Where to Start When You ve Decided You Want a Dog

Where to Start When You’ve Decided You Want a Dog

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Owning a dog is a priceless experience, but it also takes a lot of hard work. Getting started is the hardest part, especially if you’ve never owned a dog before. Here are some things that you’ll need to do when you decide you want a dog.

Having a dog is like a less self-sacrificing version of having a child. It takes a ton of work and preparation, and you still can’t escape a few surprises along the way. It helps to have some guidance so you can at least know where to start when you’ve decided you want one. Here are some tips for starting on the right track for a happy life with your new companion.

First: Make Sure You’re Sure

Getting a dog is no small endeavor, and it’s something you’ll spend the next 10-plus years either being happy about, or regretting. There are some things you really want to consider before you adopt .

The Important Things to Consider Before You Adopt a Dog

A dog can be a loving companion, a goofy buddy, an exercise partner, and more, but dog ownership…

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Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself in addition to any you’ve cooked up on your own:

  • Will your lifestyle still accommodate a dog in five to fifteen years?
  • Do you have the time for a dog?
  • What will you do if your new puppy develops serious health issues that make it a special needs dog, like deafness or blindness?
  • Can you afford the extra expenses of a dog, and any medical expenses that might turn up?
  • Is your home suitable for the size and type of dog you think you want?

You’ll never be fully prepared for every situation you encounter, but you can be fully committed to finding a way to work through any issue, which is exactly the kind of mentality dog ownership takes. With a dog you can only be gone for eight hours a day. You now have a financial dependant, too. While the dog is only a part of your life, you and your family are everything the dog has to look forward to. This means you’ll have to provide all the attention, exercise, affection, and care the dog needs.

Dogsit for a friend to get a taste of what it’s like. When you’re going over the details and reaffirming your decision, remember to not only think of your life now, but down the line. Your new companion isn’t going anywhere soon.

Start Listing the Things You Need For the Dog

Lists are one of the best ways to break down any complicated task and make it more manageable , so it’s definitely the best way to get started when you’ve decided you want a dog.

The History of the To-Do List (and How to Make Yours More Effective)

When I was a kid, I read a book called The Listmaker. It’s about a young girl who uses lists to…

Think about what you’ll need before the dog comes home, immediately afterward, and within the first year, for starters. This will help you figure out how your money and time management will change when the puppy comes home. Here’s an example:

  • Before you bring home your new family member, try to get all the fun nesting stuff out of the way. Head to your local pet store and get the collar and dog tags, food, food and water bowls, a crate, dog shampoo, a brush, and toys or bones. While you’re at it, ask about a membership to that pet store so you can get the savings perks.
  • Immediately after the dog comes home it’ll need its initial checkup at the vet’s office, flea and tick prevention, and possibly pet insurance . You might also want to schedule puppy training and obedience classes, especially if you don’t have much experience.
  • Within the first year of a puppy’s life you’ll need at least three rounds of shots over the first few weeks and, depending on the dog, a spay or neuter appointment. You’ll also want to keep in mind consistent costs. Puppies quickly outgrow old collars, and eat a lot while they’re growing as well. Most adult dogs won’t require as much vet attention, but they will still eat and need a «just in case» fund. If you travel, you’ll want to consider boarding, and if you’re busy, you might want to calculate the cost of your local doggy daycare or dog sitter. To keep from turning timid or aggressive, puppies need to be well socialized with all kinds of people and animals starting at an early age, so you’ll plan to spend plenty of time out of the house with your puppy at dog parks and parks (after the vet gives you the go ahead once vaccinations are complete), and with friends and family.

These are just a few things to give you an idea of the time and money you’ll probably spend, but also think about your personal preferences. For example: if you want the dog to sleep on a dog bed, or if you might want a bigger car down the road so the dog can be mobile with you, that could add to the list. Other preferences, like not wanting pet insurance or skipping the obedience training, might subtract from the list. The monetary cost of owning a dog varies from just over $500 to over $10,000 per year , but there’s no saving on the time and commitment you’ll want to give to make sure the dog is healthy and happy.

