Our dogs’ lives are far too short for us to not give them everything they deserve to have a full and happy life. This is by no means a comprehensive list of what you should do for/with your dog – meaning, you could easily go above and beyond what’s here – but think of this as a good place to start.
1) Spend time with your dog: this might seem like a no-brainer but there are a staggering number of people who get dogs and then pretty much ignore them. To our dogs, we are their world. If the only time your dog is getting your attention is when you feed them and the rest of the time is spent in the yard, your dog’s world is a bleak one. Dogs are incredibly social creatures. They like us. They like us when we are utterly unlikeable. Even if the time you spend with your dog is on the couch watching t.v. , that’s okay. Being in close physical proximity to us is all that matters to our dogs.
2) Train your dog: an untrained dog is a nightmare to live with. By training your dog, you are saving yourself (and him) from a lifetime of pain and frustration. An untrained dog is a time bomb waiting to go off… he won’t listen, he’s unsocialized, he barks at people and cars, he chews up your stuff, he has accidents in the house, he bites – all leading to you eventually giving up the dog or the dog being put down because he attacked another dog or person. Save your dog and your sanity. There are other benefits to training besides keeping your dog from being a menace to society – time spent training is bonding time that helps deepen your relationship, and it helps your dog be happier because dogs like to learn.
3) Groom your dog: clipping toe nails, brushing out matts, cleaning ears and brushing teeth are good hygiene practices and not just done out of vanity. Matts can cause horrible skin infections. Overly long toe nails are painful. Dirty ears can lead to infections. Unbrushed teeth develop dental disease. Beyond the long-term health reasons (which are enough), the time you spend grooming your dog is a good time to get to know if there are any physical changes or problems that need to be addressed (lumps and bumps, bites and cuts, broken teeth). Finally, no one wants to spend the evening sitting next to a stinky dog, so give that dog a bath!
4) Take your dog to the vet: dogs really do need to have, at a minimum, yearly physicals. They should be vaccinated (we like Dr. Dodd’s protocol). They should have baseline tests done when they are young and healthy so you know what’s normal for your dog – this is important when you are doing tests on your now senior dog. They should be on preventative medication for parasites (heartworm, flea/tick). In a sense, treat your dog like you would a very young child when it comes to medical/health issues because neither of them is going to be able to tell you if something is off and having a vet you can rely on to help is a must.
5) Microchip your dog: it might be the only thing that reunites you if your dog gets lost. There are stories all the time about dogs and their people being brought back together even after months of separation. Microchips aren’t a guarantee that someone will find your lost dog or that the chip will be successfully scanned if he is found, but it certainly increases the chances of your dog finding his way back to you.
6) Have a first-aid kit specifically for your dog: injuries happen and instead of running off to the vet or emergency room for every little scrape, it’s good to have the basics at home to deal with them. Hydrogen peroxide, benadryl, neosporin, cotton balls, gauze pads and tape/vet wrap, safety scissors are all good things to have on hand for the minor problems. For anything more complex than the common scrapes, see your vet (number 4!).
7) Exercise your dog: this goes hand-in-paw with number 2 above. As much as an untrained dog can be a terror, so is the dog with no outlet for its energy. There are a lot of breeds that NEED to run, that need to have a “job”, and if you don’t help those dogs have directed playtime that burns off the built-up steam you dog will find a way to do it for himself. That can be in the form of digging, or what I can re-landscaping the yard. Or if you have a herding dog, they will begin to herd you, your family, your friends, the neighbors (no one likes being herded). Escaping from the yard is always a favorite for dogs that need to run. You can head off behavioral problems by simply taking your dog for a walk.
8) Properly socialize your dog: again, this is in line with number 2. Socialization is more than letting your dog sniff another dog’s nose. A well-socialized dog is a pleasure to take out in public; he is calm, quiet and focused without fear or anxiety of the situation or people/animals around him. Dogs are social creatures. They naturally like other dogs and people… until they learn not to. They can learn that from lack of exposure or they can learn from repeated negative experiences (btw, dog parks are lousy places to socialize your dog and frequently lead to behavior problems stemming from bad interactions) - and both can create fear and aggression. With puppies it’s easy to take them to puppy kindergarten or even stores that allow well-behaved dogs to get them accustomed to new people, dogs, places and experiences. Older dogs that have either little exposure or bad experiences may need a more expert hand at finding ways to socialize.
9) Take your dog with you/show them the world around them: if you have a trained, well-socialized dog, take him with you when you run your errands and when you travel. Going places with your dog can be so fun and rewarding for both of you. Some of my best trips have been with my dogs. Yes, it requires a level of planning that of spur of the moment regular road trip but it really enriches your dog’s life. Conversely, it makes for great memories for you.
10) Feed your dog the very best food: you knew I was going to talk about food, right? Here’s the deal – by feeding excellent quality food you are helping to stave off future health problems. Like the microchip, the best food doesn’t guarantee that your dog will never have health issues, but it does vastly increase the chances of a longer, healthier and happier life. I’m not a fan of food that comes out of a bag or can. It’s been processed beyond recognition of being real food. You can learn how to create a diet for your dog and then make it at home, which can be a lot of work – but you know exactly what you’re feeding and have control over all the ingredients. Of course, you could feed your dog Tigertail Foods’ dog food. We think it is the best you can buy. It’s made from all human-grade ingredients, and is a balance of what your dog needs in every meal.