How to Be a Better Pet Owner: Finalist 9

Being a pet owner is one of the most rewarding privileges humans have, possibly only surpassed with parenthood. However, like having a child, owning a pet is accompanied by responsibilities, expenditures, dedication, but ultimately, it is rewarded with affection and friendship and joy.

If you are not already a pet owner it is important to research the type of pet that fits your needs, lifestyle, personality and commitment level. Recognize the commitment you are willing to put forward. Evaluate your lifestyle: What hours do you work? Can you come home at lunch? Do you travel? Do you have kids? Will others help with care? Are you active? What are your cleanliness standards? Where do you live? How much fenced property do you have? Etc. These are a few general questions that you will want to ask yourself before committing to pet ownership. The pet you choose should depend on the assessment of your life style. If you are willing to walk every day, rain or shine, throw a ball, come home at lunch (or hire a walker), then a dog may be a good choice. However, if you make lots of day trips, work long hours, and are more sedentary, then a cat may be a better choice. Birds, reptiles, and small mammals such as rodents, are also options to consider, although here I will focus primarily on canines. Nonetheless, all pets require attention, if you are unable to give this; you may want to consider postponing pet ownership.

On the occasion you have narrowed down the type of pet that will join your life, it is important to remember that there are many different breeds or species to choose from, with significantly different characteristics. A dog’s activity level, trainability, maintenance, health concerns, and instincts vary greatly among different breeds, and even individuals. Make a list of the qualities you want in your future family member, do you want an active or calm companion? What size of dog fits your desires and lifestyle? Do you want a family friendly pet or one dedicated to only you? Do you want a guard dog or watch dog? Do you need a hunting or working dog? A running companion or couch companion? Are you willing to brush and groom your dog? Do you mind shedding or drool? Answering these questions will help you narrow down your search of dog breeds or breed mixes.

Once you decide on your perfect match, research where you want to obtain a pet such as breeders, rescues, shelters, or a humane society. However, much like expecting parents do, it is necessary that you prepare for bringing a new family member home. Puppy proof the household by blocking off areas for potty training, even if it is a mature dog from a shelter it may need reinforcement on its potty training. Put away anything your pet could chew up, especially if it’s a choking hazard. These include breakable items that you don’t want damaged or that may injure your pet. Electric cords and chemicals should also be kept out of reach. Along with ensuring your pet is safe inside, it is also important to puppy-proof the outside of your home. This includes researching toxic plants to ensure your pet does not come into contact with them and securing or suspending the use of certain yard chemicals. Having a way to keep your dog inside its boundaries is also of key importance with either physical fences or electric fences worth considering. However, if you have an existing fence, ensure there are no holes or areas he could escape from and that your dog is safe from predators, roaming dogs, and safe from theft. If you put up an electric fence assure it is working properly and be prepared to train your dog to obey the boundary. Also, make sure to have identification for your dog, as a precautionary method to ensure your dog is returned to his loving family, just in case of that change he escapes their boundary.  It is not only important to look after your dog’s safety, but to care for his physical and mental wellbeing.

Before you bring your dog home make sure he has good quality food, and the necessary accessories such as food and water bowls, a collar, leash, toys, grooming supplies, dental supplies, a bed, crate, and an area to sleep. Also, find a well recommended vet and schedule a puppy-wellness exam. Your vet can also help you find your dog an appropriate diet for his breed, age, and condition. They will inform you of your breed’s particular health risks, and any necessary steps to prevent diseases such as vaccinations, and routine check-ups, and how to keep your pet healthy such as nail trims, flea and tick repellant, and dental cleanings. If you are getting a puppy or unfixed dog, you will want to plan to budget a spay or neuter appointment.

When your dog is ready to come into his new home you will want to help him adapt and become acquainted with his surroundings. This can often be stressful, so give him time, patience, and lots of love as he acclimates. Potty training is a must, and should begin immediately. When potty training ensure that your dog is taken out to use the bathroom frequently and when needed. This will help him get into a routine of doing his business outside (or on a pee pad if you desire). It is important to be consistent with rules and every family member must operate by the same guidelines

Socializing a dog is critical, especially if it is a puppy or you adopt an adult dog that has socialization issues.  This includes socializing with people as well as other dogs and other pets in some circumstances. If he does not, this could be a liability down the road, even a danger to others, and will impair the enjoyment you receive from your dog and your ability to safely take the dog places or enjoy company in your home. If you bring home a puppy he will likely need to wait to be socialized with other dogs until he is fully vaccinated. However, during this waiting period take advantage of friends, family, and neighbors to work on his human socialization. Try to incorporate a broad range of age groups to help your dog familiarize with different human behaviors and energy levels. When your dog is ready and able to meet other dogs take him over to a familiar house with a friendly canine companion (make sure to confirm that the other canine has all of his vaccinations). If you have a feline (cat) or another pet, you will need to ensure your dog learns what behavior is appropriate around your other animals as well as train you existing pets to accept the new member of the family. Just like with any new relationship or friendship, do not force anything that is not natural, take it slow and steady.  If you try to force your pets to get along with interactions before they are fully ready, there is potential for major setbacks.

After your dog has the basics down and has found his place in your family it is time to work on obedience training. Obedience training may include ensuring your dog knows his place in the family and that he does not dominate over children or even yourself. Work towards life- long obedience, this is crucial as behavior problems are the number one reason dogs (and other animals) are placed in shelters. Establish that all humans are alpha, and in doing this work on your pets basic commands such as: sit, stay, come, wait, down, okay (or a release command), off, no (use this one sparingly), leave it, drop it, and heel. These commands could potentially save your dog’s life or keep him out of danger (such as preventing him from running after a cat or squirrel into the road). If necessary, enroll your dog into a doggy obedience class as professionals can offer you great tips on how to successfully train yourself and your dog. While training your dog the most important thing is positive reinforcement. Dogs learn most quickly with praise and punishment should be used sparingly. Keep in mind this does not need to be treats, this can be a simple pet, “good boy”, kiss, and occasionally…yes a treat. Remember that your dog loves you unconditionally, and he wants to be loved back.

While training you will often find that your dog loves the attention he receives from doing his commands. Most dogs enjoy having a job to do, whether this job is on a farm herding, keeping an eye on the house or yard, or doing simple tricks, they need to have their mind stimulated. Keep your dog’s mind and body active throughout the day, be his friend. If you are going to leave your dog at home give them something to help keep them busy, such as having a food dispensing toy instead of just leaving a bowl out. Before you leave your dog, provide them with both physical and mental exercise. Walking, jogging, chasing a ball, playing games (some dogs love to play hide-n-go-seek) and sniffing on walks are good ways to physically tire and mentally stimulate your dog. If necessary hire a doggy daycare or dog walker that can help you keep your dog active and stimulated, while giving your dog ample opportunities to relieve himself.

We all know that dogs are “man’s best friend”, but you must also be theirs.  Overall, the most important key to being a good pet owner is to love your pet on all counts.  If you are committing to own a pet, you should commit to provide it with care and compassion. Make time in your schedule to play his favorite games, walk or jog at his pace, include him in your activities, train him adequately and for life, massage his special spot, stimulate his mind, and love him as a family member. If you do this, you will find that any love you give your pet is returned many times over. In the end this commitment and love for your pet is what makes a good pet owner.


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