Decide What You Want In a Dog

Choosing a dog is a lot like choosing a spouse. You’ll need to make compromises, but you’ll also need to get to know the dog and have your expectations and preferences figured out beforehand. Start by listing the most important things to you. Maybe you would like a high-energy running companion, or maybe you need something small and quiet because you live in an apartment. Whatever the case may be, write it down. Some preferences you might want to consider are:

  • How old do you want your dog to be when it comes home? By adopting an older dog you might be able to skip house and crate training, whereas a young puppy will require extra training, but you also get to have a greater impact on how the puppy is trained and shaping how it behaves in the long run.
  • What size dog do you want? The larger the dog, the more it eats, and the more difficult it can be to handle if you live in a small space. On the other hand, some of us just like big dogs, or live alone and want to feel protected.
  • Do you have the time, energy, and desire to take long walks every day? Or do you prefer a companion that’s either a little lazier or more self-sufficient? Dogs that have a lot of energy tend to behave badly when not given the opportunity to express it, whereas other dogs, like bulldogs, are pretty lazy and don’t require a ton of extra exercise. Either way, be prepared to be active with walks, trips to the dog parks or puppy play dates, but you do get to call the shots on exactly how active you want to be.
  • Are you a beginner who’s worried about the difficulty of training a dog? If so, you’ll want a dog that’s easier to train. Some breeds are more difficult to train than others.
  • Do you need a breed that’s known for being gentle and well-behaved with small children?
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Keep evaluating your lifestyle and personality to get a picture of the kind of dog you want. If you’re experienced or super laid back, you may not have a ton of preferences, and that’s awesome. However, some people have some pretty strict needs. It’s best for both you and your future companion for you to lay these out before hand.

Figure Out Which Breeds Fit Your Lifestyle

There’s an exception to every rule, but every breed has its own commonly found characteristics, from high energy to being tough to train. Since you can’t date the puppy before bringing it home, you’ll have to depend on the decades of research have gone into figuring out the differentiating characteristics of breeds, aside from looks. Well-established sources like the American Kennel Club , Animal Planet’s Dog Breed Selector , or even your local library are some really great places to start.

Even if you’ve met a dog that’s inspired you to want one just like it, research the breed before you get one to have an idea of what you’re most likely in for. If nothing else, you’ll learn in what areas your dog will be high maintenance and what things will be easy for you. For instance: Yorkshire Terriers (aka Yorkies) need to be groomed almost weekly, but otherwise don’t require much maintenance. Cane Corsos, on the other hand, require a lot of exercise and food, but but don’t require much grooming at all. These are just the basics. Different breeds also have different trends in personality. Some breeds, like the Catahoula Leopard Dog, are revered for their sense of loyalty and bravery, while other breeds, like the Newfoundland, are loved by parents all over the world for their sense of nurturing with small children, but aren’t well known for their ability to guard and protect.

Of course, there’s always the chance you’ll get a mixed breed, or a dog you know little to nothing about. It’s still important to do some research so you can go in knowledgeable about what you might look for in terms of personality. The video above from Howcast says it best: don’t just use your heart when choosing a dog. Use your brain, too.


How to Kill Ticks on Dog’s Ear

When your dog has ticks in his ears, removing them in their entirety and swabbing down the area will help to reduce the potential for infection and discomfort.

How Dogs Get Ticks

Dogs who aren’t protected with a repelling collar or ointment when they’re outside can pick up ticks — especially if they’re in a heavily wooded area. Ticks are smaller than the head of an eraser when they first attach, but can become engorged with blood and swell to the size of a grape. The sooner you find and remove ticks, the less chance your dog will be uncomfortable or run the risk of contracting a tick-borne illness such as Lyme disease or Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Things You’ll Need:

  1. Tweezers or a commercial tick remover
  2. Lidded jar full of rubbing alcohol
  3. Bottle of rubbing alcohol
  4. Rubber gloves
  5. Cotton swabs

Tick Removal

Firmly grasp the front end of the tick with your tweezers. This is the point where the tick is attached to your dog’s ear. It’s important to get the entire tick out, including the head, or you run the risk of infection. Pull firmly upward, without twisting, until the tick comes out, then immediately place the tick in the rubbing alcohol, which will kill it. Gently swab your dog’s ear with alcohol or soap and water to relieve pain and itching and help to prevent infection. Repeat as necessary until all ticks are gone.

Future Tick Prevention

Use a topical anti-tick medication, shampoo or collar on your dog to prevent ear ticks again in the future. Regularly check your dog’s ears and body — particularly the underside — for tick attachment. This can be done during grooming or bathing, and should be a regular habit if your dog has been playing in the woods.


How to Remove a Tick

— Never allow a tick to remain attached! —

Summary: The most important thing to remember about a tick bite is to remove the tick as quickly as possible ! Prompt removal will significantly reduce the possibility of a tick-borne illness. See our suggestions for safe removal of ticks.

