If you are thinking of getting a dog or puppy, you have to remember that this is a lifelong commitment. Preparing yourself for the responsibilities of dog- ownership is the beginning of a happy and rewarding time sharing your home with a pet. If you treat a dog well, you will be repaid with a lifetime of unquestioning devotion. With training and care, a dog will obey your commands and be a valuable part of the family.
But what are the considerations? As this is a partnership and not a one-way relationship you have to consider whether you are suited to your chosen pet and vice versa.
When you are considering whether to offer a home to a puppy or dog, you need to think about:
Is a Dog Right For You
Look carefully at what you would want from a dog, and what you could give. This applies equally whether you are thinking about getting a tiny toy Poodle or a large adult Bull Mastiff. Remember, a tiny puppy can grow into a very big dog!
Dogs, like small children, need time and attention. They like to be loved, and leaving them alone for long periods of time can be very upsetting. If you work long hours full-time, then a dog is probably not the pet for you at this stage in your career. If you have just had a new baby, or have very small children, again consider carefully about whether this is a good time to have another new family member.
Have you a large house and garden that would suit a boisterous, energetic type of dog? Are you the sedentary type who lives in a small flat, where maybe a small lapdog would be ideal? Dogs can vary in size from the chipper Chihuahua to the stately St Bernard, and in energy levels from the sprightly Springer Spaniel to a placid Pekingese. Remember the needs of a crossbred may be more difficult to predict. Your local library usually has plenty of books about different dog breeds, so it is worthwhile getting a selection to read about various dogs before you make up your mind.
A dog needs
PDSA estimates that a dog will need about 5 hours a day of your time and undivided attention. That would include routine ‘maintenance’ such as grooming, dental care and feeding, as well as play.
Dogs will cost you money as well as time. Not only are there the ‘one-off’ items, such as buying the dog, beds, leads and collars, but there are the regular expenses such as food. Again, the amount eaten depends on the breed and the activity. For example, a working dog will need a high energy diet, and a puppy will need a diet specific to its growing needs.
There are lots of different collars around, and it is important to choose the correct one for your dog. A puppy should have a very light one, with room for growth but an adult can have any sort, fitting well so that there is no chance that the dog will slip out of it. A metal ‘check chain’ must be put on the right way round, as it can ‘lock’ if not, causing great distress.
The collar must legally have the owner’s name and address on it, and a contact telephone number is useful. Think about an ‘identichip’ that can be painlessly inserted under the skin by your vet. This provides unique indelible identification
Again, there are lots of different types. A young puppy can have a light-weight nylon lead, but an adult dog should have one that will not break when pulled. There are extendable leads, which may be suitable for one small dog but are best avoided where more than one dog is being walked.
Food and water bowls
These should be easy to clean, although they should always be washed separately and never with your own crockery. Stainless steel bowls, or heavy pottery ones with no chips, are fine. It is also important to throw out any uneaten food after your dog has finished eating and to make sure there is fresh water available at all times.
A cosy, easily washed bed is important for dogs. This will be ‘their’ residence! Make sure you choose one that can be cleaned thoroughly, which is especially important in the summer when fleas are at their most active.
It should have no sharp corners or potential splinters that could cause injuries.
These are a vital part of a dog’s life. Not only do they make walks fun, but they make sure that the dog ‘socialises’ with the family. They can help clean teeth, they exercise the brain and can be used for training purposes.
It is essential that owners play their part in cleaning up after their dog. As part of pet owner responsibilities, always carry a ‘pooper scooper’ or a plastic bag with you to clean up any mess produced by your dog. This not only makes the environment cleaner, but prevents any serious dangers to children from canine parasites, such as Toxocara canis, a parasite that can cause blindness.
A long-haired Saluki will need more coat attention than a short-haired Jack Russell, but all dogs will need attention and regular bathing to keep their skin and coat well maintained.
You will need a brush and comb suited for the hair type of your chosen pet. A long-haired Yorkshire Terrier needs to be combed and brushed at least once a day, but a short-haired Boxer will probably only need a vigorous brushing twice a week.
