Tips for Keeping your Dog Healthy and Safe
Training your dog takes time and costs money, but it's an education that will reward you and your pet for its remaining years. Training teaches you and your dog how to communicate. It's a foundation for understanding, growth, and respect. A trained dog is happier because it is challenged mentally, and it understands someone else is in charge (a huge relief to almost every dog). Training teaches your dog it must follow your commands every time - which increases your pet's safety and welfare. A good trainer is a wealth of information - a person who will help improve day to day life with your dog, troubleshoot current and future problems, and bring you to a whole new understanding of what makes your dog tick.
'New Dog' 3 Day Leash Supervision
Any dog that is a new addition to your family should be closely supervised "on leash" for its first 3 days in the home. This allows the owner(s) and dog to develop a stronger bond, keeps the dog in view where any problem behaviors can be addressed, better acclimates the dog to it's new environment, and helps to teach the dog your house rules. Unsupervised dogs can get into mischief, get injured, or bite a child or other pet. Take time to get to know your dog, then gradually allow more freedoms as appropriate.
Obviously you can't watch your new dog for 24 hours a day. At times when you aren't able to do so, your dog should have its own crate. A crate is not a cage or punishment, rather it becomes your dog's den and area of refuge. As your relationship progresses, a crate may not always be necessary, but you'll find many dogs still enjoy them. Dogs that are not crated when owners can't supervise may get into poisons, electrical wires, and other hazards around the home. Crates help reduce anxiety and decrease the time needed to house train puppies. NEVER leave any collars on your dog when it is in a crate as they pose a choking hazard.
Some evidence suggests postponing a spay/neuter until a dog's skeletal structure is fully developed is very beneficial to the health of the dog. For small breeds this will typically be around 9 months of age, and for giant breeds around 1-1/2 years. Although common practice is to spay neuter prior to sexual maturity, owners should consider discussing options with their Veterinarian.
Spaying/neutering has little effect on most canine behavior, but training is important for intact dogs to provide clear leadership and assure they become good citizens. If you are planning to breed your dog, please consider that it's a hard, expensive, and time consuming venture when done properly. Seeking guidance and mentoring from an experienced breeder is recommended.
Do Not Tolerate Inappropriate Behaviors
The vast majority of behavioral problems start out small. Begin thinking about what you will and won't allow your pet to do. A puppy that's play biting may seem harmless, but it's learning that putting teeth on people is ok and opens the door to future problems. The dog that jumps on you to say hello may be friendly, but you won't like it when his paws are muddy or he jumps on an elderly relative. You need to set rules and apply them consistently from an early age. Look into your pet's future - as it grows in size and strength, think about whether a behavior could be problematic. It's best to disallow any bad behaviors from hour 1, even if you never formerly train your dog.
Thousands of dogs are injured or strangled by their collars each and every year. Just because you're dog is older and has never had a problem doesn't mean it couldn't happen tomorrow. There's a great deal of information and very good collars on this site. My dogs wear only these collars unless we're training or working, where they're under my direct supervision.
Your dog should be used to your touch for regular care including grooming, tooth brushing, nail trimming, medications, etc. It's best to start early with your dog to make certain it doesn't develop any bad behaviors. Especially in a home with children, a tail or ear pull should never result in a growl or bite.
Food and Toys
A good trainer can discuss options in helping your dog be comfortable sharing toys, or when people are near a food bowl during feedings. Growling or snapping is a problem that should always be addressed as soon as possible.
Avoid any and all natural toy products for your dog such as rawhide, pig's ears, hooves, and the like. These natural toys often increase the likelihood of guarding behaviors, may contain various contaminants from processing, and can cause intestinal blockages or choking. Natural bones can splinter and injure your pet.
Adult dogs are best fed 2 times / day (unless recommended otherwise by your Vet). Feeding only 1 time / day increases the chances of gastric torsion, a life threatening condition seen most often in larger breeds.
A lot of well-intentioned dog lovers are proponents of dog parks, but you should consider some of their potential problems. Anytime dogs are meeting other dogs, those meetings should be well supervised. This doesn't always happen at dog parks. Dog "bullies" and "overly-excited" dogs may roam free in these parks and jump, stalk, or challenge well behaved dogs. In one visit these good dogs can become nervous, fearful, aggressive, injured, or worse.
If your dog is already "pushy" or poorly behaved, unsupervised environments generally make those problems worse. By strengthening pack and prey instincts, dog park visits can quickly reduce an owner's leadership role in the home, undermine training efforts, and increases the likelihood of serious behavioral problems. It's fine for dogs to be around other dogs, but owners must maintain control or everyone loses.
Adopt or Buy a Dog on Personality, Not Looks
Having a dog is a long commitment. It can be one of the most enjoyable experiences of your life, or a burden. Far too many people adopt or buy a dog based solely on its looks. Your parents probably mentioned that looks are fleeting. Do some research to learn what breeds may be a good match to your family and lifestyle. Whether you're going to adopt or buy, spend time with the actual dog you're considering to develop a sense of its personality and temperament. Doing this can save both you and the dog a lot of heartache.