Ten Tips to Make your
Dog's Life Happy & Healthy
by Pam Flowers
clean, dry bedding
- Provide clean, fresh water
a high quality pet food
- Exercise your
- Play with your
- Take your dog to
the vet at least once a year
- Keep your dog
under control at all times
- Give your dog a
1 & 2. Provide adequate
shelter and clean, dry bedding.
The first protection a dog has against the elements is his
coat. But even a hairy Eskimo dog can feel cold and short-haired Chihuahuas can suffer
from too much heat. It is your responsibility to provide shelter that
offers adequate protection from heat, cold, rain, and wind. Whether your
dog lives inside your house or outside in the yard, he should have his own
little spot that is his alone.
If he sleeps inside, provide a dog crate lined with a
blanket, towel or dog pillow and carefully choose something you can easily
remove and wash. Dogs love dens and a crate gives them a sense of
security. If you don’t want to use a crate, try allowing the dog to select
his own sleeping area, as long as it is not inconvenient for you. Most
likely, he will crawl under a desk, table or even your bed. It is
acceptable to allow your dog to sleep in your bedroom but he should sleep
on his own bedding and not in your bed. By being allowed to select his own
special sleeping spot, your dog will be more inclined to sleep in the same
place each night and not be up roaming around, bothering you.
If your dog lives outside all or most of the time, provide a
small house big enough for the dog to turn around inside and stretch out.
The shelter should be made with waterproof materials, sturdy enough to
keep out wind and rain and positioned to provide shade. There are many
commercial doghouses available or you can build one out of plywood that
will meet these requirements. Design choices are endless, but it is my
experience that dogs love a rectangular, flat-topped house. They love to
jump up on their house and look around. This configuration also makes them
The house may be lined with a blanket or straw. The blanket
should be removed and washed from time to time and straw replaced if it
gets wet or added to when it breaks down. My dogs love straw! They get as
excited when I hand out fresh straw as when I show up with hamburgers on
their birthdays, and that’s pretty excited.
3. Supply clean, fresh
The most important and cheapest nutrient you can give your
dog is water.
Provide a bowl short enough for her to drink from easily.
Stainless steel bowls that are wide, flat on the bottom and have a fairly
straight wall are a good choice because they will not break, are easy to
clean and difficult to turn over.
It is important for your dog to drink enough water every day
so keep a bowl of water in a place where it will not be in anyone’s way
and the dog can drink undisturbed. Change the water at least daily.
Dogs love to drink from toilet bowls but they can pick up
diseases just as easily as people can. Keeping the lid down or the
bathroom door closed can stop this practice.
Check your dog’s water supply at least twice a day. Some dogs
love to play with their water bowls and tip them over about as fast as you
can fill them. If she thinks this is fun, surround the bowl with large,
flat, really heavy rocks. Then place the bowl in the middle so that
the rim is just barely below the top of the rocks. She will still be able
to drink but be unable to grasp the edge of the bowl and flip it over. If
rocks are not available, build a wooden platform with a well in the middle
to hold the bowl.
During warm weather or if your dog lives inside all the time,
she will likely drink plenty of water with no enticement from you
regardless of the breed. If she lives outdoors, adequate water consumption
can become a challenge when the weather turns cold.
Dogs who are bred to live outdoors in the cold, such as
Siberian huskies, Alaskan huskies, Eskimo dogs, Malamutes and Mackenzie River huskies
have hardwired brains that cause them to instinctively avoid water when
the outside temperature drops below freezing. This seems to carry over
into avoiding drinking water or at least drinking so little as to provide
inadequate hydration. Fortunately, there are two well-proven methods to
entice them to consume plenty of water.
In the morning place fresh water in your dogs bowl, add small
amount of chopped or ground meat, gravy or meat drippings and stir this
around to make a tasty broth. She’ll slurp this right down. In the
evening, when you feed her main meal, mix warm water with dog food. If you
feed canned food, stir in some water. If the food is dry, allow time for
the food to soak up the water before serving. By giving her tasty water
twice a day, your dog will stay well hydrated.
Check for adequate hydration by examining the dog’s skin and
gums. Place your hand over her ribs and press gently. Move your hand back
and forth slightly. The skin should be loose and move easily with your
hand. Another method is to gently lift the skin over the dog’s back. When
you let go, the skin should instantly return to its normal position. If it
moves back into place slowly, the dog is dehydrated. Gums should be moist.
