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How to Properly Care for a Dog

Dogs, like humans, have a handful of basic needs to stay alive.  But you want to do more than just keep your dog alive.  You want your dog to live the happiest and healthiest life possible.

When considering how to provide this kind of life for your dog while keeping him well-adjusted and disciplined, always ask yourself one question:  “How would I like to be treated?”  Granted, there are a few exceptions.  But this answer will likely be the solution to most of the questions you may have about how to properly care for a dog.

While most dog owners treat their pets with love and respect, some do not.  Whether or not the mistreatment of animals is due to inexperience or other factors, it is each dog owner’s responsibility to properly care for an animal.  Thankfully, there are strict laws that prohibit cruelty to animals in the form of neglect, abuse, or dog fighting.

It is part of Agape’s mission to educate the public about what it is to be a responsible pet owner.  We also want to educate our potential foster parents about what can be expected of those generous enough to give their time and energy to care for one of our rescue dogs.

Read more about how to care for a newly adopted dog, supplies you need to keep your dog happy and healthy, and how to avoid making common mistakes of an inexperienced pet owner.

Basic Dog Care 101

Before you decide to adopt a dog, consider the level of care you are able to provide.  Dogs need lots of love, affection, exercise, and care to live a happy and healthy life.
Here are some basic dog care tips every pet owner should know:

  • Dogs must have access to clean drinking water at all times.  A dog’s water bowl should be cleaned with soap and water at least once every few days to prevent bacteria from growing inside the bowl.
  • Dogs should be fed high-nutrition dog food.  Read more about how much to feed a dog.
  • Dogs need adequate shelter from heat, cold, wind, rain, snow, and other weather.
  • Dogs should be bathed regularly and treated for fleas and ticks.
  • Dogs need frequent exercise in the form of running, jumping, and playing.  Exercise not only keeps their bodies healthy, it is also a stress-relieving activity for both you and your pet.
  • Veterinary care and/or yearly check-ups.
  • Never hitch, tie, or fasten a dog to a tether, runner, or chain as a method of pet containment.  Read more about why you should not keep a dog on a chain or runner.

Dog Care Supplies for the New Pet Owner

  • High-quality dog food
  • Dog bowls for food and water
  • Dog treats
  • Dog collar or harness and retractable leash
  • Dog shampoo / conditioner
  • Flea and tick medication
  • Dog brush / grooming kit / clippers
  • Dog toys / chews
  • Dog bed
  • Dog crate (if choosing to crate train) that is sized appropriately for your dog
  • Dog house (if you have a yard)

How Much to Feed a Dog

Feeding a dog the right amount of food is important to keeping your pet at a healthy weight.  Feeding a dog too much can cause obesity that can shorten your dog’s life.  On the other hand, not feeding your dog enough comes with other health consequences, such as malnutrition.

How much you feed your dog depends on his age, activity level, and the type of dog food you feed.  Younger, more active dogs burn more calories and need more food to maintain the same weight.  Older, less active dogs need less.  Finally, the type of food can greatly affect how much you need to feed your dog.

Each brand of dog food is made using a different recipe.  As with human food, the more high-quality dog foods usually cost more because they contain more nutrition in each bag.  A good quality dog food will allow you to feed your dog less while providing the needed amount of nutrition.  Because nutritional content varies by dog food brand, you should always read dog food labels to get the recommended feeding schedule.  If you aren’t sure, consult with a veterinarian.

Why Feed Your Dog High-Quality Dog Food

Feeding your dog high-quality dog food with premium ingredients is better for your dog’s health.  Basically, you can feed your dog more with less because each bag of dog food contains a higher percentage of nutrition and less “filler”.

Eating less while getting the recommended amount of nutrition is also good for your dog’s digestive system.  Dogs that eat low-quality food containing large amounts of “filler” ingredients need to go to the bathroom more often.  This is because the dog must eat more to get the same amount of nutrition.  Eating too much low-quality dog food is the cause of many digestive problems in dogs.  If you see that your dog often has messy stools, unpredictable potty breaks, or lots of potty “accidents”, consider the quality of food you are feeding.

How to Judge Your Dog’s Weight

A good way to find out if your dog is overweight is to run your hands over his sides.  If you cannot feel his ribs easily, then it’s a good indication that your dog is overweight and you should consider feeding him less.  On the other hand, if you can see a dog’s ribs, then he may be underweight.  This may be hard to see if your dog has lots of thick fur.  If you aren’t sure, consult a veterinarian.

Shelter for Dogs

Help your dog feel comfortable in his outside area and keep him protected from the weather by providing some type of shelter.  Ideally, allow your dog access to a shady area to protect him from the heat and prevent sunburn and a sturdy shelter to protect him from wind, rain, and snow.  A good sturdy dog house should provide what your dog needs and will give him a place of his own while enjoying the outdoors.

