Basics of New Dog Ownership

The one thing that bothers me the most about the human race is that they think everything and everyone is just like them. That includes other species!

I see it all the time, pawrents who have never made the time to teach their new pet commands, researched the best food for them, find the best products for them to use for each season, or learned what basic gear they need for their walks. These are all the things a great trainer will teach you, if you if you took the time to find one.

Now when I say trainer, I am not talking about trainers who use abuse (verbal and/or physical) to train. Those trainers are no longer viable in our world, because just as we would do our best to not verbally or physically abuse our child as it learns what you expect from it, the same goes for the pets in our lives.

Their is a sense of responsibility when you ADOPT a pet, just as if you were to adopt a child. You wouldn’t expect the child to just “get it” so you don’t have to do anything to teach the child right from wrong, at least I hope you wouldn’t, so why are you expecting this of a completely different species who doesn’t know your language?!

Imagine having to live with a new family in a different country that did not speak one word that you can understand and you have to figure out what the heck they want from you and how you are going to explain what you need to them?

Just sit with that for minute. Actually put yourself in their shoes. Whether that be living in a foreign land where no one speaks your language, or a pet that was just brought into yet ANOTHER environment and expected to figure it all out.

Let me say this just once: if YOU adopt, YOU are responsible for everything your pet needs. 

So why do so many people not do right by their pet? Because they don’t want to

Think about it…if they did want to they would, right? If they cared enough they would do some research about the breed or the care or the training, but they don’t. They are lazy humans who expect others to do for them, not them do for others.

Now I know that not all pawrents are like that, but sadly the vast majority are!

If you adopt a dog you should: 

a) do the research to make sure you don’t adopt a pet that wouldn’t be a fit for your family,
b) research the breed you’ve adopted to learn more about how to feed and care for your new pet,
c) find a trainer, or training videos, to help you teach your pet basic commands, and
d) get a great vet who is concerned for your pets health, not how much they can charge you. 

When I adopted Sammy it was with the intention of rescuing him from the shelter (he was on the euthanasia list for the next day), healing him (he was hiding in the back of the cage, his owner had died, and he was 15lbs under weight), teaching him commands (luckily he knew most of the basic commands already, he was just a little rusty), and finding him a great home (which, in the end, turned out to be my home). He was labeled as a Chow Mix 2+ years old. Turns out he was a Golden Retriever Samoyed Mix and only 10 months old. That’s because the veterinarians who work at shelters are not seasoned vets, and in fact they are just guessing by what they do and don’t know.

NEVER take a shelter or breeders word about your pet’s past. 

You might get lucky and have some information, but you will never have all of the information you need. This is why so many people come to me after they adopt so that I can chat with their new family member and let them know what is going on and whether they are fostered (eventually going to another home, just not right away), or in their new forever home. During our chat I get all the information on your pets past, including puppies! Not all breeders are nice to animals, even if they say they are or appear nice to you. The words straight from your pet are not to blame anyone, but to explain to the new family what is needed for the pet to adjust (above and beyond basic needs).

I was lucky and had a little information when I adopted Sammy. The owner had died and he was left in the yard (with access to the garage for food/water/shelter for about two weeks) for three months. He was being trained for service (mobility assistance) for his owner who used a wheel chair. He was found when the daughter came to clean out her fathers house. Apparently she didn’t know he had a dog?! I would say from the conversation I read they were not close and she didn’t know what to do with him so she brought him to the county shelter. He had been there almost 2 months and because he was mislabeled he was put on the short list (dogs that are hard to adopt out due to breed). For had he been labeled properly (Golden Mix instead of Chow Mix) he would have found a family quickly.

Mind you they don’t do DNA testing, so the guess of possible breeds was that of a new vet who was getting his work practice in by donating time to a shelter. And while I commend him or her for doing that, don’t say something you can’t take back. The ignorance and lack of knowledge on the part of the vet could have cost Sammy his life, and surely has cost many other dogs theirs.