When you are refreshing the water supply, pay attention to
how much water has been consumed every day. Significant increase or
decrease in intake can signify health problems that may require a visit to
the vet. However, water intake of a nursing female will increase
While an adequate water supply is certainly important, you
may wish to remove it from a puppy about three hours before bedtime. This
plus taking the puppy out several times to empty its bladder will reduce
the likelihood of accidents during the night and speed house training.
Offer fresh water when the puppy wakes up.
a high quality pet
Several years ago I spent two years trying
six of the top dog foods, feeding
each brand for
at least ten weeks in a search for the best dog food available. One food
had a lot of molasses, which the dogs didn’t seem to like. Another was too
grain-like and dense, which provided a lot of nutrition in a tiny quantity
of food but left the dogs wanting more bulk. Upon opening five bags of
another brand, I saw a significant difference in appearance and the food
from each bag tasted and smelled different. Another food was ridiculously
expensive and my dogs didn’t like it much. The fifth fell by the wayside
because I discovered mold in a newly opened bag.
By process of elimination, I ended up feeding
Purina Pro-Plan Dog Food and my dogs have been thriving on it for several years. Their
coats are thick, plush and soft, they have an excellent attitude, love to
run and play, live to an average age of fifteen and, perhaps best of all,
they simply seem content.
Today my dogs eat Pro-Plan Beef and Rice or
Pro-Plan Lamb and Rice Performance Formula. As they age, their diet will
change and they will go to Senior Pro Plan. The great thing about Pro
Plan is that there is a formula for every stage of life from puppy to
senior. There are even formula for dogs that have food allergies or
weight gain problems. When AKC (American Kennel Club) annually rates the
all-breed champions, it is a fact that 6 out of 10 of these dogs eat Pro
Plan dog food.
Over the past twenty-two years, my dog team
and I have traveled 45,000 miles and we still have quite a few miles to
go. Thanks to Pro Plan dog food, I fully expect future journeys to be
happy, healthy and successful. For more information on the various Pro
Plan Formulas, please visit
Their diet consists of nothing but dog food and water, with
one notable exception. When any dog or I have a birthday, we all get
5. Maintain proper body
Just like humans, being overweight is not healthy for your
dog. Obesity leads to heart disease, skeletal problems, diabetes and low
energy. Your dog will look and feel better if you maintain him at a proper
Almost every obese dog is overweight because he is fed too
much food and gets too little exercise.
To determine if you dog’s weight is right, look at his body
outline from the top and from the side. Looking down on your dog, he
should have a waist. From the side, his belly should be tucked up and the
outline of his ribs apparent but not highly visible. If the ribs are
highly visible, your dog is under weight.
To reduce your dog’s weight, reduce his food intake by 10%
and feed that amount for about two weeks. If after two weeks he is still
overweight, reduce the amount by 10% again. Repeat this until your dog is
at an optimum weight.
While dieting, increase the amount of exercise he gets very
slowly. Remember he has a lot to carry around and may be out of shape.
Once he has reached optimum weight and becomes more physically fit, you
may have to begin increasing his food intake.
It is up to you to maintain your dog at a proper weight.
Feeding him too much food or too many treats because it makes you feel
good is not a demonstration of love.
6. Exercise your
Exercise is part of a healthy lifestyle for dogs and people.
The best and easiest exercise is walking or running with your dog. All you
need is some time and a leash. How far and how fast you go with your dog
depends on its age, level of fitness and breed.
Young puppies may be able to walk fast for a short while but
tire quickly. If you want to go for a long walk with your young dog, be
prepared to carry it part of the way. Adult dogs will likely be able to go
as far and fast as you wish. Old dogs suffer from the same infirmities as
people such as arthritis, heart disease, low thyroid, and will lose their
endurance with age. By regularly exercising your dog, you can help prevent
obesity, keep its muscles strong and slow the progression of joint
disease. Like you, your dog will feel better if it is fit.
If your dog is out of shape, start slow and build up. When I
first start training my dog team in the fall, our first run is no more
than ¼ mile. The next day 3/8 of a mile, then ½, ¾, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5. When a
dog is fit enough to comfortably run five miles, something almost magical
happens and the mileage can increase rapidly. By the end of the first
month, we are up to 25 miles a day. Of course, a dog does not have to go that
far to be fit, and the size and age of your dog, the time you have to
devoted to exercise, and weather conditions will affect how far you want to
go each day.
You can easily tell if your dog is getting the right amount
of exercise by noting what the dog does when you are finished. If the dog
falls over and sleeps for the rest of the day, you probably over did it.
If she runs up to you with her favorite ball and wants to play fetch, well
maybe you should throw the ball until she uses up some more energy. If she
wants to rest and take a short nap, you’ve found the right amount of
exercise for your dog.