Ticks (see What are Ticks?) bite to obtain blood from people and pets. Tick bites can be pretty disguisting (right) but the real danger is in the possibilty of getting diseases from ticks. You can prevent ticks from biting in the first place by using repellents, on people, and flea and tick medications on pets but if ticks manage to bite anyway you must act quickly to remove them.

Remove ticks immediately!

The prompt removal of ticks whenever they are found, whether on people or pets, is the single most important thing you can do to protect against tick-borne diseases like Lyme Disease. There is evidence that disease transmission occurs only after many hours of feeding so the quicker the tick is removed the less chance there is for disease organisms to be spread.

Engorged (feeding) tick on scalp. Thumb (upper right) shows scale. Photo from Wikipedia.

You might be surprised how often people tolerate a tick they find attached to themselves or their pet because of the «it’s yucky, I don’t want to touch it» factor — this is foolish and even dangerous. Below are some suggestions for safely removing ticks, but the bottom line is: remove ticks as soon as they are found by whatever means available!

What not to do for tick bites

Knowing what not to do when confronted with a biting tick may be almost as important as knowing what to do. Don’t put anything on the tick in a effort to «smother» it in the hope of forcing the tick to «let go». The fact is that when ticks bite they seal their mouthparts («head» end that bites) onto the wound and they are unable to back away until feeding is complete. Also, try not to squeeze the tick as this may disgorge fluid and disease organisms into the wound.

What to do with a biting tick

The easiest, and safest, way to remove a tick is to grab it by the mouthparts and pull straight up. Obviously, the difficult part is to securely grab the mouthparts! Here are a few suggestions:

Use one of the the new tick removal tools that slip over the tick and pinch the mouthparts (google «tick removal tool»). Or, use a loop of strong sewing thread or fishing line to «lasso» the mouthparts by passing the loop over the back of the tick and pulling on the ends of the line until the tick pops off. A stiff fishing line works better. Or, you can also use curved tweezers to carefully snag the mouthparts but be careful not to stab your «patient» with the pointed end.

If the tick has embedded itself into soft tissue you may not be able to see the mouthparts. In this case, grab the tick’s body as gently as possible and twist it out trying not to squeeze it any harder than necessary. Don’t worry if the mouthparts break off in the wound; at worst they will cause a minor secondary infection.

Finally, clean the wound and apply an otc («over-the-counter») antibiotic. Keep an eye on the bite for a few days to make sure any infection does not get worse. If the area around the wound looks inflamed or is tender or if a «bulls eye» rash develops and grows seek medical attention.

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How to Fatten Up A Dog: 5 Tips for Weight Gain

All owners want their dogs to be at a healthy weight, but not all dogs are “good eaters.”

If you’ve got an underweight dog, it can be stressful to get her to gain weight. People can be quite quick to judge, even if you are doing your best to get your dog’s weight back up.

Call your vet if you’re really struggling to get your dog to gain weight. Dogs that continue losing weight despite eating food, or experience a sudden change of appetite, need to see a medical professional quickly.

There are a variety of reasons why owners might want to learn how to fatten up a dog, and why a pooch may have trouble putting on weight, including:

Picky Eaters. Some dogs are just plain picky about what they eat – these dogs want the good stuff and are willing to hold out for it!

Sick. Illness and/or stomach issues can also cause dogs to eat less than their owners would like. If your dog skips a meal or two because of a stomach bug, you might not need to panic. But if your dog is chronically turning up food, then it might be time to visit the vet.

If your dog is normally a voracious eater and suddenly isn’t interested in food, get in to the vet as soon as you can. In the nearly two years I’ve owned my dog Barley, he’s only turned up his nose at his breakfast once. I took him to the vet, and it turned out he had a raging infection from a small cut on his leg. If I’d ignored it and gone to work, things might have taken a turn for the worse.

Stressed. When dogs are stressed or depressed, they may pass up on food. People can be the same way! If your dog won’t eat after a stressful event or doesn’t eat when she’s alone, this might be the culprit.

Whatever the cause of your dog’s dinner distress, we want to help our underweight dogs get to a healthy weight.

How Do I Know If My Dog Is a Healthy Weight?

When trying to determine a healthy weight for your dog, your veterinarian’s office is always a good place to start. Different breeds may have a naturally slimmer or stockier look, and your vet can help make sure you create appropriate weight goals for your canine.

Don’t forget that “normal” might not be healthy for many breeds. It’s not uncommon to see pugs, labs, and chihuahuas that look like small hippos — but that doesn’t mean it’s healthy. This reminder goes both ways: a healthy greyhound will be quite boney! It’s not unusual to see several ribs and even hip bones on a healthy greyhound, while a similar level of bonyness in most other breeds would be concerning.

