Puppy Love

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.

Brain Games For Dogs That Need Mental Stimulation

I’ve always stressed that it’s important to know everything about a breed of dog before you decide to make one a part of your family.

I did not do this when Bella became a part of my life. My ex and I kind of just nose-dived into adopting her without any prior knowledge about Dobermans. Turns out, they are high-energy and extremely oral. Having had puppies before [and Lab puppies, at that], I knew better than to leave anything lying around within reach of a little puppy nose. My ex did not. Bella mowed through several pairs of shoes, a backpack, and miscellaneous other items that became fair game. She was extremely stubborn, and took just about a year to potty train, and refused to learn how to shake until we adopted our second Dobie pup, who caught on within the first couple of days.

After my ex and I split ways, I made a vow to both myself and Bella to give her the best possible life I possibly could. I switched her to a raw diet to help with her coat and allergies, and started exercising her regularly, whether it was hiking, running or walking. Even if I came home late at night, I would still take her for a walk just so she could get out of the house for a bit. I learned that dogs really thrive when they have a schedule, especially Bella. As long as she is fed and exercised she’s pretty much a happy camper. Key words: pretty much.

Before my fiancé and I adopted Otis, we both did a ton of research on Puggles. Not knowing anybody who had a Puggle, we wanted to make sure that the pup would be a good fit for Bella and our [eventually] growing family. Are Puggles good with other dogs? With children? Are they high energy or low energy? Are they high maintenance or low maintenance? Like any dog, it’s really a case-by-case basis. And with Puggles being a mix of two breeds, it’s a complete toss-up whether you get more Beagle or Pug. And since Otis came to us from Iowa via a breeder we found online, we didn’t have a chance to meet him or his parents before adopting. We had no idea what his temperament would be, but we really lucked out. He’s spunky and outgoing and literally has no fear. He inherited a lot of Beagle traits, like his adorable, oversized ears, his incredibly strong sniffer, and his high level of energy. Once he’s old enough, he will be a great running and hiking companion for Bella and me.

While both dogs are extremely happy and relaxed after a good walk [or run, in Bella’s case], they both need mental stimulation as well. Not all dogs require this form of exhaustion in addition to exercise, but my two definitely do. There are tons of toys on the market now for dogs that need a brain game, and you know I’ve tried nearly all of them. Amazon is a great place to look if your dog is one that needs a little something extra.

Here are a few toys that I’ve purchased for my fur babies that I really love [especially since Bella has an extremely strong jaw and can destroy just about any toy]:

The well-known Kong toy. It’s durable and versatile. Both my pups have these in respectable sizes, and I just stuff them with peanut butter and stick them in the freezer until I’m ready to unleash them [hint: freezing the peanut butter keeps the dog entertained longer and lengthens the amount of time it takes the dog to get all of the peanut butter out of the kong]. Pet stores also sell Kong filler specifically for these toys, but I have yet to try it. [buy it here]

The Game Changer. This one is also pretty durable and has kept both of my dogs interested for longer than all the others I’ve tried [aside from the Kong]. It pulls apart, and you just insert treats into the cavity. Smash it back together and the dog has to flip it around and move it to get the treats out. Bella ended up figuring out how to pop it open, but I think that’s an unusual occurrence [it’s not easy to pull apart]. Even without treats, there are still crumbs inside and they both continue to chew on it and play with it. [buy it here]

A ball that holds treats! This is awesome – you just pull the teeth away from each other and shove treats inside. It’s great entertainment and also boasts to be a good teeth cleaner. I only gave this one to Otis, since I have a feeling Bella would be able to rip it apart in no time. He absolutely loves it, although the ball is still a little bit too big for him. [buy it here]

Pretty much anything Nylabone. These have always been my go-to puppy chew toy, but now they make flavored bones that are like catnip for puppies. They are nontoxic and great for dogs who are chewers. Both of mine love the flavored bones I’ve gotten them. Both Amazon and pet stores have a ton of different flavor options. I’ve linked one of the flavors we got here, but you can get them at PetSmart and PetCo as well.

Maze Ball. This one is pretty cool. You drop treats into it and move it around so they dispense throughout the ball. Your dog has to bat it around to get the treats out. Bella, being the strong-jawed, intelligent woman that she is, ripped the rubber hole at the top so that she could get the treats easier. I held onto it, though, and Otis has been loving it. It keeps him entertained and also has treat remnants in it which holds his attention even after the treats have been dispensed. [get it here]

The Odin Puzzle Toy. This is similar to the maze ball, where you stick treats inside and the dog has to move the ball around to get the treats out. If you stuff big enough treats in, they are harder to get out and can hold the dog’s attention a little longer. Bella also managed to rip a larger hole in this one, but we still use it for Otis, who loves it. [purchase here]

There are thousands of other toys like this online and in stores, these are just the ones that I ordered that I thought would be durable enough for Bella [some were, some weren’t]. Both my pups are extremely food motivated, so these toys are all great attention holders and distractions because they are all food-based. If your dog isn’t food motivated, it could be the quality of the treats you buy. The pricier and better quality the treat, the more excited your dog is going to get about it. I heard this quote on a podcast I was listening to the other day: “You want treats that are greasy and leave a little something on your hands.”

