Graduate from a ‘Pet Owner’ to a ‘Pet Parent’

A graduation ceremony is not just about black cloaks, tassle hats and degree rolls but a recognition of progression from one stage of life to another. Here’s a crash course in the field of pet parenting.

The two phrases mentioned above, ‘pet owner’ and ‘pet parent’ are often used interchangeably and hence, Complete Carethe dividing line between them may seem confusing to many. Owning a pet is limited to buying a dog or cat and can be interpreted as referring to your pet in terms of a possession. On the other hand, parenting the same puppy or kitty is a lifelong process, which begins even before you bring home your new fur child. If you are a dog lover and thinking of bringing home a pup, consider the commitment a pet dog entails. If you already have a dog or even a pack of dogs, deliberate how well you are fulfilling your obligations as a pet parent. Here’s a guide to pooch parenting:

Think before you act

Recognise the commitment: It’s a lifelong emotional and financial commitment. Assess whether you and your family are willing to commit yourselves to parenting the pup for at least the next ten years.

Evaluate the suitability of your lifestyle: A dog will become a large part of your life and hence it’s important to ensure he is compatible with your lifestyle. For example, if you are very active and intend to take your dog on long walks or excursions, a dog who has a low energy level will not accommodate well. These considerations are not just restricted to you but also include your family members’ hobbies, activities, personalities and schedules.

Make a list: Based on your evaluation, determine what qualities and characteristics you want in a dog. Some important aspects to consider are size, energy level, ease of training, grooming needs and temperament. Do you have children or elderly at home? Do you want a guard dog or a lap dog? Address these questions beforehand.

Shortlist suitable breeds: Once you have made a list of ideal characteristics, do your research work. Narrow your choices and select a few breeds that fit closest to what you are looking for. Remember, a mixed breed or ‘mutt’ can often fulfill your criteria for selection, unless you are very particular about the way a particular breed looks.

Find contacts or visit shelters: You have a better chance of finding a healthy puppy if you get your dog from a responsible, ethical breeder. If you are looking to adopt, visit animal shelters in your area and talk to the staff there. Be open to adopting a dog with special needs, if you think you can make the extra commitment.

Be inquisitive and expect questions: Ask the breeder any questions you can think of about his dogs, breeding programme and the breed in general. If you are not convinced with the breeder’s replies, trust your instinct and look for another one. When you find a breeder you are comfortable with, visit the kennel and meet the dogs. Inquire about health problems of the breed, whether any health tests have been done on the dogs, possibility of any genetic problems and what can be done to prevent or control them. A responsible breeder or shelter will ask you about the type of home you can offer. Ethical breeders and shelters are as committed as you are to finding the right dog for you. Give honest answers to their questions.

Take the plunge and make the commitment

Finalise your puppy/dog: If your breeder has an opinion about which puppy is right for you, take it into account. If you are re-homing an older dog or adopting from a shelter, ask your contact person for information on his health, temperament, behaviour and past history.

Get your papers in order: Information about the sale or adoption should be in writing. Your contract should include details regarding any fees/cost, health guarantees, spay-neuter agreements, re-selling of the pup etc. If possible, also include what will be done, if for any reason, you are unable to keep the dog. Most responsible breeders and shelters will insist that the dog be returned to them. Also, get the kennel club registration papers for your puppy from the breeder.

Ready. Set. Go!

Prepare yourself: Try to make the transition smooth for both, you and the puppy. Buy essentials like food, water bowls, collar, leash, treats, toys, shampoo and grooming tools required for the particular breed in advance.

Plan a schedule: Discuss and decide who in your family with be responsible for ensuring food and water are given timely, walking and taking the pup for toilet breaks, grooming and training. Emphasize the importance of the entire family following the same schedule to help the new pet adjust better and learn faster.

Dog-proof your house: Just like you childproof a house for a toddler, make adequate changes to ensure your puppy’s safety. Make electrical cords inaccessible to curious paws and wet noses. Move breakables or ‘chewables’ to higher ground. Block off areas of the house that you want off-limits to the dog. Check your fence for broken areas and ensure there is no route for the puppy to run out. Start putting your shoes in the closet!

Crate training and bedding: Every dog needs a quiet place to call his own and feel secure in. If you are planning to crate train your dog, get a crate, a mattress or a doggie bed suitable to the breed size. Create a comfortable area for him.

Buy some toys: Provide your dog with a variety of toys of varied textures and sizes to prevent him from playing with your socks and shoes, furniture, pillows- just about anything! Get some chew toys to ease the teething process and control destructive chewing from the beginning.

Find a veterinarian: Talk to other pet parents about their experiences with their respective vets. Choose a veterinarian for your dog before bringing the pup home and have him examined by the vet as soon as possible.

Bring your dog home – finally!

Welcome your new pet: Give him the best welcome possible. Remember it’s not just about you living with a new pet, but also the pup living with many new humans. Encourage mutual respect, patience and lots of love.

Give your puppy time to adjust: Separated from his siblings and mother, plus a new environment and new people, most puppies would feel homesick, insecure and scared. Give your pup time to adjust to his new home. Let him explore the new surroundings under supervision.

Make introductions: Introduce your dog to members of the household gradually. Don’t invite neighbours, friends and other family members to ooh and aah over your fur baby until he feels safe around you. Introductions also include meeting other animals in the house. Don’t expect all your pets to get along right away, and don’t try to force them to play together. Give them time to adjust to one another. Always watch out for any out-of-the-ordinary behaviours displayed by either the new pup, or older pets.

House-breaking: Toilet training begins the moment you bring home your pup. Whichever method of housetraining you have chosen, for example, paper training or crate training, make sure that all members of the family know about it and enforce it consistently. Accidents will happen, so be prepared to clean-up.

Health first

Vaccinate, visit the veterinarian: Set up a schedule for regular check-ups with your vet and follow the vaccination schedule. Don’t shy away from asking the vet questions about your dog’s diet, behaviour, activity level or other concerns. Have a vet’s number readily available for emergencies.

Diet and exercise: Figure out a diet that works best for your dog and suits you as well. Keep the diet consistent. Always provide plenty of fresh, clean water. Make sure that your home and yard are free from poisonous substances and be aware of foods that are unsafe for dogs. Dogs need regular exercise and are prone to health problems resulting from the lack of it. Most dogs love walking, playing ‘fetch’ and catching Frisbees and would rather do that than laze around!

Groom and bathe: Grooming is not just about fluffing up Fifi! All dogs should be groomed regularly for health reasons. The frequency of bathing and type of grooming depends on the breed, coat length and texture, amount of dirt in the dog’s environment or the amount of dirt your dog likes digging into! Some short-coated breeds may need brushing once a week, while some longer-coated breeds need daily brushing to prevent matting and to reduce shedding. Other aspects of grooming include nail clipping, brushing the teeth, hair clipping and paw pad care.

Be alert to changing needs: As your dog grows from a puppy to an adult to a senior, his needs will change. He will sleep more often, require a different diet, be less active and may face problems associated with old age. Your pet may not be as ‘fun’ as he once was, but remember he is the same dog you loved as a puppy and committed yourself to.

Let go when the time comes: If, due to illness or old age, your dog reaches a point where his quality of life is severely compromised, ask your vet what to do. It may be difficult for you but think about your fur baby’s suffering. Letting go is sometimes the kindest thing you can do.

(To be continued…)
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