Everyone agrees that the worst thing about dogs is that they don’t live long enough. But these easy, commonsense tips can help extend the time we have with our canine pals.
What’s your perfect dog? Like a spouse, a dog is a partner who will be with you for a long time, for better or for worse, so pick one you can live with. Divorce between humans is devastating, but a canine–human mismatch can have deadly consequences for the dog. If you are honest with yourself up front, you’ll find someone to make your heart sing every second you are together.
Find a breeder with a sterling reputation for producing healthy, well-balanced puppies. Ask lots of questions, about pedigree, health screens, and care during the first few weeks. With rescue organizations, ask about the dog’s background, health, vaccine status, and temperament issues that may require additional training. (Here's a list of suggested things to ask.) And don’t just take anyone’s word for it. Trust your eyes, ears, and gut. If something seems wrong, say no.
Examine every inch of the place you call home with one question in mind: How many ways can my puppy kill himself here? Anything that dangles, sparks, topples, or can be chewed poses a danger. Don’t think you’re in the clear if your new dog is an adult. One 9-year-old country dog got a new home in an urban high-rise. She did not realize that the open window led, not to a backyard, but to a 15-story drop. It all ended well, she was pulled to safety, but only after an afternoon perched on an air conditioner.
Teach Red-Light Commands
Young puppies are information sponges so use this period to ingrain life-saving commands—come, leave it, and an automatic sit or down. It’s a little more challenging to teach them to an adult, but you’ll be happy you made the extra effort if your dog ever gets loose and makes a beeline toward traffic.
Become a Nutrition Nerd
Some dogs will have shiny coats, high energy, and bright eyes on a diet of pizza and stale bagels, but those are rare. For most, a high-quality diet, whether from a can, bag, or your kitchen, is essential. Don’t just read labels and recipes, read your dog. Dull hair, unpleasant odors, and stomach problems may mean that the food doesn’t agree with him. If that’s the case, change the menu.
“Awww, he’s so cute. Can I kiss his little nose?” No.
“Can I give her a piece of my sandwich?” Nope.
“Don’t you want to try this new procedure?” Not a chance.
“Let me toss him in the deep end.” Try it, and it'll be the last thing you do.
As a dog owner, you will face a constant barrage of requests, opinions, and orders. Protect your dog from all of this unsolicited affection and advice by learning to say one little word: “No!” (Or one of the colorful alternatives offered above.) You live with this dog and you know what’s best for him. Don’t allow anyone, even a person in a position of authority, to browbeat you into a bad decision.
Keep Your Nose on the News
Dog owners have more resources than ever before. Use them. Food recalls, for example, often appear on Facebook and Twitter before they reach the mainstream media. Scientific papers on canine health are available online. Watch for new developments. Some can be lifesavers.
Prepare for the Worst
Accidents happen and knowing how to perform the Heimlich maneuver on a dog or how to tie a tourniquet can mean the difference between life and death. Classes, books and online resources offer the basics. Also, find the nearest 24-hour veterinary emergency room in your area, keep the number handy, and make sure that you have a way to get there no matter what time of day or night.
Stuff a Cash Cushion
Medical care costs money, so consider buying a health insurance policy for your dog or having a credit card reserved for your pet's care. Some illnesses are one-time big expenses, while others require long-term care and medication. Either way, insurance can ease the financial burden of caring for a sick dog.
Soothe Your Senior
There’s nothing like old dogs. They are sweet, soulful, and noble, but, like old people, they can be crabby, achy, and may lose control of their bodily functions, and go blind or deaf. These problems, however, don’t have to be the end of the line. There are all kinds of products and techniques—like orthopedic beds, acupuncture, and water therapy—that can help you keep the glitter in your dog’s golden years.