Dogs make great pets, as long as they are properly cared for in a suitable home. All owners have a responsibility to look after their pet under the terms of the Animal Welfare Act. So how do you make sure your dog is happy and healthy?
It’s a good idea to familiarise yourself with the different breeds of dog before you choose a pet. You can teach any dog to be well behaved, but some breeds are undoubtedly easier to manage than others. And pedigrees might be attractive, but they often suffer from serious health conditions, which can prove expensive.
Space for your pooch
Ask yourself whether you have the space for a pooch. Dogs love the outdoors but they should not live outside as the cold and damp can make them ill. You therefore need to have enough room to accommodate a dog in your home. Experts recommend that your dog has somewhere quiet to rest and sleep, as well as somewhere to hide. Dogs can be frightened by strange or loud noises and need a place to take shelter until the ‘danger’ has passed. If not, they can become anxious and distressed.
The conservatory might seem a great home for a dog, but you should never keep a dog in the there. On a sunny day, it’s a bit like leaving your pet in the car as the temperature could soar to dangerous levels.
House with a garden
A house with a garden is obviously a better environment for a dog than a studio flat with a balcony, not least because your pet will need regular opportunities to go to the toilet. Space is particularly important if you have more than one dog as cramped conditions can cause fighting
The conservatory might seem a great home for a dog, but you should never keep a dog in the there.
Hazards in the home
Dogs are a bit like toddlers and like to explore, so the house should be free from hazards. So don’t leave dangerous objects or substances lying around. Remember too that the garden can be dangerous for dogs as slug pellets, rodent killer and even some plants can be poisonous.
It can be cruel to keep a dog alone in the house all day while you are at work. In fact, no dog should be left alone for more than three to four hours at a stretch. If it’s unavoidable, try to arrange for a trusted friend or neighbour to pop round and, if possible, take the dog for a walk.
If your dog displays behavioural problems such as chewing the furniture, persistent barking or inappropriate toileting when it is left for even a short time, then it might be suffering from separation anxiety. Animal organisations offer lots of information about teaching your dog to cope with brief, planned absences, or you could call in a qualified behaviour expert if the problem persists.
The Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour (ASAB) accredits Certified Clinical Animal Behaviourists (CCAB) and its website has lots of information. (www.asab.org). Or there’s the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors (APBC) at www.apbc.org.uk
Leave the lights on
Make sure your dog can behave appropriately before you leave it alone for any length of time or give it the run of the house. Some people like to turn on the radio when their dog is alone as the human voices can offer the dog reassurance. The RSPCA also advises owners to leave a light on if they do not expect to be back until after dark.
Babies and children
Play with your dog and make sure it can socialise with other animals and people. But be careful with babies and children. Babies make sudden and unfamiliar movements which can startle a dog and cause it to snap. They can also resemble prey if they are squirming around on the floor.
Children, too, do not always understand that a dog does not want to be hugged or kissed – or have its tail pulled. There is no reason why a dog cannot live perfectly happily with children, but you need to carefully manage the introductions, and never leave a baby or young child alone with a dog.
One rule to follow is that you should avoid situations where a human’s head is lower than that of the dog – this might trigger an instinct in the dog where it assumes it is more powerful and entitled to show aggression.
Something to chew on
Dog toys are a good way to stimulate and occupy your dog. You pet should also have something to chew when it’s quiet, perhaps in its basket. Take care with chews, though. Contrary to conventional wisdom, bones aren’t particularly good for dogs. Ordinary toys can also disintegrate and end up in the dog’s tummy. Look instead for special chews at the pet store.
Owners often complain that their dogs chew shoes or even the TV remote, anything but their chew toy. If your dog is chewing inappropriately, it might be for a number of reasons. It could be bored, attention seeking, in distress or even lacking something in its diet. So, it’s worth investigating the causes. Puppies also chew when they are teething.
Walking the dog
If your dog isn’t active, it will quickly put on weight and its health could suffer. You should therefore aim to take your pet for a walk at least once a day. You should also give a dog the opportunity to run safely off the lead, perhaps in a park or wood. A trip round the block or the garden is a great opportunity for a dog to go to the toilet, but it is no substitute for proper exercise.
Sticks and stones
Watch out if you throw sticks for your dog as the wood could lodge in its throat and cause a nasty injury. It’s better to throw a ball, as long as it’s not too small.
A dog is required by law to wear a collar that displays the owner’s name and address when it is in a public place. Many people also choose to microchip their dog so it is easier to locate and return if it gets lost or stolen.
Food and drink
Your pet should have constant access to clean drinking water as it can become ill very quickly if it is dehydrated. It should also be fed once a day, with appropriate food. Dogs shouldn’t eat the same meals as the humans in the family as many ingredients can cause harm. Chocolate is particularly bad for dogs, as are onions, grapes, raisins, sultanas and currants.
Always follow the instructions to make sure you give your dog the right amount of food. And try to limit the treats, however much your dog begs! An overweight dog is not a healthy or a happy dog.
You should aim to visit the vet once a year for a health check. But if your dog is ill, you should take it to the vet immediately. Your vet can also give you advice about grooming, as well as vaccinations, neutering and parasite treatments. It is also very important to get the correct dog insurance for you and your cuddly companion so that they are covered should the worst happen.