Getting a new dog can be daunting, especially in a time when we are learning so much about them and their needs. Many owners are overwhelmed and want to know they are doing the best for their dog and want to know exactly how to care for dogs.
Pretty much every dog owner has wondered if they’re exercising their dog enough or if vaccines are doing more harm than good, especially as we sit watching the vet assess our pet’s health at their annual check.
I’ve compiled a guide of “must know” for dog owners (old and new) and maybe there’s something in here to help guide you.
One of the most complex issues you face as a dog owner, is what can we do to help keep their bodies at their peak. What’s needed and what isn’t?
- Vaccines – Any puppy you get should have had all their puppy vaccines, typically you wait two weeks after the final vaccine before your dog can go outside for the first time. Puppy vaccines are important, they are susceptible to nasties like parvo and distemper. Once your dog has had a couple of years of annual vaccines ask your vet to do a “Titer test”, this will check to see if previous vaccines are still protecting your dog. There is a link to vaccines and cancer in some animals and this test will ensure your dog doesn’t get a vaccine he doesn’t need. Although check your pet insurance covers your dog should he not require a vaccine.
- Microchipping – This is another must, in some countries it’s now mandatory to have all puppies microchipped before they leave their breeder. Even though the needle is scary, a microchip will help a vet reunite you with your dog should he ever get lost or stolen.
- Ticks – These are a common problem most dog owners will come across, they are horrible, creepy things and it can be scary finding a tick latched on to your dog. Avoid the tweezers and don’t burn them off, leaving the head in your dogs skin can cause infection. You can buy special tick tweezers, you simply place it with the tick between the fingers and twist. It safely removes the tick and its head.
- Fleas – Using a monthly spot on treatment can help prevent ticks and fleas, if you are treating your dog for fleas then please buy a flea treatment for your home too. Fleas can live on carpets, sofas and even in cracks of the floor, spraying your home with a good flea treatment is the best way to ensure your home is flea free and won’t re-infest your dog.
- Dental health – Giving your dog a dental chew or brushing your dogs teeth (if he’ll let you) will help prevent the need for dental surgery at a later date. No one really wants to stick their hands in their dogs mouth every day but if it prevents pain, discomfort and expense in the long term then it’s certainly worth doing. Train your pup from a young age that it’s a fun, rewarding experience and soon enough he’ll trust you to do the deed and provide a treat.
Walking your dog
Depending on your dog’s age, size and nature, the amount of walks a day can vary. Puppies should be walked in moderation as their bones are still forming and over-exercising can lead to problems later on in life.
If your dog is an active medium grown dog, for example a Border Collie or Labrador it’s advised to give upwards of two hours exercise a day. Whilst an adult chihuahua or Yorkshire terrier would be more suited to 30-45 minutes of exercise a day.
Many dogs will walk as often and as far as you want them to. Although caution should be taken on warm days as dogs can overheat quickly and the results can be fatal. Brachycephalic breeds such as Pugs or English Bulldogs overheat incredibly quickly, for this reason it’s advised you avoid long periods of exercise on warm days.
Avoid retractable leads if possible, not only do they take too long to retract but they can be dangerous if they get caught or tangled and if their locking mechanism fails your dog could stroll out into oncoming traffic or into a river.
A simple rope lead or nylon lead works great and there are long line leads you can swap to if you want to train your dog recall. These long line leads don’t have a retractable aspect and allow more control over your dog.
Feeding your dog
Lets be honest given the chance your dog will eat absolutely anything. Shoes, tv remote and even the vacuum wire. But what should they be eating? And how often?
- Puppies aged 8-12 weeks need more frequent feeds than adult dogs. It’s recommended to feed them 4 times a day, splitting the amount of food, offering it more frequently.
- Puppies aged 12 weeks – 6 months should ideally be fed 3 times a day.
- Dogs aged 6 months – 12 months should be fed 2 times a day.
- Dogs aged 12 months and over should be fed once a day.
Fussy eaters may prefer two meals a day and it’s up to you to feed what suits you and your dog.
Kibble, raw, wet, fresh cooked, the options are endless. However, a good quality kibble such as Orijen, Acana or Canidae “pure” is ideal, their limited ingredients reduce the chance of your dog developing an allergy to ingredients that aren’t needed in dog food.
If you decide to feed raw always make sure you include vegetables, dogs are omnivores and benefit from a mix of plant based and meat-based foods. Lentils and peas are seen as good additions to a dogs diet.
Giving the odd table scrap (as long as they are dog safe!) is perfectly fine but check with the rest of your household that the dog isn’t getting more than he should. Obesity is a common problem for pet dogs and most of the time that’s from feeding too many treats or table scraps.
Grooming your dog
If you’ve ever had to lint roller your clothes before going to work or smelt a dog that’s rolled in fox poop then you’ll know how important it is to keep on top of basic grooming. Even if you’ve got a dog groomer there are steps you can take at home to keep your dogs coat under control.
- Smooth Coated / Short Coated dogs – Using a Zoom Groom on wet or dry fur once or twice a month will help keep shedding to a minimum. You can also use a good deshedding shampoo to help get out the dead fur.
- Long Coated / Double Coated dogs / Curly Coated – Using a strong slicker brush every day to brush out any knots or tangles, deshedding shampoo (and undercoat rake for double coated dogs) will help keep mats to a minimum and get rid of any dead fur.
