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Thursday, January 27, 2011

How-to: Owning A Dog

Owning a dog is like being a housewife - it's a full time job, 24/7, 365 days a year. Lots of people these days want dogs for various reasons - home security, companionship, or just the plain passion of it. But before you even imagine life with a dog ...

Get some experience about handling and communicating with dogs by visiting a friend or relative who has a dog. Usually, the serious dog owners will know more about dogs than the average person. After a period of time, you should feel closer with the said dog, and would perhaps be able to interpret its facial expressions, reactions, etc.

Your house should be able to comfortably accommodate you, the dog and your family (if they're living with you). And also make sure that you will have enough time to take care of and teach the dog while its living with you. If you're about to be in the office most of the day, I would recommend you don't get a dog at all or hire some reliable help.

Your family members or house mates should be notified ahead of time so that they can prepare for what's coming, i.e. puddles, whining at night, etc. If even one of your house-mates disagree on having the dog in your place, it would be best to postpone the decision until you get your own place as to avoid animal abuse at some point.

Find out all you can about different breeds. Many different types of dog breed books are available in most bookstores or you could do some research online on a reliable website. Each dog is different from the other - size, coat maintenance, temperament, etc. Narrow down your choices by finding comparing the dogs' requirements and size with what you're looking for.

If you have children in your house, make sure that they will take up the responsibility of taking care of the dog and ensure that they will handle the dog appropriately. Overly violent handling may result in the dog retaliating violently.

Choose a name for your dog, and try to choose one that is unique and would most likely not sound like the commands you're planning to teach it, such as sit, lie down, etc. There are many dog name lists on the net. We chose Duke for our dog, as it's as royal as our pup was, and it was highly unlikely that any commands will clash with his name.

Your house may not be dog-friendly, especially if you have lots of stuff on display on delicate shelves and in reach of the dog (depending on the size). If you can, get a wooden cabinet with glass / plastic panes so that you can still display your decorations but minimize the risk of having something break. I would recommend purchasing at IKEA.

Remove all poisonous plants (to the dog) from your house, out of its reach at least. These poisonous plants include poinsettia (leaves), azaleas and rhododendrons (green leaves), dumb cane (leaves), Japanese yew (needles, bark, seed), oleander (leaves, stems, bark), English ivy (fruit), mushroom (Amanita species), precatory bean (seeds) and castor bean (seeds). * Source: The Complete Dog Owner's Manual by Amy Marder, V.M.D) *

Purchase all the necessities - food, food bowls, grooming tools, toys, leash, collar, a crate, treats, and a place to sleep, preferably somewhere soft and warm. The collar can be used for walking as well, but recommended for bigger dogs as they will be more easily controlled. For smaller dogs, opt for a body harness, which wraps around the torso.

When purchasing / adopting the dog, make sure the breeder is a legitimate and reliable one. I have no recommendations on this one as the only dog I owned came as a surprise. Inquire about the health status, date of birth, vaccination status, and similar information. You should also inquire regarding the health status of the parents of the pup (if you're adopting / purchasing a puppy) or about his previous visits to the veterinary (if you're getting a grown dog).

Draw up a time table so that everyone in the house will help with the doggy chores. Divide the feeding, poop-and-pee clearing, bathing, grooming and training as evenly as possible among the people in the house. The training sessions should go on throughout the day, and be completely consistent. E.g. if one person starts to teach 'sit', the others should follow suit, not adding any other words to the command as this will confuse the dog.

Try to keep the dog pickup trip minimised as a sudden crowd may scare the puppy or dog. Right after you get home, prepare some water for it and let it make a trip to its bathroom. After that, put it in its crate with the gate open or put it in an open space, allowing a large area around him. Avoid crowding him as, I've said before, crowding may scare it.

If you have other pets in the house such as cats, hamsters or guinea pigs, keep them out of reach of your new pooch for now. You can have them get to know each other later. If possible keep him or the other pet (either one) in a cage and then introduce them to each other. Be careful as it is widely known that cats and dogs don't always get along with each other (and this is not a Garfield comic strip).

Don't force it to do things such as come out of its cage or go to a particular person. Adapting to a new environment takes time, especially with a grown dog (though mine seems pretty happy right now =P). If the puppy wishes to stay where it is until the crowd disperses, let it. His curiosity will get the better of him and he will start to explore.