Canine toothbrush and toothpaste
Regular brushing of your dog’s teeth and dental check-ups should be a routine part of dog care. Special canine toothpaste and brushes are now widely available from vets and pet shops, but avoiding sweet things is also important for dental care as well as weight control.
Make your pet comfortable when starting to brush, and approach them from the side rather than the front. You can begin with a flannel folded over a finger, or a special ‘finger brush’, but these are not as good as a proper canine toothbrush. Dogs don’t like human toothpaste, as it foams too much. It is much better to buy special ‘pet toothpaste’ which doesn’t foam and tastes far nicer to the dog! Start with a few teeth, and gradually increase it so that you can do the whole mouth in one session. Brush just the gums on the outside surface at first, as these are the ones that most need the care and attention.
At the end of this brushing, make sure you give a treat such as a rawhide strip (not chocolate or other sweeties!) so that your pet feels it’s all been worthwhile.
Looking after your puppy
Now you have chosen the type of dog that you feel you can get along with, what is the next stage?
You want to get a pet that will fit in with you and your family. It can be a pure bred puppy from a breeder or it can be a cross-bred from a friend. To help you choose, it is better to have a good idea of what you will get. It is better to see the puppy with the mother, or if possible both parents, to give a good idea about the final size of the dog. You’ll know then whether the puppy comes from a good home and what the dog’s personality is likely to be. A healthy pup will also be inquisitive, alert and playful with a glossy coat. Remember, it is better to wait for the ideal canine partner rather than to choose impulsively, so you may have to save up or be on a waiting list for an expensive pure bred dog.
One way that everyone in the family can get involved is in choosing the new pup’s name. Remember, you may be calling this out across a park in the future, so choose one that everyone feels comfortable with, and which suits the dog.
The best time to take on a new puppy is when you have time and there is not too much going on in the household. This is one of the factors why Christmas is not a good time to get a new dog. Two weeks of care and attention initially will pay off in the end. If you have older school-aged children, the school holidays are a good time to get that new family member. If possible, the primary ‘carer’ should be with the puppy for the next couple of weeks.
Make sure that you have got everything ready for the big day. Buy all of the equipment you need, and register your pup with a vet. Make sure that the day of arrival is as ‘normal’ as possible – the puppy is going to be scared and confused, so lots of people around making a fuss will only add to the distress. Make sure you have all of the things you would need for the new dog to make them feel as loved as possible. Remember, they are going to feel anxious and overwhelmed, so give them space and don’t worry too much if there are ‘accidents’!
Feeding your puppy correctly is a big part of responsible pet care. Obesity is one of the biggest problems for pets, as dogs are natural gluttons and their bodies utilise a wide range of foods very efficiently. It is important that they get the correct diet for them, and a puppy’s diet varies according to age.
Puppies are ready to eat solid food when they are about 7 weeks old, although this does vary. It is best to feed them on a special tinned ‘puppy diet’ you can get from the local supermarket or pet shop. Initially, they will need four meals a day, but this can be reduced to three a day at about 12 weeks old. By the time they are 6 months, they can have two meals a day. This regime can continue for the rest of their life, or else it can be cut down to one meal daily, according to their needs.
Socialisation and training
Any puppy benefits from contact with humans and other dogs, but you will have to be careful that the puppy is protected by vaccinations before it comes into contact with other dogs or pet owners. The veterinary practice you have chosen may run ‘puppy parties’, which can give you advice, but in any case it is worthwhile getting the pet checked out by the vet as soon as you can. Make sure you tell the receptionist when booking an appointment that it is a young puppy.
Training should start as soon as possible, so that your dog fits in well with society.
One of the first things you will concentrate on is toilet training. Find an area indoors that you can clean up easily, and use that in the first stage. Put down plenty of newspaper. Your puppy will give you a clue that it needs to go to the toilet by sniffing around and being a bit restless. Pick up the puppy, one hand under the chest and one under the hindquarters, and transport it to the paper. When it performs the task, praise it and if it moves off the paper, rebuke it with a firm ‘no’. As soon as your pup is protected through its vaccinations, you can let the puppy go into the garden. Put down newspaper, and use the same technique you did inside – praise for success, rebuke if not. Gradually do away with the paper.
