Ten Best Practices For Having A Happy, Healthy Dog

You guys know I’m that #crazydogmom bumper sticker to a “T.” My parents and my fiancé think it’s ludicrous the amount of time and money I spend on my dogs. I’m big on research, trying new products, and overall providing the best possible quality of life for my fur babies. #noshame

I’m definitely not an expert, but I consider myself to be pretty in-the-know when it comes to dogs and what I’ve found to be most successful for mine. And for that reason, I’ve compiled a little list of ten things I believe will not only make you a great pet owner and doggy parent, but will fulfill your dog’s needs as well.

No matter what breed of dog you have, exercise daily is an absolute must. It doesn’t matter how big your house and/or yard is, in your dog’s mind, it’s just a giant cage. They need to get out of the house and get a walk, run or hike in every day. And I know for some people this isn’t plausible. Some of us work crazy hours, others of us live in places where the temps drop to unreasonable levels, but do what you can to make it work. Even if it’s just for ten to twenty minutes [45-60 is ideal, BUT, life happens], your dog will thank you. And it’s healthy for us humans to get out of the house as well. Having a dog is a great excuse to see outside of the four [ish] walls we live in.

Keep your dog’s food and water bowls CLEAN. I may be borderline OCD about this, but I scrub Bella and Otis’ water bowl with hot, soapy water 2-3 times a day. Yes, a day. They both drink a lot of water, so I’m already emptying it out and filling it up regardless, and still water that sits in a basin like that develops a gross pink bacteria which is definitely not healthy for your dogs to be consuming. I see people with those automatic water dispensers in their homes and it just makes me cringe. Your dog needs FRESH, CLEAN water every single day. And if your dog eats raw, you should be doing the same thing to the food bowl after every meal. With kibble, I’m not as diligent, but I do wash the bowl about once to twice a week.

Take out an insurance policy on your pet. You’ll be able to tell from a very young age if your dog will need one early on or not. I truthfully did not know that pets could even have insurance until recently, which is why I didn’t get Bella a policy until she was five-and-a-half. Although, truth be told, she really didn’t need one before the age of five. Otis, however, I knew right away that he would need a policy. He has no fear – from day one he was jumping off couches and chairs, trying to wrestle with the big dogs, and was getting into and eating every possible thing he could find. I’ve had puppies before, but none who had zero boundaries like this guy. The cost per month for insurance is way cheaper than any vet bills you’ll have to pay in the long run. [You can read more about it here on a previous post].

Be sure your dog is eating a high quality food. If you can’t afford to feed raw [most people can’t, it’s stupidly expensive in America], then research your little heart out until you find a kibble that’s somewhat comparable. And be economical about it – only purchase the smallest bags of food while you’re testing brands out on your dog. Petco and PetSmart have gotten much better about offering higher quality foods, but I personally still stay away from them when it comes to kibble. I really love the company FROMM – they make amazing quality kibble and they have a ton of different varietals to choose from for your pet [you can find places that sell it on their site]. Otis is on some weird brand that the breeder was feeding him, but once we run out I’ll be switching him to FROMM. I can’t afford to have two dogs on raw right now.

Get your dog microchipped! I cannot stress this one enough. It doesn’t cost much, and if your dog ever gets loose it is extremely easy to track down the owner. Fortunately my dogs have not put theirs to use, but I know people whose dogs have and it was a life saver for both the dog and owner.

Take ten to fifteen minutes out of your day, every day, to work with your dog. In only one morning session of about 15 minutes, I was able to get Otis from running circles around me, whining, and jumping up and down like a pogo stick during mealtime, to sitting pretty calmly next to Bella and waiting for his turn to eat [I say “pretty” because he’s an extremely food-motivated puppy who lives for mealtime]. Some dogs are smarter and more receptive to training than others, but diligence and repetition is all it takes. Plus, it’s amazing how setting rules and boundaries will trickle into other aspects of their lives. I’m not sure if it’s because of our hierarchy in the house or because he’s just a natural, but Otis does really well on a leash already.