Besides keeping your dog healthy, there are mental and social
benefits to regular exercise. An under-exercised dog with lots of pent up
energy will be bored and may become a nuisance barker, chew furniture or
may even develop aggressive behavior. Exercise will help your dog relax
and it helps you and her form a strong bond.
Remember, if your dog is pregnant, she still needs regular
exercise. As delivery day draws near, she may or may not tire more easily.
Be very certain to monitor her for adequate hydration and don’t let her
Just too tired to get up and take the dog out? Don’t want to
get your feet wet in that downpour? Here’s an idea! My friends Doug and
Lori in Edmonton,
Alberta, Canada have taught their Basset, Lucy, to do laps. They can sit
in a chair and say “Do your laps,” and Lucy will walk back and forth
endlessly as long as they keep telling her to do this. In fairness, to
Doug and Lori, they do this to keep an excited Lucy occupied while they
are putting on coats and boots to walk her regardless of the weather.
Doing laps in the kitchen is not a substitute for going for a walk but if
a hurricane, blizzard, flood, or tornado is happening in your
neighborhood, you may be able to get away with this temporarily.
When finished exercising, offer your dog a bowl of fresh
water and drink a glassful yourself.
7. Play with your
Dogs are pack animals and so have the potential to be able to
deal with a variety of circumstances. Properly socialized, he can happily
be in the company of many people or other dogs and is also able to
tolerate periods of solitude. Too much of either situation is hard on him.
Dogs were never meant to spend their entire lives alone in
the backyard or anywhere else. Like people, they need companionship to
thrive. They need to feel they are welcome and useful members of their
pack. And they need to play.
When you return home, tired and needing a
rest but your dog is jumping all over you, playing may be the last thing
you want to do. But try and see the same situation from your dog's point
of view. He's been alone all day and his best friend, his hero, his
companion through thick and think just came home. His enthusiastic
greeting may be the happiest, most thoughtful and genuinely felt
expression of acceptance of you in your entire day. And the best thing
about it, is that he is willing to greet you this way every single day.
If his greeting is a bit too enthusiastic, it will prove
useful to both of you if you greet your dog quietly, stroke his chest and
shoulders and speak softly when you first enter. If necessary, hold him by
the collar at arm’s length. When he tries to jump up, stop petting him and
say quietly and sternly, “No”. When he stops jumping up, begin petting him
again. He will soon learn that calm greetings get him what he really
wants, which is to be close to you, feel your welcome touch and hear your
soft, loving voice.
When you’re rested up, take your dog for a walk, play
tug, fetch, rollover, shake a paw, throw a Frisbee. Spend time every day
just playing and you will notice it's not just fun for your dog, it's
fun for you too. When you go on that errand, try to take your dog
whenever possible because anything that physically involves you with
your dog will be seen by him as fun. Even a daily, short period of
intense one-on-one attention from you will go a long way toward meeting
his social needs. During the rest of the evening, simply being in your
company is welcome and necessary companionship for your dog.
If you meet your dog’s emotional need for companionship
and play, your
dog will feel happy and secure. Discipline problems will be fewer and
8. Take your dog to the vet at least once a year.
One of the most important people in the life of your dog will
be his veterinarian. So, before you get a dog, get a vet.
Talk to people you know and ask their opinion of local vet
clinics. Visit the clinic and talk to the staff. The clinic should be
clean, the staff willing to provide you with basic information about the
frequency and cost of vaccinations and other regular health
requirements for your dog. If they are not friendly and courteous or will
not give you information, find a different clinic.
Sojo & Lucy digging in the ice.
Roald looking at the camera.
During your dog’s first visit, you and your dog should feel
comfortable with the vet. Your dog deserves to be treated with patience,
compassion, and genuine concern. And you deserve the same treatment as
well. Once he learns to feel comfortable at the vet clinic, he will come
to understand that no matter what happens there is nothing to be afraid
of. When he is sick or injured, he will come to understand that you are
trying to help him by going to the vet.
It is extremely important to follow the recommended regimen
of vaccinations to prevent your dog from acquiring a number of serious
illnesses. It is also important to bring your dog to the vet once a year
for dental hygiene and an overall checkup.
Post the vet’s phone number with your other emergency numbers
and have a clear understanding of your vet’s emergency response policies.
For the safety and comfort of your dog and other animals,
your dog should be on a leash for the entire time he is in the clinic
unless you are asked to remove it. If you forget your leash, the clinic
will have one you can borrow.