When your dog is out, it will probably want to go to the toilet. As a responsible pet-owner, it is vital that you remove the solid waste from the pavement, or train your dog to use the gutter as its lavatory. There can be heavy fines for dog fouling, as well as being unacceptable for other people. ‘Pooper scoopers’ are available at most vets and pet shops, but good old plastic bags are just as good. Parks have special bins for dog waste, so make sure you remove any debris away from the public!
Social training is also important. Any behaviour that can be amusing in a puppy may be frightening in an adult. The puppy that nips is easier to deal with than the dog that bites! Every time your pup does something that is unacceptable, a firm ‘no’ will usually work. Don’t get angry with your puppy, but make sure it knows what is OK, and what is not.
You also have to make sure that your pet is not a danger to other dogs, pedestrians or the actual dog walker. Correct training from an early age is essential, so research where the local dog-training school is located. Try and find out from other dog-owners or your local library as soon as possible about any local classes.
Again, this varies according to the breed, but it is vitally important. It helps the owner keep fit as well as the dog! You have to be very careful when exercising your dog, and numerous shorter walks a day are better than one long walk. When out for their exercise, dogs should be on a lead in a built up area, and only release your pup when you are absolutely sure your dog is safe. Not only are there dangers from traffic and other dogs which may not be as nice as yours, but tins, glass and other hazards can cause injuries.
Remember, as well, if you are getting a puppy, it can’t be taken out until the vet advises that it is protected by its vaccination programme .
Looking after your dog
Now you have chosen the type of dog that you feel you can get along with, what is the next stage?
If you have decided that an adult dog is the one for you, consider getting a rescued dog from a shelter, perhaps thinking about a ‘trial period’ to make sure the two of you will get on well.
One useful consideration is that a reputable shelter, dog-owner or breeder will want to check you out as the prospective owner. Don’t be put off by this – any responsible re-homing organisation or breeder would want to make sure their dogs were going to a caring home.
The age of the dog affects the way you use the time allocated to your pet initially. An older dog may need help in adjusting to a new home, depending upon its past background. An adult dog will need just as much attention as a puppy would to settle into its new home.
Dogs eat mainly meat, but still need a balanced diet with some carbohydrate, vitamins and minerals. Complete diets are available and will provide all of your dog’s dietary needs, as will tinned food with biscuits. With all dietary regimes, it is important that dogs do not eat more food than they need. They are naturally quite greedy, and will often eat more than their calorific requirement. This leads to obesity, which is seen in over 50% of the dogs that come to PDSA. Most dogs are fed once or twice a day, and when they are young and active have very few problems if they are fed a good diet, with few tit-bits.
At the ‘post-maturity stage’, which usually begins when smaller dogs are about eight years old and at five years for the large and giant breeds, they may have different dietary requirements. In this ‘post-maturity’ phase, the tissues, organs and systems of the pet are gradually becoming less efficient. This is quite a natural progression, but it can be well managed, hopefully making sure that the pet has a good level of activity and wellbeing for the remainder of its life.
The rate of progression is dependant on many factors, such as the environment the pet lives in and its genetic make-up. However, by far the most important component is the pet’s nutrition, both in the past and how it is now. A pet that is the optimal weight and has had a good diet throughout its life will enter this phase with few problems.
As soon as you notice any ‘ageing’ signs, such as greying around the muzzle or a bit of stiffness after rest and a gradual slowing down, you should start considering your pet’s diet, and how you can make it more suitable to its needs. You need to take account of the changes that are happening in your pet’s body. For example, the amount of skeletal muscle in the older pet will decrease with age. This loss of skeletal muscle means that not only is there less physical activity, but the pet’s ability to repair damaged tissues and produce energy from food is reduced.
Older dogs have varied dietary needs; ask your vet for advice about the one suited for your dog.
Socialisation and training
A well-trained dog is a pleasure to have around, and begin training as early as you can. It is possible to teach an older dog, but it is better to start when your dog is as young as possible. Start off with simple tasks, such as getting your dog to respond to its name. Then graduate to training around the house and in the garden using the lead. Training before a meal is a good time, as you are sure your dog will pay you full attention! The training periods should be short, about 15 minutes per session. Reinforce ‘good’ behaviour with a treat which can be gradually replaced with praise alone. Unacceptable behaviour should be corrected with a sharp ‘no’.
