How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 15

by Gayla on June 8, 2013

I read a story once about a boy named Shane who had to put his dog to sleep at the young age of 6. After the veterinarian preformed the euthanasia, she talked to the parents about the sad and unfair question as to why animals live such short lives. As they were talking, the boy chimed in with an unexpected, yet comforting answer to their pondering question. “I know why.” He said. “People are born so that they can learn to live a good life, like loving everybody all the time. And dogs already know that, so they don’t have to stay as long.” After I read this as a child, all my fears of becoming a veterinarian and having to put animals to sleep had disappeared. Animals accomplish what they need to in their short lives when they are here on earth and every moment you get to spend with one is an exciting adventure. I am a Biomedical Science major and pre-veterinary medicine student at Michigan State University and my love for animals is obvious to anyone and everyone who knows me. I do not know about every animal because I am a pre-veterinary medicine student but I know a lot about one in particular, dogs. This is not a guide on how to treat or raise every type of pet you could own, simply dogs or other pets that could potentially relate.

As any pet owner would say, “A house is not a home without a pet.” But before that can be said, every owner also knows that the road to get from a house to a home may not always be as smooth as simply finding a pet. Even though pets are a lot of work, once they get accustomed to their new life in your house, their presence is, and always will, remain appreciated. Animals not only bring joy to your life but also comfort you when you truly need it. As I have found after owning a dog my entire life, they never fail to put a smile on your face even when you do not think anyone can. Although sometimes they make you mad or annoy you, at the end of the day, you know they will always be on your side or in some cases, your closest companion. They are ready to great you everyday as soon as you open the door but even though most animals are filled with so much love and affection, they also require more than just the occasional petting or walking.

Bringing that new puppy home the first day might seem like such a wonderful decision but that feeling might start to fade when you realize they bark all night for the first few weeks causing you to lose sleep, or that it takes a lot of patience (and maybe new carpet) to potty train them. Many people forget after those first stressful days of bringing the puppy home that you have to give them time to adjust to their new life. The best way to let a dog adjust to their new environment in your home is to set a place where you want them to sleep, and allow them to explore the surroundings. As puppies get older, they need you to teach them right verses wrong and also how to do those specific things you do or don’t approve of in your home. So, before bringing that ‘cute little puppy’ home that you saw in an advertisement or from a breeder or wherever else you might have found yours, you have to make sure you know what you are getting yourself into. Every dog is different and requires a specific type of care in order to achieve the greatest behavior and attitude they can have. Careful research about the dog you would like to get will make an extraordinary difference when it comes to how happy you will be with your decision later on.

Once you have found the dog you think fits perfectly with your lifestyle, your next and no doubt most important step as a new pet owner, is to train them. Training a dog when they are young will make it substantially easier on you as the owner, as well as the dog himself. As the saying goes “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks,” and any pet owner who has experienced this would be able to validate that saying.

New dog owners must approach getting an addition to their family with a certain type of attitude. Within that attitude, owners must have patience and understanding. Dogs don’t simply pick up something if you show them once or twice. It takes practice and patience, and a lot of it. Repetition is an essential key to successfully training a dog. Training a dog using a treat as a reward also is very beneficial. Giving them a reward shows them that they are doing something right and they will hopefully pick up on repeating that good deed. Another strategy when training your dog is to remember that every dog has his or her own personality. Some dogs may seem to at first have a more untamable temperament than others but with proper training you can make any dog a fun, loving and affectionate one. If you show your dog love, your dog will in turn show you love. When training a dog and showing them adequate affection and attention, you help them develop the personality that they will continue to have as they grow older.

When you begin training your dog and you notice that he or she might be a little slower to learn those what seem to be simple tasks we know, it is important to get identification for them. Even if your new dog might seem like they are picking up on your training it is still very important that they get identification. Identification simply means going to your veterinarian and getting a license and an ID tag for your dog. On that license or ID tag, contains your dog’s name, as well as your address and phone number. Having this on your dog’s collar will make it easy for someone to contact you incase anything might happen. You might not think this is very important because your dog has good manners and wont run away, but it is better to have it just incase or especially if you want to take them to a park or anywhere in public. This is also important that you remember to continue this throughout the dog’s life because you can never be too safe when it comes to protecting your dog.

Within the idea of training your dog there are many different variables. Besides training them to become obedient, you also need to train them to be healthy. People at first may not realize that there are so many things you have to do to keep up with your dog’s health and wellbeing but your dog’s health is completely based on how well you keep up with their care and vaccines. Vaccines are very important in keeping a dog healthy as well as preventing possible diseases. Losing track of taking your dog to the vet will potentially cause problems later with their health. Another part of health is what you feed your dog. Choosing the right kind of food is also very important along with the amount you feed them and how often. Proper exercise for your dog is a huge factor of their health as well. Anything that will get your dog up and moving is good for them. Good exercise is not only good for your dog’s health but it has been known to help possible behavioral problems that a dog may have too. Bathing your dog is another part of health that you must be aware of. A clean dog is a healthy dog but do not over bathe because it can be harmful for the dogs skin.

A dog’s eyes have the power to speak a great language. That language could sometimes, but not always help you tell if something is wrong. With the other times that you can’t tell just by looking into their eyes, knowing your dog’s pattern of eating, drinking, sleeping and going to the bathroom is a very good thing to keep track of. Being aware of these things will not only help keep your house accident free, dog’s stomach from grumbling or them from becoming dehydrated but it will also help you to be able to indicate if your dog is experiencing any type of illness or discomfort. A very big thing that is not only beneficial to your dog when you first get him but also for his entire life, is to research what kind of health risks that are possible for the breed to have. Knowing these health risks can help you prevent them as your dog grows and gets older. It will also help you in case you notice any symptoms of those problems so you can take proper care of them. There is no such thing as knowing too much when it comes to your dog’s health; every bit of information you can find will be advantageous to you throughout your life as a pet owner.

Creating a social dog is also very beneficial. Having a social dog will put you at ease when you take your dog to public places with many people around. When your dog is young, expose them to different people and environments as often as you can. You can take them to the park; walk them in town or a place they may learn to love, the pet store. If you give your dog praise for allowing a stranger to pet him or for him not barking at new people walking around, they will gain better temperament around people in general throughout their life. Your dog loves you and loves to please you, so using positive, rather than negative reinforcement will make it more enjoyable for them to learn. Using positive reinforcement does not mean that you cannot punish them for doing something wrong though, it simply means you use a positive way to train instead of hitting or anything negative. Along with making sure your dog behaves well around other humans, it is a good idea to let your dog be around other dogs or animals as well. Introducing your dog to others when they are young will cause them to be a nicer and friendlier dog to others near them.

All of the things listed above will help a new pet owner take care of their soon to be little loved one. While most of them may seem like they are very obvious tasks, some of them are often overlooked, which will not benefit you or your dog. People very commonly miss the simple tasks that need to be done with their dog. But as time goes on, pet owners learn more tips and tricks about their pets that will help them with their pet owning experience forever. It takes time to become a great pet owner and find what fits you best. Some people may even find that after having one, they might not be the best person for the job. No matter what decision you make after having your first pet, always remember animals are complex. They need lots of love, care and maybe even help to become the best pet they can be. As pet owners learn with experience, animals never give up, complain, get mad at you or talk back to you, which makes their presence that much more pleasant.

With a new dog comes responsibility, and with responsibility and proper training come a great pet and potentially a life long best friend who will always put a smile on your face. And as my dad always says, “if you lock your wife and dog in the trunk of your car, which one will be happy to see you when you open it.”

N. Zuk

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