In general, you should be able to see a narrowing around your dog’s waist. Most dog breeds should also have faint ribcage outlines visible.

Finally, you might see some differences in your dog’s weight based off of activity level. When my border collie is at “competition weight” for agility, herding, and canicross, he’s very lean and muscular. I let him gain a bit of weight early in the winter when he’s in his “off season.” He stays fit and healthy, but he doesn’t have to be ultra-trim year-round!

This simple graphic from Purina can help you decide if your dog is over- or underweight.

I just helped my foster dog, Naomi (below), gain some serious weight. When she first came into my home, you could see seven ribs and her hip bones poked above her back!

She had no muscle tone, tired easily, and worst of all, would not touch her kibble for breakfast or dinner. After at least three days of trying to coax her to eat, I was at my wit’s end. I felt like a failure of a foster parent, and was legitimately worried that Naomi might waste away.

Was I being played by a foodie dog? Not in this case! Naomi’s reluctance to eat was probably based in some pretty serious stress about her recent life changes paired with an upset stomach from switching foods.

How to Fatten Up A Dog: 5 Tips for Getting Weight On

A combination of these solutions ended up being what got Naomi to a healthy weight in just a few weeks!

For Naomi, the biggest problem was stress. Before I brought her home as a foster, she’d had quite the month. Her owner left Florida, drove to Colorado, lived in his car with her for a few weeks, then left her at the shelter when it all got to be too much.

Naomi spent a few days at the shelter before being marked for euthanasia due to her aggression towards other dogs. I stepped in and took her. With that level of upheaval, is it any wonder she wasn’t interested in food?

1. She’ll Eat When She’s Hungry

This is what I kept hearing, and it’s true – your dog will eat when she’s truly hungry.

If your dog skips a meal or two or is having a hard time adjusting to a new situation, she might start eating when things settle down.

Just keep offering food in different forms. She’ll eat when she’s ready – and this might take a while! Be patient and keep trying!

While this is true, that doesn’t mean just wait it out. Try to address your dog’s underlying concerns, such as physical health or stress level. This will often help bring your pup’s appetite back more quickly.

2. She’ll Eat When She’s Healthier

If your dog has a change in eating habits that persists beyond a few days, see a vet. If the change is particularly sudden or extreme (like with my dog Barley), don’t wait. Just go in to see the vet and get a professional opinion.

Loss of appetite and weight loss are both potential signs of serious medical conditions.

Take your dog to the vet to rule out any underlying health conditions that may be causing her lack of eating.

In Naomi’s case, her loss of appetite was paired with diarrhea and vomiting. That’s a major red flag! Naomi’s eating issues turned out to be stress-related (see below), but we still took her to the vet to be sure.

The vet prescribed us some probiotics and suggested a few foods that would be easy on Naomi’s stomach once she started eating again.

3. She’ll Eat If The Food Is Yummier

As a dog sitter, I frequently care for dogs that seem uninterested in their food. Some dogs just don’t eat well when their owners leave – they miss them! However, dogs will have a hard time turning their noses up at truly drool-worthy dinners.

If your dog won’t eat when she’s left alone, it could be related to separation anxiety. While skipping a meal or two probably won’t hurt your dog, it’s unwise to leave this separation anxiety untreated. Get help from a separation anxiety specialist to make your dog feel better.

Try making dog’s dinner better by drizzling tuna, yogurt, or egg over the kibble. Just be sure not to create a picky eater by spoiling your dog too much!

Other times, condiments won’t cut it and you’ll have to change the entire entree with a new brand of dog food. Some dogs will only be interested in eating higher quality dog food – and why not? They probably deserve it! Be careful, though – the most expensive, organic food could still be gross to your dog!

Something as simple as adding tuna or switching to a new brand of food can work wonders when it comes to fattening up a skin-and-bones dog.

If your dog is really struggling to pack on the pounds, don’t worry about creating a picky eater. Just feed her what she’ll eat to get her healthy. You can always wean her off of the ultra-tasty food later.

With Naomi, we tried about five different types of food with different protein sources. Nothing was working, except for treats. Eventually I realized that the problem wasn’t the taste — it was that the treats were hand-delivered.

4. She’ll Eat When She’s Less Stressed

Some dogs will refuse to eat when they’re stressed out. Don’t think of this as being disobedient or wilful. Rather, think of this as your dog’s way of letting you know that she’s really struggling to deal with life right now.