The amount of exercise needed varies according to the age and breed of a dog. A small lapdog may need less exercise than an active hound. However, each dog has its own exercise needs, and as age creeps on it may prefer a more sedentary life. A responsible owner will still make sure his/her dog’s life is enjoyable, with exercise perhaps replaced by toys for mental stimulation.
Remember, as well, to follow any veterinary advice you have been given about exercise. For example, a dog after surgery will need to be rested, especially if it has had an orthopaedic operation.
Choosing a vet
Either just before or as soon as you have got your new dog, you need to register with the vet you have chosen to look after your new pet. Choosing the vet who will look after you and your animals is as difficult as selecting the right pet! Making a visit to a practice waiting room and chatting to dog-owners can help, but the initial visit to the vet should give you enough information.
Make an appointment as soon as you can for a check-up, and the vet can then devise a care programme for your dog. Write a list of the questions you want to ask, so everything you want to know can be covered.
When to contact the vet
A vet would rather see healthy pets than sick ones that should have been treated earlier, so if you are worried about your pet it is always best to contact the practice. If your dog is unwell, there will have been a change in behaviour – it may be sleepier or off its food. They may be generally ‘off colour’. Owners should use their common sense about when to contact their vet; it will not make an owner popular to use the emergency service in the early hours of the morning for a trivial complaint.
While most dog-owners can consider the regular routine needs, such as vaccinations and worming, it is the out-of-the-ordinary expenses that a dog-owner may not be prepared for. The treatment associated with a road accident can run into thousands of pounds. Most dog owners are now considering pet insurance, which helps cover the unexpected. There are plenty of organisations around that offer this, including PDSA, so shop around for the best policy for you. Third-party insurance is included in most policies, and this is essential to avoid large payments should your dog be involved in an accident.
Essential veterinary care
A Vaccination Programme
This varies according to past history and the age of your dog. Prevention of infectious diseases through vaccinations is an essential part of caring for your dog. Your pet can be vaccinated against killer diseases such as distemper, infectious canine hepatitis, Leptospira canicola and icterohaemorrhagicae, parvovirus and the more uncommon canine parainfluenza and Bordatella bronchiseptica. Your dog will also need annual boosters.
If you are planning to take your pet abroad, remember your dog will need additional vaccinations and health checks.
Getting your bitch neutered, unless you are intending to breed from her with absolute certainty of good homes for the pups, is essential. The average number of offspring is between four and six pups per litter, though it can be many more. Other benefits include a reduced risk of mammary tumours later on in life, and avoidance of pyometra, a womb infection.
Neutering a male dog will decrease the tendency to roam and be aggressive. When your dog should be neutered, the benefits and small risks can all be discussed with your vet at the initial consultation.
Neutered animals of both sexes also tend to live longer.
Apart from general grooming with a brush and comb, your dog will need bathing. The number of baths your dog needs depends on the circumstances. For example, a dog should be bathed quite soon after rolling in the mud, so it doesn’t solidify on the coat. The shampoos available contain different ingredients, and if you just want a general shampoo, don’t use human products. These can be too drying for a dog’s coat; so get one with a moisturiser from your vet or a good pet shop.
The best way to bathe your dog is to use a ‘whirlpool’ type bath, but shower attachments work just as well. Don’t use the garden hose, as this can upset a dog as well as making your life a misery. You don’t need to protect your dog’s ears or eyes, as shaking removes the water from the ears and the eyes can be rinsed out easily. The coat should be reasonably clean to begin with; as any mud or debris can inactivate the shampoo. Wet the coat with lukewarm water, and massage the shampoo in the coat for 5-10 minutes. Shampooing can dry the coat due to water loss through the skin, so it is a good idea to use a moisturiser. You can apply it after bathing, or use a good moisturising shampoo. Gently towel dry your dog; the ‘towel bags’ you can get to completely enclose your pet are excellent. Don’t use a hair dryer as this can cause burns.
