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9 Ways to Be an Even Better Pet Owner

Beagle having ears checked


Schedule yearly or biannual veterinary check-ups.

One of the best things you can do for your pet is to make regular visits to the veterinarian. Wellness checkups are important to the overall health of your animal and can help your vet catch the early stages of disease. In general, adult dogs and cats should have a check-up every year and senior pets should have a wellness exam at least once every six months. So go ahead and set up a veterinary appointment for your pet’s wellness exam now. Waiting to visit the vet until your pet shows signs of illness is not a good idea since the signs of illness are often subtle. “Pets don’t tell us when they feel sick. Their instincts are often to hide pain and discomfort so as not to appear weak to others,” says Dr. Andy Roark.

Dog Being Scanned for Microchip


Prepare for pet emergencies and natural disasters.

If a natural disaster strikes or your pet has an emergency, you’ll want to be prepared. Make sure your dog or cat is included in your family’s disaster plan. If you haven’t already done so, have your pet microchipped to better the chances of him being reunited with you if he goes missing. And if your contact information has changed, be sure to update his ID and microchip. Finally, keep a first aid kit specifically for pets on hand.

Cat Being Brushed


Dedicate more time to grooming your pet.

There are a host of benefits associated with keeping your pet well-groomed. If you regularly trim his nails, brush his coat and bathe him, you should have less fur to clean up. Plus, he’ll have fewer mats and tangles and will probably smell better and you can help protect your pet from painful injuries due to overgrown claws. Furthermore, you’re more likely to notice any lumps and bumps or fleas and ticks. Best of all, grooming can be a great way to bond with your four-legged family member.

Dog in Sit Stay


Brush up on lifesaving commands.

You probably already know that investing in dog training is a great way to teach good behavior and manners, but did you know it could also potentially save your pup’s life? Now’s the time to make sure your dog knows these three basic life-saving commands: “Down stay,” “drop it” and “come.” Dog trainer Mikkel Becker breaks down how to teach your dog these commands and explains why they’re so important here.

Cat Walking On Leash


Make sure your pet is getting enough exercise.

Regular exercise is crucial to maintaining the overall health and well-being of your animal. Not only does it help combat obesity, it also provides the mental and physical stimulation your pet needs to live a fuller, healthier and happier life. Start by talking with your veterinarian. He can assess whether your dog or cat is healthy enough for physical activity and can recommend an exercise plan that’s right for your pet.

Dog Licking Food Puzzle


Enrich your pet’s life with interactive toys and food puzzles.

Toys and food puzzles are another great way to provide stimulation to your pet and promote better health. Whether your animal is a hunter or scavenger by nature, there are toys and food puzzles available that can fulfill his instinctual needs. They don’t have to be expensive; there are plenty of simple toys that you can make for your pet using items lying around your house.

Kitten and Dog Sitting in Owner's Lap


Make sure your pet is getting enough socialization.

Not properly socializing your dog or cat can result in an animal that is fearful, shy or aggressive in unfamiliar situations. The optimal time for socialization is when your pet is a puppy or kitten, as this is the time they are most receptive to new experiences; however, all pets can benefit from proper socialization techniques. Depending on your pet’s comfort level, gradually expose him to all sorts of different scenarios, including places, other animals and people of all ages. Never force an interaction if he is stressed and reward him when he remains calm. A great way to get started is by asking your vet about socialization classes available in your area.

Dog Receiving Flea Treatment


Practice preventive care.

Practicing preventive care can help keep your animal healthy and keep overall pet care costs down. As Dr. Marty Becker explains, it is usually easier and more wallet-friendly to prevent health problems than to treat them. So how do you practice preventive care? Well, a lot of it goes hand-in-hand with what you should be doing to be a more responsible pet owner. Scheduling regular wellness exams, practicing good oral hygiene and keeping your pet up to date on his parasite prevention medication are just some of the ways you can help your pet live a happier and healthier life.

Wagging Tail


Learn how to decipher pet body language.

