Properly caring for your canine involves more than installing a doggie door and tossing some food into a bowl. Yes, these actions go a long way toward making this four-legged family member happy. However, once you adopt him, it is up to you to meet all his needs, both physical and emotional.
Your pooch's ancestors might have hunted for their own dinner, but you are their sole food provider now. Proper nutrition should include a high-quality, balanced dog food. Healthy treats can provide variety and aid in training, but be sure not to overindulge your pup. With so many on dog foods on the market, learn to read dog food labels to ensure your food of choice meets all of his nutritional needs. Be sure at least the first two ingredients are high-quality protein such as chicken, lamb or beef and NOT fillers like corn bran, oat bran, and other cereal by products. Then, read the rest of the ingredients list to ensure that the food doesn't contain artificial preservatives, colors or chemicals. If you decide to prepare homemade dog food with high quality ingredients, consult with your vet or pet nutrition expert on how to provide a balanced diet that includes protein, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats.
Throughout his entire life, your canine pal needs proper health care, just like you do. Vaccinations, parasite control, attention to injuries and illness all require trips to the doggie doc. Even if your dog appears to be in perfect health, an annual physical exam is required. Spay/neuter is also a must, unless you are a breeder. Pet insurance can cover some of the costs, or you can budget for annual care and put aside some for emergencies.
Shelter and Exercise
Domesticated dogs have lived with (and bred by) humans for so long that, unlike their wolf ancestors, they require sturdy protection from the elements and a soft place to park in order to be happy. Your pet also needs a convenient place to potty, a stimulating environment and regular exercise to keep him fit -- and to prevent destructive behavior. How much exercise he needs depends on several factors, including age, breed and health. A 1-year-old German shorthaired pointer will need to run 30 minutes a day, while a 5-year-old basset hound might just need a daily walk around the block. Do your homework before adopting a dog of any breed (pure or mixed) to see if their care requirements are a good fit for your lifestyle.
Training should start as soon as you bring your puppy home. A properly trained, well-behaved dog is welcome almost anywhere. Puppy kindergarten and basic training also teach you how to train your dog and offer a chance to bond. Dogs are intelligent, and training exercises also provide your pooch with mental stimulation.
Every dog needs grooming to some extent, though some more than others. Start regular brushing and bathing early and make it fun for Fido. Most dogs need to be brushed two or three times a week, while other breeds, such as Irish setters, need daily brushing. Breeds such as spaniels with large, droopy ears need their ears cleaned regularly, and dogs such as the Pekingese that tend to tear need their eyes cleaned. If you're considering a particular breed, look into his specific grooming needs to make sure you can meet them.
By Leslie Darling
About the Author
Leslie Darling has been a writer since 2003, writing regularly for "Mississippi Magazine" and "South Mississippi Living," specializing in food and wine, animals and pets, and all things Southern. She is a graduate of the University of New Orleans.