9. Keep you dog under your control at all times.
To understand how your dog thinks, I strongly recommend a
book by Patricia McConnell, Ph.D. called THE OTHER END OF THE LEASH. This
book will give you a wonderful insight into your dog’s mind and help you
understand why your dog does what he/she does. You can also pick up more
tips by listening to Patricia McConnell’s weekly NPR radio program called CALLING ALL PETS. Her website is
It is critical to keep your dog under your control at all
times for her safety and the safety of others. Control at all times means
twenty-four hours a day. You can control by voice, leash, or confinement.
When you’re at home or walking at the
dog-park where you can let her off of her leash, voice control is
appropriate. The most important command you can teach your dog is come.
It’s not terribly hard to train your dog to come. Choose a place and time
where she will have no distractions and have a nice supply of treats in
your pocket. Take a treat out and hold in your left hand. Face her, hold
your right arm out at full length straight in front of you with your palm
facing the dog like a traffic cop. Tell her to stay and slowly back away
three or four steps. Lower your arm, bend forward in a play-bow with your
knees slightly bent and your hands on your knees, clap your hands and say come, come.
Now hold the treat out where she can see it and repeat the
command come. The dog will come to get the treat. Praise her by saying
good dog when she arrives at your feet. Keep repeating this but each time
try to move another step away before you say come. Keep the lessons under
ten minutes. Eventually she will come because you told her to and you can
give her a treat every second or third time, but always praise her.
You can also walk away from her and call her to come. Dogs
love to chase and she will follow you, quickly learning to come when
When walking along a sidewalk in a city, it is important to
keep your dog on a leash. Even the best trained dog may not come if it
sees another dog or cat on the other side of the street and decides to try
to dash across traffic in pursuit of a little social encounter. There are
short leashes, long leashes, leashes that extend and retract, leather
leashes, chain leashes and rope leashes. The right leash for you is the
one that allows you the easiest and most comfortable control over your
dog. My personal choice is one made of thick rope used by rock climbers.
It is soft, round, strong, easy to grip and can be purchased at most
sporting goods stores in any length.
If you wish to keep your dog confined in a fenced area
outside, provide a house that will shelter the dog from heat, cold, rain
and wind. Provide shade, fresh, clean water and scoop their droppings
daily. The ideal enclosure is made of strong fencing material tall enough
to prevent your dog from jumping over – usually four to six feet high.
About one and a half to two feet of fencing should be buried around the
inside perimeter to prevent digging escape tunnels. The best shape is
rectangular rather than square because, for some reason I do not
understand, dogs are more active in rectangular enclosures.
My three dogs live in a 25X50 foot enclosure with a big pile
of gravel in the middle where they can jump up and play king of the
castle. Dogs love to lie, stand or sit on high places rather than flat
surfaces, so there are several small piles of gravel to accommodate
everyone’s needs. They consistently use one end for elimination and the
rest of the pen to play endless games of tag and wrestling. I understand
not everyone has room to have such a large enclosure, but don’t put your
dog in something that is so small it can not run around a little. Exercise
and the ability to move around is important to your dog’s physical and
mental well being.
Your dog would likely appreciate something to occupy her time
while in an enclosure. A toy stuffed with food or some toy that she cannot
destroy will keep her busy and help pass the time. If your dog will
tolerate another dog inside her enclosure, you may want to consider a
second dog as a companion.
10. Give your dog a purpose.
Dogs are pack animals and your family is her pack. Just as
each human family member needs a specific task to perform within the
group, so should your dog. By performing her task within the pack you are
giving your dog a feeling of security, that she belongs and has a purpose.
No one, including your dog, likes to hang around all day and
do nothing. Bored dogs can become a nuisance and bark a lot or get into
trouble around the house. It is up to you to evaluate your dog and give
her something reasonable to do based on her size, aptitude, motivation and
Because dogs are pack animals they understand the idea of
teamwork. They want you to be the leader of the pack and they want you to
tell them what to do. Dogs can be taught to get the paper, bark at
approaching strangers and animals, be your friend and confidant, tow you
around on skis, protect you when jogging and provide something warm and
fuzzy to touch.
I once worked with a woman whose dog went hiking with her
every weekend. When they were ready to set out, the woman would lock the
car door and throw the keys into the brush. She would tell her dog “fetch”
and the dog would dash into the brush and find the keys. Just as the dog
started to pick up the keys, she would tell her to “drop it”. When they
returned from the hike, she would again tell the dog “fetch”, only this
time the dog was allowed to return to the woman with the keys.
Remember your dog performs its task voluntarily so always,
always provide leadership by praising the dog when she has completed her