For the past three years, Petside.com has produced a great event knows as Pet 'Net - a compilation of blog posts from some of the Web's best pet-focused sites, all dedicated to a single topic. The event has harnessed the combined reach of a variety of bloggers to raise awareness about subjects that benefit from the deserved attention.
Are you ready to be a canine caretaker?
Make sure you are ready. Your lifestyle and your home environment are one of the most important factors in whether you are ready to have a dog in your life or not. It doesn’t matter if you live in a loft, an apartment or a palace, your home needs to have room for the dog, be safe and ready to meet their needs. Depending on the type of dog and where you live, it may be necessary to make sure that the dog is permitted in your residence. Many landlords and apartments do not allow dogs or have size restrictions and one of the worst things you could do would be to bring one home only to have to turn around and give them away or take them to a shelter. If you frequently travel, work multiple jobs or often spend time away from your home, you likely are not ready for a dog, unless you plan to take them everywhere with you. There is a reason why they are called companion animals. If you don’t have the time to be their companion its probably not time for you to get a dog. Don’t get a dog because you are lonely or because you just broke up with your significant other unless you are ready to put that dog’s needs ahead of yours by sacrificing your time, energy and social life to do what’s best for them. Don’t adopt a puppy for your kids unless you are ready to be the sole caretaker of that puppy. No judgement here, kids and puppies are the cutest but we all know that it’s mom and dad that do all the work, and pay all the money. If you are a young family and you want to bring a puppy into your life, that is amazing and awesome. Just be sure you have enough time for all that’s already on your plate and really understand the ultimate cost of your decision. There are a million reasons why some people should get dogs and a million reasons why some should not, depending on who you ask, and only you can be the real judge of if it’s right for you.
Can you afford a dog?
According to the ASPCA, the approximate annual cost of caring for a dog can range between $1300 and $1800 depending on their size. These costs include food, toys, accessories, licensing and the like. This figure does not specifically include additional expenses that you may opt to provide for your pal, such as doggie daycare, weekly grooming, designer duds or any unexpected medical costs. It is important to understand the cost associated with being a proper canine caretaker and to be prepared to cover these costs for the lifetime of your animal. Don’t let these numbers frighten you however. There are many low-cost, high-quality healthcare options out there for pup parents and pet health insurance is widely available to help with major medical expenses. Some people actually end up saving money once they get a dog, opting for long walks rather than gym memberships and dinners at home rather than dining out. Each situation is unique and, as Suze Orman says, “stand in your truth” and know what you are signing up for. If you can’t afford it now, wait until you can, there will be plenty of animals needing a home when you are ready.
What’s for Dinner?
Food will likely be one of your most notable expenses as a canine caretaker, but it could save you the most money in the long run. You should be prepared to budget their food into your regular expenses for their lifetime. By food, we mean food made specifically for the dog, not leftovers or table scraps. Tater tots and and hot dog piece are not nutritious for the dog and there are countless reasons why you shouldn’t feed your dog from your plate. Look for a food that will help your dog thrive and provide the nutrients they need so they will live as long as possible. There are great resources online and great published studies, but we recommend finding a retailer in your area with a knowledgeable staff that can explain all of your options and get you set down the right nutritional path. Whether raw, wet or kibbles, in the end, it is up to each pup parent to decide what they want to feed fido. If cost is the weighing factor in choosing a budget brand, consider the long-range healthcare costs that could occur from lack of proper nutrition. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of the cure and one of the easiest ways we can prevent death and disease for our companion is to control what...and how much..we put into their mouths.
Health and Wellness are a Must!
You shouldn’t even begin to think about bringing a dog into your life if you are not aware of, and prepared for their medical needs. Your dog will need annual vaccinations, yearly wellness exams, monthly heartworm and flea prevention as well as proper, nutritious foods, water, exercise and a clean environment to grow and flourish.