Take it to the vet the next day if he hasn't had his vaccinations, or if you're not sure it's at the peak of its health. Two people will suffice - one to carry it, and the other to do the paperwork and such. Listen closely to the veterinarian's instructions and follow them, even if the instructions span a week or so. Spay her or neuter him if you are not planning to become a breeder. Without neutering, male dogs would be more violent; females (bitches =x) on the other hand, may gain weight after spaying.

Dogs are naturally curious creatures, and will sometimes snoop around something that they shouldn't. You (and your house-mates) will have to teach it what is safe to explore and what is not. Never discipline the dog with your bare hand - the dog will identify your hand as a source of pain and will bite whenever it looks as if you are going to discipline it.

An alternative is to get some newspaper, roll it up tight and tape it securely with lots of tape. This will serve as your 'discipline tool'. Whenever your dog does something wrong, give it a firm spank on the rump while saying a firm (don't shout though) 'no'. Only do this if it is caught in the act, and never go beyond two spanks, as it will retaliate.

On the dog's first day in your home, have a fixed schedule on when it will be fed, what time it will be let out to do it's business, when it will be given it's bath, etc. Although many dog owner manuals state that training should not be confined to one time period, I actually merged lunch time with training sessions.

Always have dog biscuits on hand if your dog is to be with you. Don't assume that the certain amount would be enough - always bring more than enough. Just in case, one doesn't work, you still have more.

Training should be firm, but gentle. Never shout at the dog or react violently. The dog is not a tool for you to let out your anger. If you're having a bad day and your temper is hot, it would be best to ask someone else to continue the training session. Always end your training sessions on a good note, i.e. when your dog successfully performs on command.

Alternate training sessions with and without treats. This would train it to obey commands even if no treat is to be given. This, in turn, will help you better manage your dog when he is out in the public.

Give him a selection of chewing toys to choose from. Only having one toy is much too boring, and after he tires of that single toy, he will find other toys, such as your hair brush, your shoes or anything else that it would like and is within its reach. Some dogs (like mine), however would favor one toy much more than another and would prefer that toy to any other new toys you give it in the long run.

If you plan to take it out for walks often, make sure he's used to having a leashed collar / body harness. In older dogs, this should be no problem, though if you're afraid that he might react violently to anything, you should put a muzzle when he is out in public. For puppies, most puppies would have sufficient exercise at home, but since you want him to get used to being on a leash, collar / harness him and attach the leash. Let him drag it around and at some points have him follow you on the leash.

The potty training part would be the most tedious of the puppy training mission. You can use any non-violent method of doing this. What we did with our puppy was wait for him to do his business, dip a rag in his pee or wrap up his poop, put it at his muzzle so he smells it while saying 'pee-pee' or 'poo-poo' (gawd this sounds like Despicable Me =P). By doing so he identifies the urine and the stool, and hopefully goes to the appropriate place to relieve himself of them.

Whenever you find a puddle, don't head straight for the 'discipline tool'. Since you have not caught him in the act, disciplining him now will lead to confusion on his side. Just clean up the puddle and be sure to keep an eye on him in the future. When you do catch him, give him a firm (but gentle) spank on the rump (with the 'discipline tool'), say a firm 'no', take him to where he should do his business and say 'pee-pee' (or whatever you want to call his urine) so that he will know where he should and should not pee.

Food-wise, restrict his early diet (if he's a puppy) to dog food only. Usually in their early years, puppies would be weaned at the earliest 6 weeks after birth from its mother's milk. Then he would either be staying with the mother, or given away. If yours is a fairly new-born pup, mix his usual puppy food with some puppy milk. This will provide the essential nutrients that are present is his mother's milk and will also help soften the hard pellets. DO NOT USE MILK MEANT FOR HUMAN INGESTION.

As he grows older, allow him certain bits of fruits and vegetables. Be aware, though - some foods may be poisonous to them, but not to us. Some examples of these foods are onions, chocolates, xylitol (the sugar you find in some brands of chewing gum), and so on. Do some research if you're really worried. Always make sure that whatever you give your dog is something very low or contains no excessive salt or oil at all. Excessive intake of salts and oils are unhealthy, and sometimes fatal, to dogs.