Ever wonder why your cat seems to love rubbing up against you? Or what your dog’s wagging tail might mean? Knowing how to decipher your pet’s body language will help you better understand what your animal is trying to communicate. For instance, you may be able to recognize when he isn’t feeling so great, is stressed or doesn’t want any human interaction. But decoding body language can be difficult. Here are common dog behaviors and cat behaviors that veterinary behaviorist Dr. Wailani Sung says are easy to misinterpret.


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Adding a Second Dog to Your Family? What You Should Know

Man petting dog


Prepare your pup.

First of all, consider how your current dog is likely to feel about a new canine sibling. Does the dog you already own play and snuggle with every dog she meets? That’s a great sign! Does she growl or lunge whenever she sees another pup? That could be problematic. Not sure how she feels about her fellow canines? Consider asking dog-owning pals to come by (or meet you somewhere neutral) so you can gauge your dog’s reaction in a safe way. While many dogs love playing with other canines, some are better in single-dog homes, so if your dog doesn’t seem to do well with others, you might need to reconsider your decision to expand your pack.

Portrait of a shelter dog


Choose the right addition.

Keep in mind that even if your pooch is a total darling around other pups in general, that’s not a guarantee that she’ll immediately welcome a new addition to her home. Even with two sweet-natured dogs, it may take some work on your end to create a peacable kingdom. And while there’s never a guarantee that any two dogs will get along, there are a few things you can look for in your second dog that could make it a bit more likely. Considerations include temperament, size, sex, age, whether the dog has been spayed or neutered and possibly the new dog’s breed, as some breeds are generally considered to be more dog-friendly than others. If your current dog is, say, a geriatric Chihuahua, bringing home a boisterous Great Dane puppy is probably too big a difference in size and energy levels. Dogs with a slight difference in height and weight, an age difference of a couple of years and similar energy and activity levels tend to be more likely to pair well. Finally, trainer Mikkel Becker notes that the likelihood of intense fighting is higher between two female dogs than it is with either two males or a male and female dog (although, remember, that’s no guarantee, especially among breeds that aren’t known for playing well with others).

Two dogs meeting


Introduce the dogs properly.

Once you’re sure your new dog will be a good fit for your fur family, it’s time to schedule a visit with the vet. Before introducing any new animal to the pets you already have, all animals involved should be thoroughly examined by your veterinarian and be up-to-date on vaccinations. Your vet might recommend a quarantine period, too, so be sure to follow his or her advice. Once you get the all-clear, schedule a play date — but keep it low key. “Be sure they meet at a neutral place, and not at home. Maybe a park,” suggests Facebook fan Cindy Lynn Ostergard. Once they’ve met and seem to be on good terms, you can try walking them side by side (offering treats as rewards for good behavior) to give them an additional opportunity to get to know each other before you all head home. And speaking of going home, if you’re feeling unsure about how your dogs will react to one another in the home environment, it might be helpful to keep them both on a short leash or to put the new dog in an exercise pen or crate to begin with. And be sure to keep the rewards for good behavior coming — for both dogs. You want the new dog to feel welcome and your first dog to feel like this new addition means good things for her.

Petting a senior dog


Don’t forget who came first.

It can be easy to get swept up in the excitement of a new dog — that’s totally natural and completely understandable. But it’s important that you continue to make time for your original dog, too. Remember, she didn’t ask for this addition, and all the changes to her home and routine might be a bit disconcerting. “Make sure the first gets just as much attention or a bit more than new addition,” Facebook fan Barbara Ochs says. Setting aside time to spend with each dog individually is a good idea, not only while the new dog is settling in, but throughout the years.

Man walking two dogs


Remain patient and keep up the good work.

Now that everybody’s home and happy (and maybe taking up all the space in your bed), you might think that there’s nothing more to be done. However, to help ensure that you continue to have a happy multi-dog household, you might find that turning to a professional trainer is a smart move, either by attending classes or enlisting a trainer to come to your home to address specific concerns. And always keep in mind that it can take time for the dogs to fully adjust. While they are getting used to each other and to their new routines, there might be bumps in the road — possibly some frustrating ones. But be patient and keep using positive reinforcement as you train them. Owning two dogs might take a little more work than just having one, but we suspect you’ll get far more than double the joy out of it.