Vaccinations and heartworm preventatives should not be considered an option. Depending on where your dog came from, he may have been exposed to numerous deadly diseases and a rabies vaccination is required in most cities. For less than the cost of going to Starbucks for a weekly coffee, you can prevent heartworm disease in your dog. A simple pill or topical solution is all it takes to ensure that your dog doesn’t suffer this painful disease. The damage that’s done to the dog and the cost of the treatment far outweighs the cost to prevent heartworm disease and a year’s supply of preventative runs between $35 and $80, depending on the dog’s weight. Very common in the South and warmer climates, heartworms are transmitted through mosquitos and causes symptoms including a cough and early exhaustion upon exercise or activity. In the most advanced cases, where numerous adult worms have built up in the heart without treatment, signs progress to severe weight loss, fainting, coughing up blood and, finally, congestive heart failure. Preventive drugs are highly effective and when regularly administered will protect more than 99 percent of dogs and cats from heartworm. In regions where the temperature is consistently above 57 °F year round, a continuous prevention schedule is recommended because of the prevalence of mosquitos.
Another medical expense that you should budget for is sterilization of your animal. It’s no secret that all of us at Houston Dog Blog are huge advocates of spaying and neutering companion animals. Animal overpopulation is a huge crisis throughout our country, leading to countless animals being unwanted, unloved and ultimately ending up in shelters or on the streets. It’s a simple and effective way to combat animal overpopulation and there are numerous health and behavior benefits associated with proper sterilization too. For female dogs, spaying can prevent ovarian and uterine cancers as well as mammary gland tumors, the most common form of tumors found in female dogs. An unspayed dog is 12 times more likely to develop mammary tumors than a dog spayed between the ages of 6 to 8 months. Add in the danger of giving birth and the dangers associated with that process and it makes complete sense to spay your dog as early as possible. Male dogs can develop testicular tumors and cancers if not sterilized, not to mention being put into harms way by their drive to mate. Behavior benefits for spayed dogs includes prevention of irritability and aggressiveness common with heat cycles and in altered males there is a reduction in aggressiveness and sexual mounting, as well as the reduction and elimination of marking tendencies. There are many low-cost, high-quality options that make it easy and affordable and it is better for them and the entire animal population.
Take the Time to Train and Socialize!
Dogs are undoubtedly intelligent and armed with their own particular canine instincts and behaviors. If we want to have a happy life with our hounds, training and socialization are a must. Look at the dogs in Europe. They accompany their humans everywhere, including inside of cafes, shops and even historic castle’s and palaces filled with tourists. What’s so striking is how well the dogs behave. They don’t see their day as unique or new. They are used to being in public and behaving in public. They all look healthy, they all look happy and they all look loved. Much like us humans, they seem to not only adapt to their changing lives, they seem to know how to act and what is expected of them because they have been doing it for years. Training and socialization are a part of these dog’s lives and should be a part of your dog’s life too.
We often get asked about trainers and who we recommend, which is hard to answer because every person and dog is different. What works for us may not work for others and it is the responsibility of each parent to decide the best course of action to educating their canine. There are many training options available today including group classes, personalized one-on-one training, books, kits and videos, just to name a few. It is important to determine which type of program and trainer fit not only your pup’s learning style, but yours. The dog is not the only one being trained, you and your family will be trained as well. Some trainers are great with dogs and not so great with people, while others are a little more sensitive to the learning curve many of us have. Choosing a training option is not too different than choosing a school for human children. You want to tour the facility, meet with the teacher, observe a class and then make the decision that you feel is best for you and your dog. In some cases, as in humans, you may want to homeschool your dog or train them on your own. There are numerous resources out there to assist with this and if you dedicate the proper time and energy, you may achieve your training goals, but you will have nobody but yourself to blame should the outcome not be favorable.
Create a Space for Fido in Your Home!