Make your dog’s hygiene a priority! This means oral and physical. If your dog eats raw, then the raw, meaty bones are a great, natural teeth cleaner. No brushing necessary Bella has never had her teeth brushed and her teeth are extremely clean. Dental hygiene is also important because dogs, like humans, can get plaque in their bodies if their teeth get buildup. This is detrimental to their mouths [obviously], hearts, bloodstream, other organs and their reproductive areas. If your dog doesn’t eat raw, I highly recommend adding a RMB or two a day to mealtime, especially if your dog doesn’t like having its teeth brushed or you’re not diligent enough to do so. [Raw feeding tip: purchasing just the bones is much cheaper than converting your dog’s entire diet]. Because of Bella’s allergies to chicken and turkey, she gets duck necks or rabbit bones. You may be able to find these at a butcher, or you can order them online from a raw food supplier [read more about raw feeding here]. Cleaning your dog’s coat is important, too. Be sure to find a product that’s moisturizing and easy to rinse off [ie: doesn’t linger on their coat and cause product build-up and irritation]. My veterinarian recommended a brand to me called Pure Paws. In the dog show business, it’s what a lot of owners use on their canines. I have the shampoo, conditioner, and the moisturizing spray. She also recommended that my dogs be bathed once a week, but with Bella’s sensitive coat, too much washing dries her out, regardless of how moisturizing the shampoo. Unless she gets really dirty, she’s on a once-a-month bathing schedule, with wipe downs in between with doggy-safe wipes [I use Burt’s Bee’s].

Get your dog comfortable with your hands on it from as early on as possible. If you adopt a dog who’s older in age, this will be a little more difficult because often times you don’t know their backstory. They could have been abused, in which case hands-on will be a challenge [but doable!]. All it takes is some trust building. If you get a puppy, it’s important to handle its feet, ears, legs, body and tail from the moment it becomes yours. Also, cradling the pup on its back either in your arms or your lap helps to build a level of trust and submissiveness between you and your dog. It’s important for your dog to be comfortable being handled by humans – between the vet visits and people petting your dog willy-nilly, the last thing you want is a nervous or reactive dog that shies away or bites at the show of a hand.

From the moment you adopt a dog, whether puppy or mature, find a vet you absolutely love and stick to that one. There will be occasions where you have to see another vet whether it be on a Sunday for an emergency [my life lately with my two pups], or a specialization that your generic vet doesn’t practice, but overall you want a vet that knows your dog and its health history. And if you end up having to see other vets, be sure to have all records transferred to your primary so that they have all of your dog’s info on file. I am extremely fortunate to have an amazing vet here in Sacramento that I absolutely love; I will be so sad if/when she ever retires. To read more about her and the dogs’ acupuncturist [yes, they have one], click here.

My final tip to you is to be attentive, read and do research. Pay attention to your pup and find out what makes it tick. Dogs are pretty easy to read if we take the time to break it down. If there’s a lot of itching and dandruff happening, your dog is probably allergic to either its food or something in the environment. If it’s panting a lot and can’t settle down, it probably needs exercise or some sort of stimulation. Getting to know your dog and its breed [if it’s not a mutt in which case you wouldn’t really know] will help you out so much when you’re raising your dog. The internet can have some bogus information and a lot of websites can’t be trusted, but I’ve found that joining breed-specific or diet-specific groups on Facebook have been extremely informative and helpful in raising Bella and working with her in her transition to raw feeding.

The bottom line is, if you’re going to take on the responsibility of a dog, then you also need to own the fact that you’re taking on everything that comes with it. Exercise, rules, feeding, cleaning up after, training.. All of these things are important components in raising a healthy, happy dog. I understand we all have lives and stuff gets in the way that keeps us from being the best pet parents in the world every single day [I am guilty of not walking my pups every single day]. But it’s important that we at least try. Don’t be lazy! And dogs are amazing communicators – if they’re unhappy, they’ll definitely let you know by being annoying or destructive. If they’re happy and fulfilled, you’ll know!

If you guys have any other tips on things you’ve learned about your pets that have helped you be a better pet parent, I would love to hear them! I am totally open to expanding my knowledge of my dogs and how I can be a better owner for them.

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