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Teach Your Dog to Wave Hello

Dog waving paw


The paw wave is a charming way for your dog to greet guests and show off his good manners.

There’s nothing better than being greeted by a friendly canine. But not everyone is comfortable being approached by a new dog, and not every dog wants to get close to a new person. Teaching your dog to wave hello (or goodbye) gives him another way to interact with people in a calm, controlled manner. A polite paw wave is an easy way for your dog to charm guests with his good manners and pleasant behavior.

Wave essentially consists of your dog remaining in a sit position and raising a front paw in the air. If your dog doesn’t already know how to sit on cue, start with that before you move on to teaching him to wave.

Dogs who already know how to shake may have a paw up on other dogs when it comes to learning to wave, but that’s not a requirement for this trick. Follow these simple steps to teach your dog to wave hello.

Sit, Stay… Wave

Start with your dog in a sit. Hold a treat in a closed hand at your dog’s chest level —the goal is to get your dog to raise a paw toward your hand. Mark and reward any paw lift or shift in weight that causes one paw to move slightly off the ground.

Some canines will immediately lift a paw up in the air to investigate the hidden treat. Others will shift their weight forward and lean in or stand up to sniff or lick the closed hand. If your dog moves out of a sitting position, reset and try again.

Keep in mind that the goal is not to have your dog touch your hand, just to reach for it. To emphasize this, hold your hand just slightly out of his reach and click or mark just before he touches you.

Once your dog is raising his paw toward your hand, encourage him to lift it higher by raising the hidden treat. Mark and reward after each paw lift. Work up to having your dog raise his paw to shoulder height — or higher, if he can. Keep in mind that this requires both balance and strength. Be patient and keep practicing until your dog can consistently lift his paw without moving out of a sitting position.


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Teach Your Puppy Not to Lick

Dog kissing woman's face


If you want to stop your dog from giving kisses, tell the people she kisses not to encourage her.

We used to call our late Cavalier, Darcy, “the quicker licker-upper.” From puppyhood on, she loved to give kisses — the bigger and wetter, the better. No amount of trying to train her out of it worked, mainly because other people encouraged it.

“Oh, I don’t mind. She can kiss me all she wants,” they’d say.

Why Dogs Lick

Puppies love to lick us, and it’s easy to see why. Our salty skin probably tastes delicious. Sometimes we wear good-smelling lotions and creams that make it taste even better. We give puppies positive attention when they lick us by laughing. Even if we respond negatively — “Ooh, yuck!” — we’re still talking to them, and that’s all puppies really care about.

And licking is an instinctive behavior. In the wild, canid pups lick their mother’s face and lips to encourage her to regurgitate food for them. Domestic and wild mother dogs lick puppies to groom them. It’s no wonder that our puppies and even adult dogs have a strong desire to lick us since we deliver their food and keep them clean.

But as sweet as puppy kisses are, there are good reasons to discourage the practice. A study in Japan found that bacteria that cause gum disease are transferrable between dogs and humans — going both ways. Your dog may also be kissing you immediately after gulping down garbage, snacking on poop from the cat’s litter box or licking his own behind. The latter is a good — or not-so-good — way to accidentally ingest parasite eggs or larvae hitching a ride in your dog’s saliva.

Less gross but equally important, the habit of licking people is a no-no for would-be therapy dogs, particularly those who visit people with health issues. “Infection control is a primary concern in facilities, especially hospitals, and your animal needs to be protected,” says Pam Becker, a Pet Partners evaluator for the Animal Health Foundation in Lake Forest, California. “Not only do most people prefer an animal not lick them anywhere, but also your animal is at risk should there be body fluids present on skin or clothing.”