We all love to have our own personal space and a dog is no different. If you are bringing a new dog into the home, is there space that is devoted to them? Trust us, you want to define your zone before it all becomes their zone and a crate or kennel creates a perfect doggie den in any room of your home. Whether in the wild or in your bungalow, dogs seem to have a preference for some rather interesting dark and cozy places like under porches, beds or tables. You can create their own cozy den by introducing your dog to a crate or kennel, giving them their own cozy quiet spot to go when they want to chill. Crates also serve as a great tool for preventing the formation of many bad habits and life threatening situations. A dog that is crated will not slip out the door, they won’t eat garbage and they won’t chew on electrical cords while you are away. They also won’t mutilate your driving moccasins or knock the groceries out of your hand when you come in the door. Crating helps to develop patterns and schedules for your dog, whether puppy or not and should be a place of calmness and comfort and not used for punishment or discipline. If you are in the midst of potty training you should research methods that fit best with you and your pup’s lifestyle. Veterinarians and dog trainers can be a great resources for potty training information and there are countless tips and tricks on the web. During potty training there will be accidents and it’s not always going to be a party, but it doesn’t last forever and can be simple if you stay disciplined.
If you ultimately decide not to use a crate, you may consider the option of gating your dog in a certain area when you leave the house, a laundry room, kitchen or bathroom seem to be the most popular places in most homes. Make sure they have a comfortable surface to sleep on as well as a favorite toy, or multiple toys, to keep them occupied. Depending on the age of the dog, you will want to make sure you have the appropriate amount of water. Don’t forget that every dog makes mistakes and no matter what their age, accidents can happen.
How do you Find the Right Pup?
Now that you are ready and you have prepared for an impending pup arrival, its time for the fun part, finding your four-legged family member. There are millions of animals that need homes and, like us people, they are all unique and different. Before jumping in head first, it is important for anyone looking to add a four-legged family member to understand the characteristics of different breeds, or mixtures of breeds of any pup they are hoping to bring home. Are you active and want a dog to jog with? Probably best that you not get a Bassett Hound. If you are more of a lounger, you may want to find a pooch that prefers a wool blanket to long walks. It is important that you research breeds and types of dogs to see what fits best. This doesn’t mean that you have to get that breed, or any breed for that matter. It just means that you should know as much as you can about common traits and characteristics of a certain breed or type of dog and the related behaviors and instincts that are inherent in them.
When starting your search, there are many options we recommend, but one that we strongly discourage...a pet store. These puppies are cute and we all feel sorry for them and want to “rescue” them from the small box in a window at a store, but not only does this keep an industry that is not concerned with the health and well being of the puppy alive, it also could end up costing you much more money, time and heartbreak. The puppies in the mall most often come from puppy mills, where the conditions are terrible and respect for the animal’s well-being is not considered. These puppies often come with more than a wet nose and a wagging tail. They are prone to health and behavior problems, have poor socialization skills and often take much longer to housebreak because they are accustomed to lying in their waste. If that doesn’t deter you, consider the actual cost you will pay for one of these puppies. Pet stores that sell animals do so because it is profitable. They charge exorbitant amounts for popular breeds and, as a business, often cut corners to make each puppy more profitable. They are not concerned with that animal, or you for that matter, after the puppy leaves the store and you may be setting yourself up for disappointment and unnecessary stress. If you just can’t get past the puppy dog eyes in a store, go home and check out breed-specific rescue. Puppies that are not sold are often times returned to the puppy mill and many rescue groups step in to help save the animal from being euthanized. Many times, you can find a dog or puppy that was bred under the same conditions that pet store dogs are, but they are up to date on their shots and completely vetted. It’s the only true way to “save” a puppy from the situation and you will not be feeding the cycle of misery.
