Graduate from a ‘Pet Owner’ to a ‘Pet Parent’ PART-II

In the last issue, we discussed how to zero in your search for a perfect puppy, how to make him comfortable at home and taking care of his heath needs. Here’s more on this crash course in the field of pet parenting. Keep your dog safe

  • ID tags: Get an identification tag with your name, address and phone number and make sure it is attached to your dog’s collar at all times. This will increase the chances of your pooch being returned to you if he is lost or ran away chasing a cat! Have current pictures of your dog handy in case you need to start a search for him.
  • Travel safely: It’s always fun to take your pet on family trips. Take extra precautions and plan ahead of time to make sure the vacation goes smoothly. Never allow your dog to hang his head out of the car window.
  • Find a boarding kennel or pet-sitter: If you are unable to take your dog with you, make adequate arrangements for his care in your absence. Check out the kennel beforehand, inspect the facilities and listen to what others have to say about the place.
  • Prepare for disaster: Make an emergency kit with first aid equipment and some food. Keep it at a quickly accessible place in the house. In case of other emergencies, like sudden illness or hospitalization, enlist a friend or family member to take care of your dog. Leave a list of general care instructions in a safe place.
  • Make a will: Make arrangements for the safety and care of your dog for his lifetime in your will.

All work and no play make
Bruno and Bruno’s parents dull!

  • Play!: Dogs, of course, love to play. Some live to play! Set aside time each day for play sessions. Not only does it provide an outlet for your pup’s energy, it strengthens the bond between you two.
  • Go on walks: Take your dog on frequent walks. He will enjoy exploring the neighbourhood scents and smells and will benefit from the exercise. So will you!
  • Talk to your dog: He might not understand the words but dogs do understand the tone and pitch of human voice. Oh, and don’t forget to scratch your dog’s belly often.
  • Give your time: You may be tired after a long day at work or home, but your dog spends the entire day eagerly waiting for your return. Remember, you are the centre of your dog’s world. Give him time- pet, talk, play, laugh, share and love.

Train yourself to train your dog

  • Know who is the alpha: Dogs are pack animals by nature and need to know who heads the pack. You should be the pack leader and establish the same in your dog’s understanding of the family as a pack.
  • Basic commands: Training your dog will not only prevent destructive behaviour on his part or make life easier for you, but will also stimulate the dog intellectually. Basic commands such as sit, stay, come and down are also essential for your pet’s safety.
  • Socialise your dog: To ensure that your puppy grows up to be a confident yet friendly adult dog, expose him to different people and places regularly. Take him to the park, to the pet store, on a walk through your locality and meet up with other pet parents.
  • A dog with a job: Keep your dog active mentally as well as physically. Teach him to fetch the newspaper, carry a bag or even his toy. Make your doggie sit before giving a treat or lay down before going for a walk. Give your dog a sense of purpose and accomplishment.

Breed responsibly- rather, avoid breeding

  • Sterilise: Spay or neuter your dog to prevent accidental breeding resulting in unwanted puppies. Animal shelters are full of puppies looking for homes. Don’t add more to the number.
  • Breed to improve: Breeding should only be done for the advancement or raising the standard of the breed. Consider the consequences, as well as the expenses of breeding a litter before you do so. Be ethical.

Participate and get involved

  • Join a kennel club or local group: Meet others with dogs and plan group activities. If there aren’t any such groups in your neighbourhood, take the initiative to make one. Your dog will thank you!
  • Be up-to-date: Equip yourself with knowledge about the canine world, be it new training techniques, toys or even food brands. Keep up with the latest dog news and information.

Be a canine ambassador

  • Set an example: How often have people commented on your dog based on the previous experiences with other dogs? One irresponsible pet owner in a neighbourhood can make life difficult for all pet parents. Try not to be that one.
  • Respect your neighbours and house guests: Don’t expect everyone to love your dog as much as you do. Keep him on your property and if he has a barking problem, teach him not to bark without real provocation. Don’t force your dog’s company on a visitor who isn’t comfortable with dogs. They’ll never know what they are missing in life!
  • Know and follow local laws: Read up on the laws regarding dog ownership in your area and respect them. These may include registration, leash laws and breeding laws. In case of the absence of any such laws, use your common sense to ensure well being of your pet, and the neighbourhood.
  • Stand up for the voiceless: Be aware of any legislation developing in your state with regard to pet dogs or even local strays. Have an opinion on the issue and don’t shirk from voicing it. Someone needs to talk on behalf of the voiceless, right?
  • Share your dog: Dogs are invaluable when it comes to providing company to humans, for example, visiting the sick, helping the disabled, playing with specially abled children, locating missing persons, and much more. If you think your dog has the right temperament to benefit others, help him help the world.
  • Flaunt your fur baby: Of course, you should reward your dog and let him know when you’re proud of him, but let others know it too. Many dogs love attention and being in the company of humans. Bringing a well-behaved dog into public places and showing off his tricks and talents is a great way for both of you to socialise while having fun.
  • Don’t let your dog down: You aren’t a dog parent just on the weekends, or when you have spare time. You aren’t a dog parent only when he is well behaved, or when people compliment him, or when he wins at an event. You become a pet parent when you bring a dog into your family and remain a parent throughout the dog’s life. If you can’t keep that commitment, don’t make it. And once you’ve made it, don’t break it.

Try to live by the famous quote, “My goal in life is to be as good of a person my dog already thinks I am.” May you graduate from being a pet owner to being a pet parent with honours. To test how well you are doing, check whether the tail beside you is wagging or not ….

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…)