A Dog Behaviourist's guide to keeping your dog happy and healthy

By Charlotte Bryan

Charlotte Bryan, DogTrainer, Behaviourist, Trick Dog Instructo

Owning a dog is a wonderful and rewarding experience. Few things can beat the feeling of arriving home to an excited, tail-wagging, furry companion. And while a dog will definitely inundate you with joy and love, owning one does come with several responsibilities (and even a couple of challenges to boot).

For new pet parents like yourself who might still be in the honeymoon phase of dog ownership, you will quickly realise that there's quite a bit more that goes into keeping your furry companion in good health than you might have figured. That's because your new four-legged companion will need to be provided with nutrition, care, love and entertainment for the rest of its life.

And while there can be a bit of work when it comes to keeping your pooch happy and healthy, the rewards you get from owning a pet are ten-fold.

First Things First ? Preparing Your Home

If you are planning on getting a dog or have just adopted one, getting your home ready for your new companion is the first thing you need to do if you haven't already. You will need to dog-proof your home to ensure your dog does not suffer any harm or cause any damage.

Things you can do to create a safe environment for you and your best friend can include:

Covering and securing electrical cables and exposed power points around your home. This will prevent your dog actually encountering them and potentially hurting themselves.

Placing your socks, shoes and anything else that dogs can chew on in closets and cupboards. This eliminates the temptation for your pooch to chew "smelly" items.

Gathering and storing any potentially harmful chemicals in cupboards where your pet cannot access them. Some dogs will eat anything including things they're not supposed to. By removing these harmful substances you are protecting your pet and preventing them from ingesting something that could hurt them.

Securing your rubbish by keeping it in lidded cans to keep your pet from scavenging through it. Nothing smells finer to a dog than a rubbish bin so by covering your rubbish bins, you're saving yourself the hassle of cleaning up all the rubbish your dog spreads over the floor.

Purchasing the necessary dog supplies including food, food and drink bowls, collar, leash, doggy bed, dog crate, safe toys, identification tags and disposable doggy waste bags. You can also start looking for a trusted and reliable veterinarian and dog trainer.

Additionally, if your dog will be living with you and your family, you will need to establish some responsibilities as well as a couple of house rules, like which rooms the dog cannot go into, whether they can climb on furniture, and who is responsible for walking the dog. Brief your family to ensure everybody is on the same page regarding their roles and the house rules.

Top Tips For Keeping Your Dog Happy & Healthy

Now that your home is ready and everyone concerned knows and understands their role within ownership of your new dog, we can get to the nitty-gritty of keeping your pooch healthy and happy. Here are a few crucial tips to help you keep your dog healthy as you begin your dog ownership journey:

Your Dog's Health Should Be Your #1 Priority

Monitor your dog's health from the start. Like humans, dogs also need doctors - or veterinarians in this case. Do some research online or ask for recommendations from friends to find a good vet in your area to help out with your dog's health issues. Ideally, you should research and find a good vet even before your new pet arrives home; if you haven't yet, you need to do it immediately. One of the first things you need to do for your new furry companion is taking them to the vet for their initial visit. This is especially important for puppies who might not have had any veterinary care before. Your vet will check your dog for any disease symptoms ? including checking for parasites such as worms ? and administer any vaccines required to keep your dog from catching common canine diseases. Talk to your vet about any health concerns you may have for your pooch. If you wish, you could also have your dog implanted with an identification chip and desexed for breeding control while at the vet's office (NOTE: In Australia, microchipping your p.12 dog is a legal requirement of pet ownership). Provide your dog with proper nutrition. Dogs, just like people, need to be kept on a nutritious diet to maintain good health. While dogs will eat just about anything edible (and sometimes inedible!), you should restrict their diet to high-quality dog food as it is developed to suit their systems and provide all the nutrition they require to stay healthy. Consult your veterinarian on the type of food you should feed your dog as well as the number of meals you should provide them with. Usually, it is recommended to feed a mature dog once or twice a day. The number of meals required will increase up to six for puppies that have smaller digestive systems and require more energy for growth. Get your dog into a feeding routine as this will also help you with house training for your furry friend - dogs usually need to go to the bathroom about half an hour after they eat (this is about 15 minutes for puppies). Ensure your pooch is properly hydrated by giving it constant access to fresh, clean water.