Diarrhoea and vomiting
Dogs sometimes get upset stomachs after eating something unusual whilst out. As long as the dog is well in all other respects, don’t offer any food for 24 hours, just sips of cool previously boiled water. If you allow the dog to drink too much at any one time, it may be sick again. If the diarrhoea and vomiting stop, introduce food – again small amounts. White meats, such as chicken or fish, should be fed with plain boiled rice and gradually introduce the dog’s normal diet. If the symptoms persist over a couple of days, or if there is an obvious turn for the worse, don’t leave it too long before you call the vet.
Eyes and ears
Normally a dog’s eyes are well lubricated but conjunctivitis causes the eyes to produce more tears than can be drained away and the eyes become reddened. In the meantime, before you can get to the vet’s, clean away any discharge using a piece of tissue or cotton wool soaked in warm, previously boiled, water. Use the piece of tissue/cotton wool just once, discarding after use and wipe from the inside of the eye area to the outside. Your pet’s vet should be consulted if the symptoms persist for more than a day.
Long-eared dogs are particularly prone to ear infections, but all dogs should have their ears inspected at least once a week. Any reddening or discharge needs a trip to the vet’s.
Sometimes dogs get grass seeds lodged in their ears and eyes. The grass seed may not necessarily be visible, but the dog will paw continuously at the ear or eye affected.
Emergencies in the home
Some minor injuries, such as tiny cuts or burns, can be dealt with by owners. It is worthwhile preparing to deal with an emergency in advance before it happens. There are many pet care books that cover this subject, and it is also a good idea to buy or create a Pet First Aid Kit. In addition, make sure everyone knows what to do in a crisis. Keep the telephone number of your veterinary practice by the ‘phone, together with a pencil and paper to note down any instructions and fill out your dog’s record card at the back of this leaflet.
Gingivitis, or gum disease, is one of the commonest complaints seen at PDSA PetAid Hospitals. This can be prevented with good oral hygiene from an early age, but your dog’s annual check-up at the vet’s will help reduce the risk of tartar build-up.
Preparing for a holiday has to be done well in advance. Are you taking your dog with you, and if so have you checked out the hotel? Are you putting your dog in a kennel? If so, find out what vaccinations may be necessary and book a place well in advance – good kennels get booked up very quickly. Are you getting a house-sitter? Check out the references, and make sure all eventualities are covered.
Parasite prevention care programme
A regular worming, flea and other ectoparasite control programme can be suggested by your vet.
It is quite common for a dog to have fleas, and every dog is likely to become infected at some stage in its life. You will either see flecks of dried blood (‘flea dirt’) in the coat, or fleas themselves, and for every flea you see running through your dog’s fur there may be hundreds of young fleas waiting to jump aboard a passing pet! Young fleas can live for over a year without feeding, so it is particularly important to treat the house and all pets in a flea control programme. The secret is to treat both the dog and the environment with effective products that kill both adult and immature fleas all year round. As well as causing severe skin irritation, fleas play a vital part in the tapeworm’s life cycle.
As well as thinking about fleas, it is vital to make sure you follow the worming regime recommended by a vet. This will get rid of internal parasites, which are a problem for dogs as well as affecting the environment and people.
Some dogs may be involved in road accidents in spite of every sensible precaution a responsible owner takes. If that happens to you, try and keep calm. At the scene of a road accident, try and get as much help as possible – one person to contact the dog’s vet, another to direct traffic. Others can remove the dog from the road if possible, where there is no risk to the pet or the people. If you suspect any spinal injury, move the dog only if absolutely necessary, using a very firm board to keep any movement to a minimum.
Protect your pet with Pet Insurance
If your pet falls ill or has an accident it can be a stressful time both financially and emotionally, especially is you don’t have a Pet insurance policy in place. With the average cost of a course of veterinary treatment rising year-on-year and now standing at over £250*, PDSA urges all pet owners to insure their pet in case of illness or accidents.
*Claims received by PDSA Petsurance between 01/01/05 and 31/12/06
PDSA Petsurance has been designed for all breeds of cat and dog, from moggies and cross-breeds to pedigree champions. There are three different levels of policy for the owner to choose from. PDSA Petsurance was designed by our vets and insurance specialists to ensure all sick and injured pets can receive the veterinary care they need and best of all for animal lovers, a percentage of each policy goes directly back to PDSA to help sick and injured pets.
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