So why did they label him a Chow Mix? Because he had a birthmark on his tongue, which is a very common trait of the Golden Retriever! Apparently the vet took that for a chow tongue, when in fact had he been part chow his entire tongue would have been purple (not black markings with pink tongue). This is because a Chow has a predominant hereditary marker. Similar to someone having brown eyes instead of blue or green when each parent has different eye color. You wouldn’t have a little blue and a little brown, instead you would have all brown because that is dominant marker.

Anyway, the point is, when you don’t know what your mutt is, you get a DNA test! Honestly even if you think you know, but aren’t sure, do the test. Unless you have papers that say exactly what breed(s) your new pup is, get the test! They are an investment that will pay you back for the life of your pet. They are much cheaper now than they were 9 years ago and they are much more accurate now. We had to do not one, not two, but THREE different DNA tests (different companies) before we actually got an accurate analysis. Embark was the best test at the time, and still is, but is quite expensive, however I hear that Wisdom Panel is very good and a cheaper alternative. The reason for the lack of accuracy with Sammy’s tests is that the amount of breed markers the company had to compare DNA profiles with was not as good as it is now.

The first test said that Sammy was Akita and Golden, the second said Husky and Golden, the third said Samoyed and Golden. This is because none of the other two tests had Samoyed as a marker so they were guessing as to what the second breed could be.

So why is this important?

The more you know about the breed the better you can work with your pet. By knowing Sammy was Samoyed it helped his vet determine a better diet for him (mostly cooling foods, no warming foods, as he tends to be a warm dog, unlike a German Sheppard who is a cool dog and would eat more warming foods ~ will do a post on what all that means next week), does he do well in warm weather or cool weather? Does he have any breed specific tendencies or hereditary health concerns? Knowing something so simple can make all the difference in the world.

With Sammy I was able to determine his personality more and see that he had the tolerance of a saint (Golden Retriever) and the ability to sniff out seizures as well as talk back (Samoyed)! I learned what foods he would tolerate better than others (no chicken!), and that he was predisposed to hip dysplasia, thyroid problems, and retina problems. His arthritis is due to him pounding the pavement for several years as a service dog.

Think about it, just as a human would take precautions for conditions or diseases that run in their family: heart disease (stress managementdiet and exercise), or get tests for genetic disease (Cancer, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, Huntington’s, etc) and do what you can to avoid having those things in your lifetime, how to slow down the progression, or how to manage your life better in advance; you can do the same for your pet.

Now that you know the breed(s) of dog you have and what to properly feed him or her, now you need to get the proper equipment to work with (so you can start training your pet). A standard leash and harness are number one. A collar is only necessary if you cannot clip tags to the harness, or you are training a working a dog who will only use a collar (however training should not be done with a collar as you will inevitably shatter the bones in the neck after unknowingly fracturing it). Besides, a standard harness (and no not the ones that go around their face unless you have a biter you are trying to retrain) and a standard leash (NOT a retractable leash!) are the easiest and quickest way to train your pet.

The basic commands for your everyday pet are: sit, stay, come, stop, down, up, walk, no (as in leave it). Not all people will teach their dog to heal, which is a command that tells the dog to walk beside you and pace you – however you need to be walking at the same pace all the time. So, if you aren’t doing it right your pet won’t do it right either! So use the same words all the time for your commands, keep it to one word only, and repeat, repeat, repeat. Just as it takes you several times to do something before it becomes a habit, and since it takes up to 24 repetitions for a human to create a habit, the same goes for your pet ~ and it might take even longer if they are a puppy. That means you need to be repeating the same words for the same tasks every day for months. Keep that in mind…

So why do you need to do basic commands? Three reasons: first to let your pet know what you are expecting of it, second to be able to have better walks and play time with your pet, and third to keep your pet safe! I cannot count how many times a dog has run away from their owner because they don’t communicate with them. By knowing a command as important as STOP you can one day save your pets life!!

And no, just because your pet is always in the yard doesn’t mean you skip giving them walks. You both need the exercise! Remember your pet is looking to you for guidance all the time, so now that you know what your pet needs from you what are you waiting for?!

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