5 Of The Best Things You Can Do For Your Dog 01
Credit: Photographer: Merelize from Freerangestock.com. Used with permission.

A good dog owner will do everything they can to keep their best friend healthy, safe, happy and contented.

These five actions will set you on the road to becoming a FANTASTIC dog owner.

1.       Get Them Microchipped

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) surveyed over 1,000 randomly chosen households that kept pets in 2012 and asked about dogs or cats that had become lost during the previous five years. Of those that had been lost and were then later recovered, 15% of pets were found because they had an identity-tag or were microchipped. While checking local dog pounds and shelters are the most important things an owner can do when searching for their best friend, having them microchipped helps improve the chances of lost dogs being returned home quickly and safely.

From the 6th April 2016, it becomes a legal requisite that all dogs in England are microchipped and registered with an approved database by the time they are eight weeks old. There are no exemptions for age. A dog will only be legally exempt when a vet certifies that it cannot be microchipped for health reasons. Failure to comply attracts a potential fine of £500. Microchipping for all dogs over eight weeks old in Northern Ireland is already a legal obligation on owners.

The Scottish government has announced that it will make microchipping compulsory for dogs too, and both Scotland and Wales are working towards introducing compulsory microchipping by April 2016. In Ireland, it is already a legal necessity for puppies to become microchipped and the scheme will extend to include all dogs by April 2016.

2.       Get Them Vaccinated

Vaccinating dogs against dangerous and sometimes fatal diseases has saved the lives of both dogs and humans for more than a century. The law of canine vaccinating differs worldwide, although most countries recognize how influential it has been in controlling and reducing things like rabies. As a direct result, humans contracting rabies is now a very rare event.

Puppies ordinarily need a series of vaccinations, called ‘Core’ or ‘DHLPP Vaccinating’. This ordinarily combines vaccines for canine distemper virus, canine adenovirus, parainfluenza, canine parvovirus and leptospirosis. To ensure good immunity against these illnesses and infections, vaccinations are usually given when a puppy is 6 to 8 weeks of age and then every 3 to 4 weeks to get to the highest level of immunity. Rabies vaccinations are a legal requirement in many parts of the world and are usually given when puppies reach 16 to 20 weeks of age, and then every three years after that.

Parvovirus is one of the most deadly and widespread infections affecting dogs throughout the world. It is extremely contagious and is easily transmitted by any person, animal or object that comes in contact with an infected dog's feces. For this reason, it is vital that puppies are not taken out for walks or allowed to come into contact with other dogs or dog feces until the vaccination course is complete. It will be very tempting to take a new puppy for its first stroll in a local park or on a recreation ground, but it could also prove fatal, so make sure everyone in the family household understands why completed vaccinations are so important.

In addition to the Core Vaccinations, other vaccinations such as the one for Kennel Cough (Bordetella infection) are often required before boarding kennels allow dogs in their premises. Similar restrictions are common to dog shows, airlines and cruise ships. The Borreliosis/Lyme disease vaccine is often recommended for dogs that live in an endemic area where there is a heightened risk of exposure to ticks or for dogs that are likely to travel to such areas.

Vaccination boosters are usually advised to protect against the Core illnesses one year after the puppy vaccinations have been given. Further annual boosters are a matter of debate. Some vets and researchers believe they are sometimes unnecessary while others recommend them every single year. No two vets seem to think the same way on this subject, so it’s worth doing some research before you decide what to do for your own dog.

The American Animal Hospital Association (AAHA) came out with new guidelines in 2006 that suggests adult dog vaccine boosters are adequate when given every 3 years. Others suggest much depends on where a dog is living and the risk involved over them getting any particular infection or disease. Perhaps the most sensible approach to booster vaccinating is to have annual titers-testing undertaken, where vets take a sample of blood and check the level of existing immunity to the relevant infections. Clearly, if immunity remains high to all infections, there is probably no need for further boosters.