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10 Frequently Asked Questions About Puppies

Puppy accident on green rug


1. How can I housebreak my puppy?

Your puppy won’t be fully potty trained overnight. It takes
time and patience, and every puppy learns at his own pace. However, you
can help speed up the process by crate-training your young dog. Once he’s
comfortable with his crate, he’ll see it as his safe haven and probably won’t
want to soil it. As a general rule of thumb, your pup can hold it only for as
many hours as his age (in months). For instance, if he’s 2 months old, he should go out
every two hours to prevent an accident. If your dog does have an accident,
don’t punish him or stick his nose in it. Interrupt him with an “oops” and take
him outside to go to the bathroom.

These tips will help you get started. For more advice on
potty training your puppy, check out Mikkel Becker’s trainer-approved tips.

Puppy getting veterinary exam


2. What can I expect at my puppy’s first veterinary exam?

First, the veterinarian or veterinary technician will take your puppy’s
vitals and ask for his health history. If you brought a stool sample, the
specimen will be checked for evidence of intestinal parasites. Next, the
veterinarian will examine your puppy from nose to tail to check for signs of
disease, abnormalities and external parasites. Depending on your puppy’s age
and vaccination history, the veterinarian will administer the proper
vaccinations. She may also give deworming medication and suggest a flea and tick
preventive. Your puppy’s first exam is a great time to bring up the other
questions in this gallery and any concerns you want your vet to address.

Dogs playing together


3. When can I take my puppy to the dog park?

In his first three months of life, you should introduce your
puppy to as many people, places and experiences as possible, but with one major
caveat: If he hasn’t gotten the proper vaccines yet, it’s not a good idea to take
him to public places like the dog park, where he could contract a deadly disease like parvo. The dogs
at the dog park could be ill or unvaccinated. It’s not worth the risk;
wait until your vet gives the all-clear. In the meantime, read up on other do’s
and don’ts for socializing a puppy

Walking puppy on leash


4. When should I start training my puppy?

When it comes to training your puppy, there’s no need to
wait. Start as soon as you bring him home. You’ll probably want to work on
housebreaking, foundational commands like sit and stay — and stop him from
chewing all your favorite pairs of shoes. Mikkel Becker says you should
also work on
stopping his jumping behavior and teaching him to walk on a
loose leash. That’s a lot! But
you don’t need to do it all at once. Keep training sessions short and fun. Make
sure to practice reward-based, positive reinforcement training techniques. You
can learn more about this effective training method here.

Puppy chewing toy


6. How can I get my puppy to stop chewing on everything?

If your dog chews up your favorite pair of shoes or gnaws
away at the table leg, you might be to blame. After all, chewing is a natural
dog behavior
. When you leave something enticing in a young puppy’s path, chances
are he’s going to chew it up. That’s why it’s up to you to puppy-proof your
— and get your whole family on board. If you think your puppy could eat an
object — no matter how strange — get it out of his reach. That’s another
reason why crates are so useful — they help keep your pup out of trouble. While
you’re at it, give your puppy plenty of toys that are safe for him to chew on.
Food puzzles and interactive toys can help keep his mind occupied. This is
also a great time to teach him the “drop it” command to help keep him from ingesting
inappropriate or dangerous items

Puppy wearing E-collar


7. When should I spay or neuter my puppy?

In general, puppies should be spayed or neutered before they
reach sexual maturity (usually around 5 or 6 months old) to prevent unwanted
offspring. In some cases, larger breeds may benefit from a longer wait. Talk to
your veterinarian about the best time to spay or neuter your puppy. There are
many myths surrounding spaying and neutering, so it’s important to read up on
the facts

Puppy getting a bath


8. Does my puppy really need to be groomed?

Now’s the best time to start grooming your puppy. If you
introduce him to nail trims, brushing and bathing now — instead of waiting
until he’s an adult — he’s much more likely to be comfortable with being
groomed as he gets older. The key is to offer plenty of treats and praise, and
to keep grooming sessions short.