- Wire/Terrier dogs – Learning to use a stripping knife will be a great way for you to keep your dog nice and tidy, this process should only be done twice a year and can’t be done on a dog that has been clipped previously.
- Bath only once every 4-6 weeks at the most, if your dog likes to roll in smelly stuff then try to use a dry shampoo and doggy cologne. Bathing too often can result in skin problems as it strips the natural oils from the coat.
- Never bath your dog straight after using flea treatment, wait 24-48 hours. The longer you can wait, the better.
Check out our how to groom your dog guide for a more detailed look at how to groom your dog.
Supplements for your dog
If your dog is elderly, has health problems or is very active then there are a number of supplements you can use to aid your dogs body.
- For the skin – A product like YuMega, YuDerm and YuMega Itchy dog by Lintbells is ideal. They provide much needed oils to help dry, itchy skin and excessive shedding or bald patches. You simply add it to your dogs food every day and watch the magic happen.
- For elderly dogs or dogs with mobility problems – glucosamine is the go-to by many vets and has shown success in reducing inflammation in the joints, the end result is a far more comfortable and mobile dog. I myself, use YuMove by Lintbells on my elderly dog and the difference in her is incredible.
- For active dogs (or in hot weather) – adding a supplement like Avipro Plus or a dog safe electrolyte, probiotic mix to their water helps them maintain their health and gives them back nutrients they’ve lost on a big hike or in hot weather.
There’s plenty of normal herbs you can use with your dog (although always take your dog to the vet when needed).
- Ginger and Chamomile (in small doses) – are great for settling your dogs stomach, or to use for dogs that suffer with travel sickness.
- Valerian and scullcap – are excellent for nervous, anxious or over excited dogs. Perfect to use for trips to the vet or groomer.
- Dandelion leaves – are wonderful aids in digestion, helping with constipation and stimulating your dogs appetite. It’s also great for kidney and liver function which older dogs can have problems with.
I’d recommend reading “Herbs for pets” by Greg L Tilford, “Herbal Dog Care” by Randy Kidd and “Herbal medicine for dogs” by Mary Boughton if you are interested in herbal medicine. Although be warned most things can be dangerous if given in large quantities, proceed with caution and always get your vets advice on your pets conditions.
The royal veterinary college have recently done some research which was funded by the AKC Canine health foundation into the use of dietary treatment for canine epilepsy. Although it’s early days MCT oil added to a dry kibble diet has shown some success in reducing epileptic seizures. As someone with a dog with epilepsy I can’t wait to see where this leads in the future.
Training your dog
Some dogs are highly trainable by nature, some are a bit more stubborn. There’s no perfect step by step guide as every dog is different but I recommend looking into clicker training and reward-based training.
Dogs are more likely to do as you ask if they know they’re going to be rewarded with a treat and a happy voice from their owner. I recommend investing in Victoria Stilwell’s “Train your dog positively”, as we now know the “old” training methods often did more harm than good.
- Reward the good behaviour – rewarding the behaviour you want to see and showing displeasure (never anger) or even ignoring the bad behaviour shows your dog exactly what you do and don’t want them to do. A good training treat is something no dog can pass up, it may take a few before you find the one but treats really are the way to a dogs heart.
- Crate training – I’ve found crate training easier, as a breeder if I do it when the puppy is around 6 weeks old. Having crate trained older puppies, the younger you can start or get your breeder to start, the better and less traumatic it is for both you and your dog.
Most breeders will be happy to comply in early training. However it may not be practical in large litters.
The top commands I always train my dogs and my puppies before they leave are:
- Crate – as it sounds, it means go to the crate.
- Food time – this means go sit by your bowl and be ready for yumminess.
- Sit – means sit down.
- Wait – this is to stop them rushing out of the door or rushing to their dish before I’ve had chance to put it down safely.
- Lie down – not really needed although I’ve found it makes grooming them easier.
- Roll over – again not really needed but it does help with being able to groom their underside or inspect for ticks.
- Their name – one of the most important things I think I ever read was that whenever you say your dogs name they think it means come here so that’s what I do, I use their name for their recall.
- No – pretty basic, meaning no don’t do that or no stop doing that.
For the added fun, my dogs also know “excuse me”, which means move out of the way. If you make the experience exciting and fun then your dog will see this as a good experience. Mental exercise is vital for a happy dog.
If your dog is showing signs of aggression either towards strangers, other dogs or food aggression I’d strongly suggesting finding a good dog behaviourist in your area. It’s better to try to stop these things from becoming regular behaviour patterns for your dog.
Caring for a dog is a big undertaking but comes with an even bigger reward. Sharing your home and your heart with a dog is as close to heaven on earth as you can get. Even when they poop on the rug or accidentally headbutt you in the face.
As long as you are dedicated, love your dog and are willing to be calm and patient you can live a happy long and enriched life together.
All dogs are driven by the need to please their humans, their world is you. This means that in times of fear, they look to you for calm reassurance. It makes the process of training them a lot more rewarding knowing that their goal is to make you happy.
There’s no one size fits all, age, breed. Personality all play their part in what works best with your dog. But if you come from a place of love and positivity you can’t really go wrong.