3.       Brush Their Teeth

Most parents would not allow their children to go a single day without insisting they brush their teeth, yet many dog owners ignore this essential health routine for their dogs. Many beloved pets go weeks, months and even years without any dental hygiene whatsoever. Vets see the consequences of this every day. And the outcome is often fatal later in life.

Dogs get plaque on their teeth just like humans. Plaque contains bacteria, which causes mouth ulcers, infection, abscesses, gum disease and tooth decay. Over time, bacteria travels down the throat, into the digestive system and beyond to cause other serious conditions affecting essential organs and circulatory systems. Studies have proved the main cause of chronic kidney failure (a terminal disease) is poor dental health, because the kidneys suffer huge amounts of stress having to deal with the bacteria coming from the mouth. Some reports suggest a third of all dogs over the age of 12 will die from this dreadful disease.

Regular teeth brushing can prevent this and other associated health issues from ever starting. Most good pet stores sell suitable canine toothbrushes, safe and effective dog toothpaste and even finger-brushes to get owners started. Of course, buying the equipment is the easy part. Getting your dog used to a dental hygiene routine and remembering to do it is where the true investment lies, as it will not only save you a fortune in vet bills later on – it will also help prolong the life and good health of your pet.

4.       Start Socializing Them From An Early Age

Socializing your dog from an early age with other dogs, other pets, children, adults and visitors coming to the home will help reduce anxiety, fear and inappropriate aggression. Combined with adequate supervision and training, a dog’s new-found social-skills will help it to develop into a calm and contented adult.

Puppy training classes are one of the best ways of achieving this right from the outset. Your vet may know of classes in the neighborhood or you may find classes advertised in local pet shops, grooming salons or newspapers. Older dogs are sometimes poorly socialized and suffer consequential “issues”. This could be due to them being badly trained or because they have been socially restricted by a prior owner or household. It is prudent to use a muzzle on dogs that have such “issues” when first starting a socialization program, as this will help protect other dogs and other people from any inappropriate aggression. Optimum recall training and good ‘stop’ command control are essential skills that owners need to teach their dogs, before allowing them off-lead to mix with other dogs.

At the other end of the scale, there are dogs who firmly believe all other dogs are friendly, playful and sociable. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Before releasing your dog to mix with others at a local park or dog recreation facility, meet with owners to make sure the other dogs are friendly and keep close supervision on the interaction.

5.       Provide Adequate Daily Exercise

When you are choosing a best friend to join your family, it is best to think long and hard about just how much time and effort you can dedicate to its well-being. Different dogs need different amounts of daily exercise. A half hour walk might seem like a marathon to a miniature Dachshund, but it will be an all-too-fleeting stroll for a Border Collie. Dogs that do not get enough exercise invariably become neurotic, anxious, bored, overweight, aggressive and/or destructive. All dogs need the right amount of exercise for their breed, age, size and general health to support a wholesome physical and mental state.

On average, this means setting aside between 30 minutes and 2 hours to exercise your dog every day. Working and herding dogs such as Collies, Labradors, Retrievers and Hounds need the most amount of exercise compared with other breeds. Puppies actually need much less, because they are growing and developing which all takes energy in itself. Letting your dog out into the garden isn’t really enough because it will spend half its time sniffing and not enough time walking. Cesar Millan, TVs famous Dog Whisperer says, "To your dog, your backyard is like a large fish bowl in which they are trapped. Fish swim, birds fly and dogs walk. Having a dog should not be about only fulfilling our human needs, we owe it to our dogs, to give them what THEY instinctively need."

Adequate daily exercise doesn’t just keep our best friends physically fit, it also helps them benefit from a full night’s sleep and provides them with positive dream-ingredients. Dogs that have enjoyed the adventure of a good walk will process new smells and sights by barking and running in contented dream-state sleep. And they will then wake full of vitality the next morning, ready for the exciting new day that’s ahead of them.