Even if you were to give any treats to him, set a limit to the amount and frequency. By any means necessary (of course, excluding violent means), resists those tearful goo-goo eyes. Ignore the whines and the incessant pestering. Dogs will eat whatever they are given, however large the portion (except for some picky eaters like mine was), and so giving up to the pestering will just lead to weight gain and obesity.

It would be useful to allow your dog to familiarize with other dogs. Some particular dogs like Akitas and Shiba Inus will stand their ground and most likely react aggressively toward other dogs. Try to have him in contact with other dogs as much as possible, observe their reactions and always keep a tight hand on your end of the leash in case he lashes out.


Grooming of the dog varies in different breeds - some dogs may require more attention here than most. Long haired breeds, such as the American Cocker Spaniel, Schnauzer and Maltese would have floor length coats if left to grow. If your dog is to be pampered for dog shows and such, you will have to spend many hours a day only brushing his coat. Unlike walks in the park, missing one day of this will lead to endless mats and tangles in their long coats, especially in more active breeds.

Use an appropriate dog hair brush (never use human products) to gently comb through his coat. If you do encounter a mat or tangle, gently brush / comb through, if it still doesn't come undone, get a pair of scissors and cut off only the mat / tangle itself, do not go any higher than the mat itself.

The frequency of bathing your pooch also varies. The regular dog owner (me included) bathe their dogs once a week. Some dogs have natural water repelling coats under the coat that is usually visible, and bathing your dog too much may strip these coats of their natural functions. Some bathe their dogs only 'when necessary'. What do they mean by necessary? It means when the dog starts to scratch or smell more than usual.

Some owners would let their dogs dry themselves out under the sun, but other more wary owners would either A. let them air dry after toweling them as much as possible, or B. grab a hair dryer. Now human equipment isn't meant for canine use, but this is an exception. But if you were to use a hair dryer to blow dry his coat, opt for one that has a cool air function and is as silent as possible, as the noise might frighten him.

Needless to say, his shampoos, conditioners, powders and deodorants are to be made specially for dogs. NEVER EVER USE HUMAN PRODUCTS ON HIM. Rinse any shampoo and/or conditioner out thoroughly so that he will not suffer from skin sensitivity later on.

In my opinion, the most daunting task of dog grooming is the nail clipping. Our nails and their nails are different - dog's nail have a 'quick' (a whole junk-load of capillaries and nerves) at the base of their nails, and accidentally cutting that will result in bleeding and also immense pain for him. If your dog is constantly walked along tar roads or some rough surface, you can probably skip this step, especially if your dog always strains against the leash.

At some point you are going to leave the house for a few days at a time, regardless of the reason. You'll be left at the choice of A. bringing him along; B. leaving him at a reliable pet shop; or C. leaving him with a friend or neighbor.

A. If you're gonna take him along, make sure where you're gonna stay allows dogs. Bring enough food, his bowls, a couple of chew toys, a portable crate and some old T-shirts or such in case he'll have to sleep in the crate. Involve him in as many of the activities you have on your itinerary as possible, if not it'll pointless to bring him along.

B. Make sure your dog is in good condition before passing him to the pet shop staff, along with a couple of toys (in case he gets home sick) and any ailment information. When you (and he) gets home, observe his actions and check his body in case of any animal abuse or such.

C. I would say this would be the most unreliable way, especially if the friend / neighbor does not / has not owned a dog before. What may me tolerable to you might not be tolerable to him / her and may lead to violence towards him. Anyways the same steps should be taken as in B.

Your dog may experience anxiety especially if he isn't used to long-distance travelling, even more especially if he is to be in a confined space for such a long time. If you're travelling by car, it would be wise to find a rest stop, bring him to an isolated place and let him empty his bladder every once in a while. If he'll be in the luggage cargo at some point, line his portable crate with lots of absorbent material and be prepared for poop-covered paws.

Enjoying their company, their loyalty. Take pleasure in pampering and spoiling them (with a limit). I love cuddling dogs, pups and grown alike. We share kisses and hugs. XD Just enjoy playing with them. Sometimes when you don't know who to talk to, your pooch might just be the best listener.

Dogs' company is something like chocolate - no matter how down or tired you are, one cuddle and you're all warmed up. XD

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