Maintain Your Dog's Oral Hygiene

Help your pooch maintain good dental hygiene which will help protect them from dental diseases (and bad breath!) as they age. There are a number of ways you can improve your dog's dental health. The best way is to brush their teeth regularly. You can also get special bones and treats for your pooch that are designed to help clean your dog's teeth. Ask your vet for more information about canine dental hygiene in adult dogs and puppies.

Keep The Pests Away

Because of their fur, dogs can be a magnet for pests; the most common ones being ticks and fleas. If not prevented, these pests will affect both your pet and your family - so it's best to keep them at bay. You can keep your dog free of pests by cleaning their coat regularly, p.13 preferably with a shampoo that repels pests such as flea prevention shampoo. Most dogs will only require to be bathed once every 6 weeks, but this will depend on your dog's breed and activities. Regularly, inspect your dog's coat for ticks, especially during the warmer months when they are more active.

Ensure You Groom Your Dog

Grooming can comprise a number of activities including; coat trimming, brushing, bathing and nail trimming. The level of grooming your dog requires is based on your dog's breed and daily activities. As aforementioned, dogs shouldn't be bathed all the time, every 6 weeks will suffice. If your dog gets dirty between washes then you can simply hose them off to reduce the amount of chemicals you are putting into their fur. When it comes to trimming your dog, there are different requirements for different breeds. Curly-coated dogs should be trimmed more regularly than straight-coated dogs because their coats easily become matted and they don't shed causing them to heat up more easily.

Many curly-coated dogs are trimmed quite short to maximise the amount of time before the next trim. If you have a double-coated dog however such as a Border Collie whose coat is designed to keep them warm in winter and cool in summer, then you should never do this because it messes with their internal thermoregulation (and the fur coat doesn't grow back quite the same). Check with your veterinarian or dog groomer to see whether it is safe for your dog to be trimmed short. Brushing your dog should be the most frequent grooming activity regardless of their breed and coat style.

Your dog should be brushed as often as you can. Brushing can help remove dead skin cells and plant matter from your dog's coat as well as getting rid of any tangles. You should aim to p.14 brush your dog every other day! Nail trimming should also be quite regular. If you let your dog's nails grow out of control they can start to cause pain if they split or get caught. Long nails can also be attributed to some types of joint pain and other health problems. It's best to keep your dog's nails as short as possible without cutting into the Quick (which is a section of nail that contains nerves and blood vessels). Most of the time your local vet will trim your dog's nails for you ? you just need to take them in regularly. Many dogs dislike having their nails trimmed so you should "practice" playing with your dogs toes and nails at home to get them used to their feet being touched.

Help Your Dog Keep Fit Through Exercise

Just like you, your furry friend needs to keep fit through exercise for optimum health. The amount of exercise required by your dog will depend on its breed, with some requiring more exercise to burn energy than others. Your dog requires to have at least one long walk each day or two shorter ones. This is especially important if your home only has a small enclosed yard for your dog to run around freely. Playing fetch and other games while you are walking can help burn off a little extra energy. Swimming is also a fantastic activity for your dog to partake in, especially when you combine it with fetch. Fetch is a high-impact activity on your dog's joints so by throwing your dog's tennis ball or toy into the water, you are cushioning their joints and protecting them.

Socialise & Start Training

Socialisation is key to having a well-rounded and confident companion. Make sure you introduce your dog to lots of people, sights, sounds and smells so they can learn how to confidently interact with strangers and tackle new, unfamiliar environments. If your dog ever shies away from p.15 someone, give them some space and let them retreat. Never force your dog into an encounter with a stranger as this only increases their fear. A great way to socialise your pup is to attend a dog obedience school. You can also teach your dog a couple of cool tricks! Use reward-based training for about 10-20 minutes twice (or more times) a day. This not only prevents boredom but also increases your pooch's mental stimulation and enhances the bond you share.

Play With Your Dog

Dogs are smart creatures which makes which maintaining their mental health all the more important. Provide your dog with mental stimulation by playing with it. Let your dog be a dog by allowing it to play and express behaviours normally associated with that particular type of breed. For instance, if your dog loves following scents, let it sniff away once in a while! And don't forget to have fun with your dog! One of the main reasons people get dogs is to have a fun companion to do activities with.

Finally, remember to always treat your new pet companion with love and respect and to exercise patience, especially in the initial days of your relationship. Sometimes it can take a little while for a dog to adjust to a new environment. Otherwise, enjoy your new pet!

Happy training!

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