When searching for your four-legged soulamate, think about the adoption option! If you know the type of dog that is a fit for you, but age and breed standards are not a concern, the afore-mentioned breed-specific rescue groups are a great adoption option. Nearly every breed in the U.S. has a rescue group, usually filled with available dogs that are ready to curl up at your feet. These groups most often rely on foster families to care for the emotional and physical needs of the dog, often times this could be the first time the dog has been shown love and compassion. Some completely come out of their shell when in a foster home, while others show their sensitivities and fears. Regardless of the pup’s demeanor, potential adopters will have a more complete picture of what to expect and how to best prepare for caring for the canine. The rescue group also knows what is best for the dog and will only adopt out to proper candidates. There is usually an application process and a home visit or interview involved which can add time to the adoption, but it should make you feel good that they are just as concerned about a successful placement as you should be.
If you are less concerned with the breed and would rather search for that perfect pup, there are countless options. Each weekend in cities throughout the nation there are adoption events and rescue meet and greets full of animals that are ready for a new home. Visiting these events and your local shelter and rescue organizations gives you the opportunity to meet the dogs while also enabling you to meet the dedicated volunteers that are caring for the pups. By getting to know the people involved, you can get valuable information on each dog as well as insight on the dog’s personality and behavior. If you don’t spot your perfect canine companion at a shelter or an adoption event, talk with the organizers about the type of dog you are looking for, chances are they know of an available canine candidate or can advise you on other options. Sometimes it takes a little time for the perfect pup to cross your path, but it is worth the wait to find the best fit for you both. When you do meet that perfect companion, it’s important to realize that you can't always predict how the puppy you adopt will mature, especially if they are a mixed-breed. If you adopt a young dog, make sure you're ready to accept them as an adult, even if they turn out to be thirty pounds larger and six inches furrier than anticipated. Too many animals are tuned into shelters because they became “too big”or “required more maintenance” than someone thought. You are making a commitment to that dog when you bring it into your life and if you can’t commit, it’s not a fit.
Maybe you want a canine companion, but don’t want the responsibility of potty training or puppy pranks? An older dog is probably a better fit for you. There are millions of dogs just past the puppy stage, or even further along in age, that are ready and willing to step into the role of trusty sidekick. Unfortunately, they are also usually first on the list for euthanization at shelters. There are simply too many and not enough resources to provide for them. By adopting an older dog you may literally be saving the dog from death, giving them a second chance at a happy ending. Another benefit of adopting an older dog is that you have a better picture of what you are taking on. You can see their physical traits and get some idea of their basic temperament, even though dogs in shelters and dogs newly in rescue foster homes may not always show their true personality right away.
Adult and senior dogs are a great option for first-time dog parents that can’t devote the time necessary to train, socialize, and exercise a puppy properly. Raising a puppy is not all fun and games and it couldn’t hurt to talk to someone who is currently going through the process to get a realistic picture of what it's like.
Knowing and respecting your personal limitations when it comes to being a a canine caretaker is the only way. to ensure that you...and the dog have a long and happy life together. It is a commitment and responsibility that comes with the most amazing benefits and rewards when we take the time and effort to become the best canine caretakers we can be.
Want to learn more and help animals? Here are some ways!
READ AND LEARN about shelter adoption on Petside.com’s comprehensive one-page hub (www.Petside.com/PetNet2011). With links to over 20 pet-centric websites, visitors can easily navigate from site to site and read articles on topics ranging from the benefits of adopting a senior pet to personal stories of strength.
VOTE for your favorite Pet ‘Net article with a new voting tool on the hub page. The blogger who garners the most votes will receive a $500 donation from Petside to the shelter of their choice!
SHARE AND DONATE with Pet ‘Net’s interactive social media campaign. To show pet lovers that there are many ways to support local shelters, Iams© Home 4 The Holidays and their Bags 4 Bowls initiative will donate 25 bowls of food to local shelters for every mention of the Pet ‘Net hashtag (#iheartshelterpets) and @IAMS handle on Twitter. Users can also “Like” Petside’s Facebook page (www.Facebook.com/Petside) for an additional donation of 25 bowls and share a personal adoption experience on Petside’s wall for a chance to be featured on Petfinder.com as a Happy Tail story!