Big puppy


9. How big will my puppy get?

How big your puppy will get really depends on his breed.
Giant breeds like Great Danes can weigh more than 100 pounds and may take 24
months or more to reach their full size. Toy breeds like Chihuahuas typically weigh only up to six pounds and may reach full size by 9 to 12 months. Oftentimes,
male dogs are bigger than female dogs. If you have a mixed-breed dog,
predicting his size may be a little trickier. In general, the bigger the paws,
the bigger the dog. But that’s not always accurate!

Puppy eating from food bowl


10. How much does my puppy need to eat?

How much you should feed your puppy depends on the nutrient content and digestibility of the food (some foods are more nutrient dense than others); it also depends in part on your pup’s size.
Small-breed puppies
may need to eat more frequent meals to avoid hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), which can be fatal.
Small-breed puppies also have tinier teeth and should eat small-kibble food. If
you have a Toy dog or a small puppy, feed him a commercial diet specially formulated
for small puppies. When it comes to large- and giant-breed puppies, watch out
for overfeeding. Many people assume they need to fill their puppies’ bowls to the
brim to help them grow big and strong, but too many calories may contribute to the
development of skeletal disorders.
If you have a large puppy, feed him a commercial diet specially formulated for
large puppies. No matter your puppy’s size, talk to your veterinarian to learn
how much and how often you should feed him.


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Train Your Dog to Be in Your Wedding

Burmese mountain dog at weddin


Your dog can be an adorable part of your wedding — if he has the right temperament and training.

Couples getting ready to tie the knot often want to make their dog part of their wedding day. Many envision their furry loved one sweetly walking down the aisle, wearing a beautiful dog-friendly wreath or matching bow tie. Quite the picture, right?

But if you’re hoping to include your pup in your wedding, how can you be sure the reality doesn’t look more like your pooch careening down the aisle and knocking over the justice of the peace — or being intimidated and refusing to take part at all?

We talked with Dr. Liz Stelow, a veterinary behaviorist at the Clinical Animal Behavior Service at the University of California-Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital, about how to determine whether your dog is right for your wedding — and how to make sure your wedding is right for your dog. Plus, she offered tips on how to train your pet for the occasion.

Consider Your Dog’s Temperament

First, Dr.Stelow says, you should think about whether your pet has the right temperament to take part in the wedding.

“The type of dog that will do best in a setting such as a wedding is confident, focused, able to relax and very comfortable with crowds of people she doesn’t know,” she says. Extremely hyper dogs or dogs who are fearful in new places or around unfamiliar faces will probably prefer to stay home.

You’ll also need to take into consideration what type of ceremony you’re planning:

  • Will it be large or small? Indoor or outdoor?A large, outdoor ceremony is more likely to have numerous distractions that could make it difficult for your dog to remain on task. The length of the ceremony is also something to think about, as expecting a dog to wait patiently for 45 minutes or an hour might not be reasonable.
  • Are you including loud organ music or a serene harpist?Remember, dogs are more sensitive to sound than we are, so big, loud noises could be quite scary for your four-legged friend.
  • What role are you expecting your dog to play? Will she carry the ring, walk down the aisle with the bride or groom and/or sit quietly by the officiant the whole ceremony?Regardless of her duties, think safety first. That means that, if she’s carrying the rings, she should not carry rings or ring boxes in her mouth —consider a lightweight pillow or basket that attaches to a harness or collar that she can practice walking around with long before the actual ceremony. And it’s best to have someone assigned to keep an eye on your pet all throughout the day. Not only can this person help ensure your dog makes it down the aisle without a problem, but he or she can also take your pup out to potty and provide her with water and treats as needed

Next, although it’s easy to get caught up in creating your perfect day, be sure to consider whether your pet will enjoy the experience. It likely depends on her “comfort level with strangers, noise, chaos and anything else a particular wedding might throw her way,” Dr. Stelow says. Now, this truth might be hard to hear, but it’s important: “The majority of dogs would prefer not to be part of a wedding,” she says, “but some would love nothing more.”

Allow Training Time

If you decide to go ahead and make your dog part of your big day, you’ll need to invest some time teaching her what you want her to do, and you have a few decisions you’ll need to make ahead of time.