If you are exercising your dog regularly and you can’t seem to exhaust the pup, it’s probably because he/she needs a little something more than exercise. Breeds like Dobermans, Beagles, German Shepherds and Pointers [to name a few], are “working” dogs, which means they need “jobs.” They need to exercise their brains as well as their bodies. The above toys are great starter kits, especially if you don’t have time to get your dog out of the house one day. I’ve heard of people hiding treats around their house for their dog to find. If you’re comfortable with that, your dog would probably love it. The only reason I hesitate to do that with both of mine is that they would likely be destructive and ruin whatever was hiding the treats.

Whatever your dog needs, there are tons of toys and ideas out there that are great for any breed! And if you want something more breed specific, join a Facebook group or a forum that focuses on your specific breed preference. These are great – I’m a part of a Dobie one and I’ve learned so much more about Bella’s breed.


My little PSA: Please do as much research as possible before adopting a pet into your family, especially a dog. If you plan on rescuing one from the pound, be sure to walk the dog when visiting to see what the energy level is like and how the dog responds to you, other dogs or animals, and children [if you have kids, you should bring them to meet the dog ahead of time]. If you plan on bringing a new puppy into your home, find one that will suit your lifestyle. Whether you believe it or not, your pets are your family and they have wants and needs that need to be fulfilled, just as humans do. Neglecting these will result in an unhappy, naughty, and even aggressive dog. So, do your research!

Holistic Healthcare For Fur Babies

If you don’t know by now, I am basically obsessed with my dogs. I spare no expense for their health, well-being and happiness. [I also spare no expense for their fashion – stylish collars are a must!]

A little over a year ago, I started going to acupuncture. My best friend, who has battled Endometriosis for all of her adult life, has found so much improvement in health and pain relief through holistic healing. She is diligent about exercise, receiving acupuncture and cupping, eating right, and using essential oils to improve her overall health and body. [I keep encouraging her to write about her health journey – it’s truly extraordinary. once that happens, I will link her blog here :)].

I had no expectations for how my body would react to acupuncture. I really didn’t know anyone else who had ever received it, so the only review I had was a good one. Honestly, acupuncture changed my life. It got my body back on track and reset my system. I went from having migraines, excessive stress and panic attacks, to having none of the above. I still stress sometimes, but my body doesn’t even come close to the levels that it used to.

After having such a positive experience of my own, I decided to do some research on holistic healing for Miss Bella. Even though we were running three to four miles, five to six days out of the week [and still getting her out for exercise on the seventh day], she never seemed to be tired or relaxed. She would never truly settle down, and any time I’d get up from the couch or move from one end of the room to the other, she’d be my shadow. She was on constant high alert, growling or barking at any sound she heard. It got to a point where my fiancé and I couldn’t settle down or relax either. I figured that since acupuncture worked for me, perhaps it would work for her, too.

I was so fortunate to find Marilyn Koski [she works out of Marqueen Animal Hospital in Granite Bay]. She is the exact type of human you want doctoring your pet. She is empathetic, honest, and extremely knowledgeable. Something I have learned is extremely important since Bella came into my life. It’s the reason I drive to Sacramento to keep seeing her primary vet, Susan Barrett at Watt Avenue Pet Hospital. Both women are consistently and constantly educating themselves on new practices in animal healthcare. They don’t just regurgitate information that they learned back in veterinary school. They also sit down with their clients and share their knowledge; they try to explain what they’re doing, why they’re doing it, and how it will benefit the animal.

Anyway, back to Marilyn. She is an absolute dream. When Bella and I met her, she sat on the floor and let Bella approach her and sniff her. She chatted with me while Bella mosied around the room and sniffed here and there. She asked about why we were there, why I was seeking acupuncture for Bella. She asked about diet, about the amount and type of exercise Bella gets. And then, once she’d gained Bella’s trust, she performed a series of physical tests on her. She tested the range of motion of Bella’s limbs, and poked and prodded in different places to test her reflexes. She moved a treat around to test other parts of the body for stiffness and ease of movement. She also massaged different muscles in Bella’s body to check for swelling, asymmetry, and other oddities. It wasn’t until all of that was completed that she gave me her overall diagnosis of Bella: healthy, happy, well-cared-for [pat self on back], and just generally a basic Doberman. They are an alert breed with a natural tendency to protect their home and the people in it. The things that my fiancé and I felt were high stress, were actually just normal behavioral attributes for a Dobie.

After the physical tests, Marilyn proceeded to perform some needle acupuncture on Bella to see how she would respond to it [she responded very well – she slept for 12 hours after we got home that night]. In addition to the needles, she also used a form of laser acupuncture which penetrates a little deeper into the system [it’s not harmful to animals or to humans]. She was also very knowledgeable in regards to supplements and medications that can be purchased through the internet. Animal products are generally not monitored by any sort of food and drug administration, so there are no restrictions for what goes into them. SCARY. There are some products, however, that are made by well-known companies, and, on top of that, are actually tested and monitored [huge eye-opener – I felt like such a bad dog mom after years of purchasing random crap for Bella online]. Marilyn recommended a great joint supplement made by Bayer called Synovi G4, which you can buy on Amazon here.

