for their children.
Children need to learn, early in life, that dogs need to be respected and cherished, and that is why the dog shares the home with the family. What part of this is funny or should make the dog owner proud? I do not have a frigging idea!
Before bringing your new baby home, allow the dog to familiarize him/herself with the baby’s scent.
Bring a blanket that has been used by the baby at the hospital and place it in the dog’s kennel or bed. The reception of your baby by your furry friend will be much different.
Please do not neglect your dog or feel you have to keep the dog out now that you have a baby.
That is a sure way to break a dog’s heart and create an ill will on the dog towards your baby.
The dog is (or should be) part of the family. They naturally bond with babies and love caring for them! If you feel you do not have enough love to share now that you have a child, find a loving family that does not feel that way. The dog deserves it!
Consider engaging a trainer before the baby is born (for the dog, that is!). A trainer can help you and the dog work on walks with a stroller and many other foreseeable situations with the baby you might want to be ready for. This will considerably decrease any stress that might arise from bringing home the newest member of the family. Especially, work on barking at the door and greeting visitors. These are two areas where big challenges arise upon bringing a new baby to a home with dogs.
Treat those fleas!
Can you imagine what the dog goes through living with an infestation of fleas 24/7? Well, don’t treat the fleas, and you won’t have to imagine it for long. Enough said!
Things we do that dogs hate
Think it is so cute and funny to dress up your dog for Halloween or whatever other occasion? They do not share your views on this. Do not do this ridiculous thing! They don’t like the feel, and they know how stupid they look.
Do not love your dog by placing your face in front of theirs. They hate it! They might tolerate it because it is you, and they love you and do not want to disappoint you. But they do not like this a bit.
Some dogs are suited for cold climates, but others are not. If it is cold to you and your dog is not a furry snow beast (like mine), consider getting them a size-appropriate jacket for those moments when there is no other option than going outside. Do not presume that being dogs and having fur is automatic protection. This is one of those moments when your dog won’t be bothered being dressed.
If your dog lives/sleeps outside, unless this is clearly their preference (some breeds are like that), allow your dogs inside! They are part of the family. If you do not think a dog’s place is inside the home, again, DO NOT HAVE A DOG! It is a crime in most states to leave a dog outside when it is too hot or too cold. There is a reason for that — it is an aberrant act of cruelty!
The dog’s fur is designed to not only protect him/her against the cold but also to insulate them in the heat. Some people think they are doing their dog a favor by shaving off the hair when it is too hot out there, but this makes the dog lose the protection they naturally have against the heat. Unless the dog is very matted and there is no better solution than to shave off the hair, do not do such a thing!
Two final thoughts
Do not ignore your dog(s). They look for eye contact as a reassurance of your love. Please look at them, smile at them, talk to them. Often. It has been shown through scientific tests (tomography of the dog’s brain) that when a dog sees his/her human, their brain lights up in the same manner the human brain behaves in the presence of their loved one.
Whoever abandons an old dog because he/she has become an inconvenience or no longer as much fun as they used to be, deserves the same treatment by their own children. In neglecting or rejecting an older dog, that is the lesson they are teaching their own children. So, wait for it — Karma is a bitch and is coming for you one of these days.
For the love of dogs!