Some of my formerly picky dog-sitting clients eat dinner now that they know me and feel safe with me when their owner is gone. It just took a bit of getting used to me. Many dogs with separation anxiety won’t eat when they’re alone. Some dogs will skip meals after the Fourth of July from fear of fireworks. New shelter and rescue dogs often skip meals due to the big changes in their lives.

In the case of Naomi’s eating issues, stress was the root problem. Naomi had just experienced a massive upheaval prior to us taking her home from the animal rescue – she was confused and scared. As she settled into our home, her appetite returned. This took nearly two weeks!

While refusing food due to situational stress is fairly normal in dogs, if your dog frequently stops eating due to stress, take her to a vet. She might be anxious due to a medical issue or something awry in her environment.

There are lots of ways to help reduce stress for your dog. The first step should be to remove whatever is stressing your dog out, if possible. This might mean skipping down during the annual fireworks display, or putting on a white noise generator during thunderstorms. You can leave dogs with separation anxiety with a sitter.

In short, you have to remove the source of stress as the first step.

Depending on what specifically stresses your dog out, that might be all you need to do. Otherwise, work with a trainer to create a plan for reducing stress in your dog’s life. Products like Adaptil, Thundershirts, and anti-anxiety medications can also help. For a more detailed example, check out our article on working with dogs that don’t like fireworks.

5. She’ll Eat When You Help Her

Some nervous dogs need extra encouragement at mealtime! When I eventually noticed that the only food Naomi ate was the food I handed to her, I decided to try hand-feeding her dinner.

After four days of not eating and a lot of desperate phone calls with the rescue and vet, we got Naomi to eat a meal.

I took a handful of kibble and offered it to her. I praised her just for showing interest. She took a tentative mouthful, and I praised her more. She spat most of it out, but I was onto something!

We kept trying this throughout the night. Eventually I coaxed her into eating a full cup of food simply by giving her lots of verbal praise for showing interest in food. I literally just told her she was a good dog when she ate. This may sound like bogus, but it ended up being the game changer for Naomi!

Go ahead and give this a try with your picky pooch. You might find that just being supportive of your dog is more helpful than drizzling bacon grease all over the kibble!

It might sound crazy, but playing games with your pup’s food is another way to get her interested in eating! Treat-based training and puzzle toys can sometimes help pique a picky pup’s interest in food. This phenomenon is known as contrafreeloading, where animals actually prefer to work for their food. Give it a shot, it can’t hurt!

Bulk Up Dog Bonus Tip: Try High-Calorie Treats and Food

Some dogs won’t eat meals, you may be able to entice them to eat with special, high-value treats. This is a good way to get calories in while you’re working on figuring out how to get your dog to eat a full meal.

We gave Naomi lots of hot dog, cheese, and stuffed Kongs to get her some calories and put some fat on her. I highly recommend trying to get some (heck, really any) food into an underweight dog while you address the long-term problem.

We did not end up spoiling Naomi into a picky eater who would only eat bratwurst and gruyere, since her problem was anxiety based and not due to pickiness.

There are also specific high-caloric dog foods designed to help skinny dogs gain weight – experimenting with those speciality dog foods can help your pooch bulk up fast.

Best Dog Foods to Help Dogs Gain Weight

Once your dog is eating again, getting the right food into her bowl (or better yet, puzzle toy) will help make weight gain smooth and easy.

Talk to your vet during this process. If your dog has been chronically malnourished or has a sensitive stomach, your vet might want you to skip the bulky foods in favor of an alternative that’s easier on the stomach.

  • Bully Max High-Performance Food: This high-protein, high-fat food has premium ingredients and a premium price tag. It’s marketed for bully breeds but is fine for any dog breed.
  • Elite K9 Maximum Bully All Stages Dog Food: This brand also markets heavily towards bully breeds, but Elite K9 will help any dog gain muscle and weight. This brand also provides oatmeal and pumpkin in its food, helping soothe digestive systems.
  • Nature’s Logic Canine Meal Feast: This meat-based food also comes with a variety of probiotics and enzymes to help keep your pup’s stomach calm while she gains weight. It comes in a variety of flavors and protein sources, making it a good choice for dogs with allergies.
  • Blue Buffalo Life Protection Adult Food: This food is formulated with Glucosamine and Omega 3 and 6 acids to help protect your dog’s skin, coat, and joints. It contains far more brown rice than other foods on this list, but is a great choice for dogs with skin or joint issues.

If your dog really needs to gain weight, help her do it!

If your dog is eating food but not gaining weight, it’s time to see a vet. Increased or steady appetite paired with weight loss can be a sign of serious health conditions.

Have you ever had an underweight dog? How did you get your dog up to an appropriate weight? Share your tips in the comments!


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