Two weeks ago, we made a return visit to Marilyn after an early September injury that Bella wasn’t healing from. Again, I was blown away by her kindness and knowledge and her ability to give me peace of mind. She explained everything she was doing, how Bella was responding, and what that indicated for her. She performed laser treatment, set up a follow up appointment, and I kid you not, Bella was cured. No more limp, no more swollen shoulder [which were her initial symptoms]. I can’t tell you how much my heart lifted knowing that her “old age” [she’s six] wasn’t the culprit. And it made me that much more sold on acupuncture and how it can really do wonders for the body.

If you’re in the Sacramento area, I highly HIGHLY recommend both Marilyn and Susan. Marilyn is a specialty vet, so she does not perform regular veterinary tasks like vaccinations and surgeries. But she is absolutely amazing at what she does, and the fact that she can relate to both human and animal is extremely important [so many veterinarians seem to have a disconnect with other humans]. Susan Barrett is a great veterinarian if you’re looking for a regular, day-to-day doctor for your pet; and she is especially knowledgeable in breeds with ear crops, as she does also perform those surgeries [and extremely well, I might add]. Another reason why I love her: she knows all there is to know about Dobermans. She is also great at communicating with humans and does everything in her power to share her knowledge and education with her clients. Seriously, I cannot say enough about both women – they are two of the best.

Health Insurance For Fido. It’s A Thing!

In January of this year, my fiancé and I celebrated our eleven month anniversary [and a much needed date night out]. As an early one year anniversary gift, he surprised me with the fact that he was ready to bring another dog into our home.

If you know me at all, you know the big soft spot in my heart for dogs. For nearly a year I had been joking with him about just showing up at home with a puppy one day, and becoming an old, retired married couple with hundreds of dogs. For a year he pretended [or maybe it was real haha] to be afraid of having any more dogs. Bella was more than enough, he said. So I was completely shocked and so excited when he announced that he was ready for one more. And as much as we were both looking forward to finding our perfect pup, we knew it wouldn’t be right to start the puppy process before our big Europe trip in September.

Fast forward to four weeks ago. Mitch and I were lying in bed on a Saturday morning, looking at puppies online. After seeing the movie, I Love You, Man, we both had our hearts set on a Puggle. For months we had been searching for a breeder on the west coast, but, me being the crazy dog lady that I am, I refused to go with a breeder that seemed to be breeding for money instead of passion. We finally found one in Iowa who had the cutest black coated male, and we were sold. We emailed the breeder, put down a deposit, and five days later I picked our little guy up from the airport [sidenote: we both did a ton of research on flying a puppy – I did not want to pay money for a dog that would arrive traumatized for life].

Enter: Otis. Spunky, vocal, and the bravest little dude the world has ever seen. Hence why I decided that we needed doggy insurance. Actually, it was about 6 months ago that I began researching the different pet insurance companies, after I took Bella in for a bit of holistic healthcare [look for a post about this to come].

You guys know I will pay any amount of money to keep my pets healthy and happy. But having a 6 year old Doberman who eats raw is costly enough without the added vet bills, not to mention a new puppy who needs regular vaccinations and really likes to live life on the edge. Working in the health insurance industry myself, I knew it would be more beneficial for me in the long run if I purchased insurance for my pups.

I am so thankful I did.

Five days before we left for Europe, I took Bella on a hike with my friend and her German Shepherd pup. They ran around like crazy, and later that afternoon I noticed Bella limping. Knowing I would be boarding her for two weeks, I took her to the emergency vet near my home to have her examined. Between the x-ray the vet took that day, the fee to actually see a vet at an emergency clinic, and the laser treatments and blood tests after Europe because she wasn’t healed.. Well, let’s just say the numbers added up quickly. Luckily, because I signed Bella up for insurance, I will get reimbursed for all of it!

One of the other benefits of pet insurance is that you can easily customize the plan you wish to sign your pet up for. There are different deductible options, and tons of riders [add-ons] available to cater to your pet’s specific needs. And, compared to the cost of x-rays, acupuncture, blood tests, vet visits, etc., the insurance is pretty freakin’ cheap.

I definitely don’t think it’s necessary for everyone. The only reason I even looked into it in the first place was because Bella is starting to enter her “older” dog years and I want to be able to cover as much of her healthcare expenses as I possibly can. And the only reason I added Otis to it was because he’s a daredevil and if either of them is going to get seriously injured it will be him [fingers crossed that doesn’t happen, though LOL].

I only compared two different pet insurance companies when I looked, and I ended up going with Trupanion [I felt like they had a good variety for a bit cheaper cost]. There are tons of options out there, though, and some employers offer discount programs that include pet insurance [worth checking into!].

Unfortunately I won’t be much help in referring anybody to any companies, as I’m super new to pet insurance myself, and I don’t personally know any other pet owners that have it. But if you have questions on plans and what they cover, I can help you with that, and I’m happy to! Please feel free to ask.