For one thing, if you want your dog to walk down the aisle, you’ll need to decide whether you’re expecting her to do so on her own (not an easy task, as we’ll get to in a moment) or with a dedicated person to guide her.

Dr. Stelow recommends having a handler walk the dog down the aisle — either a paid person or perhaps a young relative who’d enjoy it. “Having a handler does a few things: limit the amount of time in training, limit the possibility of distraction (like seeing ‘grandma’ in the audience) and reduce the chance of the dog bolting down the aisle at a dead run to see her owner,” she says. “In short, it does not depend on the dog’s ability to remain focused on the goal. If someone can walk her, training is about walking nicely on leash and being able to sit quietly during the ceremony.”

If you prefer to have your dog make her entrance on her own, you’ll need to spend more time training her. Here are the steps Dr. Stelow recommends:

  • Have her walk the route multiple times.
  • Do the training slowly and with lots of great food rewards. Include recorded music and any items you’re expecting your dog to wear in the training. Basically, if it’s outside his normal, everyday routine, it should be practiced and rewarded.
  • Once you’ve done plenty of training and feel confident in his ability to make an entrance, give him some practice with more distractions. Include numerous people for several “dry runs” so the dog can get used to how different the route feels with people there. If possible, do this many times leading up to your wedding day, but at the very least, you’ll want to give him a bit of training during the rehearsal.

Perhaps most importantly, Dr. Stelow says the owner must be realistic. “Most dogs, even those not concerned about the people and the noise, will find that staying on task long enough to get down the aisle alone is too much to ask. If [the owners] have great senses of humor and are looking for funny stories to tell about their wedding, they’re best situated to have a loose dog at the ceremony.” Of course, it’s still important that safety come first— a loose dog that runs over to Grandmain a small chapel might elicit a few laughs, but a dog taking off after a squirrel at an open, outdoor affair is just dangerous.
Likewise, if your dog decides she’s just not going to do it, let it be. (And maybe have a backup plan handy.)

“If the dog won’t budge, it wasn’t meant to be,” Dr. Stelow says. “There are many reasons a dog might balk when the actual time comes. All of them are valid to the dog and should be taken seriously. Unless very gentle encouragement gets the dog to overcome her reluctance, find the nearest 5-year-old to be the ring bearer instead.”

Keep Her Busy

Don’t forget that even if your dog makes his entrance successfully, you’ll still need to keep her well-behaved during the ceremony.

“If a handler stays with the dog at the altar, he can give frequent treats to make that time fun for the dog,” Dr. Stelow suggests. Or, you can ask a family member in the first row to have the dog sit by them during the ceremony. If no one will be keeping the dog on leash, station a food puzzle or treat-dispensing device with which your dog is familiar near the altar to continue to make it worthwhile for the dog to be thereand assign someone to keep an eye on him. ​ “If it’s not fun for the dog, it’s not worth it!” Dr. Stelow says.

Lastly, you’ll need to consider where your dog should go after the ceremony is over and his job is done. Dr. Stelow suggests a handler whose entire job is seeing to the dog because it helps make sure your dog is well cared for and can give the wedding party some flexibility.The person attending to your dog during the post-ceremony photography and reception might be different than the person who was in charge of him during the wedding, and that’s just fine.A quiet crate can work for the dog who loves his crate. Or, someone can run the dog home after the ceremony and then join the reception.

“Think of the dog as a child. If you can’t expect a child to sit nicely through the ceremony and reception that is planned, the dog would be equally challenged,” Dr. Stelow says.

By following your dog’s cues and allowing yourself enough time for training, you can make your four-legged BFF a memorable part of your wedding day — if you decide it’s the right role for her. If not, remember, there are plenty of wedding-related photo opportunities before and after the big day that could easily be made dog-friendly!

More on Vetstreet:

  • Teach Your Dog to Wave Hello
  • More Couples Say “I Do” at the Zoo
  • Bentley the Dog Joins Wedding Party
  • Rescue Puppies Star in Wedding Photo Shoot
  • Clever Ways to Include Your Pet in Your Wedding