Where to Put a Dog House

A dog house should be placed in a shady area of your yard.  The heat from the sun can cause extreme temperatures inside a dog house, especially if the dog house is made of plastic.  Observe your dog.  If he isn’t spending much time in his own dog house, there may be an issue with the house itself or with its location.

How to Keep Your Dog Cool in the Summer

If you live in a place with hot summers, you must be careful about keeping your dog cool.  Dogs are susceptible to heat stroke, just like humans.

Here are some tips on how to keep your dog cool in the summer:

  • Never leave your dog in a parked car.
  • Provide a constant supply of cool, fresh drinking water.
  • Let your dog play in a baby pool or take him swimming.
  • Make sure there is plenty of shade in and around your dog’s outside area.
  • Limit exercising your dog during the hottest parts of the day.  Go on walks during the early morning or late evening hours if possible.
  • If your dog has long, thick fur, give him a nice summer haircut.
  • Keep your dog inside an air-conditioned building on the hottest days.

How to Keep Your Dog Warm in the Winter

Depending on the breed of dog, some dogs can handle cold weather better than others.  Large dogs with thick hair, such as Huskies and Malamutes, are naturally able to cope with extreme cold and actually prefer colder temperatures.  On the other hand, dogs with short hair and even small dogs with long hair should not be kept outside for very long if temperatures fall below freezing.

Because each dog is different, it is up to you as the dog’s owner to determine how much cold your dog can handle.  This can be done by simply observing your pet.  If your dog is shivering, he is probably too cold and should be brought inside where it’s nice and warm.

Here are some tips for how to keep your dog warm during the winter:

  • Keep your dog indoors on the coldest days.
  • Provide a warm bed and/or blankets for your dog.
  • Do not allow your dog to run around wet after being bathed.
  • If your dog likes to play in the snow, make him come inside to warm up periodically.
  • If you have a small dog, a dog with short hair, or dog that shivers a lot, consider buying him a sweater.

How to Keep Your Dog Safe

Keeping your dog safe is more than just preventing him from running away.  Here are some common myths about how to properly contain a dog:

Myth:  It is okay to leave my dog tied to a runner when I’m not home.

Fact:  It is NOT okay to tie your dog to a runner or keep your dog tethered to a chain or rope, regardless of whether you are at home or not.  Dogs can easily get tangled in chain or rope and suffer injuries and even death by strangulation.  The best way to keep your dog contained is with a high fence or gate your dog cannot climb or jump.   You also want to make sure your fence is secure enough to prevent other animals from entering.

Many pet owners still do not know how dangerous it is to keep a dog tied to a runner.  In fact, it is illegal in some countries to keep a dog tethered at all.

Myth:  I can keep my dog in the car with the windows cracked on a warm day.

Fact:  It is NOT okay to leave your dog locked inside a car even on a moderately warm day.  Your car acts as a greenhouse, trapping the sun’s heat and causing the temperature inside your car to become potentially lethal.  A study conducted by Stanford University showed the internal temperature of a car can reach up to 116 degrees Fahrenheit within 60 minutes on a 72-degree day, even with all four windows cracked.

Myth:  It is a good training method to keep my dog in a crate when he misbehaves.

Fact:  Crates provide dogs with a “den” they can use to feel safe and secure.  However; when crates are used to punish dogs for misbehaving, they become tiny prisons.  Crating has been found to do little to fix behavioral issues in dogs and can even make them worse by creating a vicious cycle.  Instead of sending your dog to a crate, address the behavior issue using positive reinforcement.  Training through positive reinforcement not only permanently fixes your dog’s behavior issue; it also strengthens the bond between you and your dog and makes for a happier and emotionally healthier dog.

Does Your Dog Need Medical Attention?

While they cannot communicate verbally, dogs are expressive creatures and are good at letting humans know when something is wrong.  Even if your dog is not actively seeking your attention, his behavior is a great way to tell if he needs veterinary care.  Here are a few common signs of physical distress in a dog:

  • Excessive panting or drooling
  • Lethargy (no energy, laying around a lot, doesn’t want to play)
  • Lack of interest in food / water
  • Rapid weight loss or weight gain
  • Loss of fur and/or the appearance of sores on the dog’s body
  • Excessive scratching or obsessive self-grooming
  • Limping or wincing
  • Unusual signs of aggression or aggravation upon physical contact
  • Cloudiness in the eyes / loss of eye-sight or hearing
  • Any other changes in behavior from what is normal for your dog

If you notice any of these signs in your dog, seek veterinary care immediately.

Importance of Spaying and Neutering Dogs

Agape is committed to finding homes for abandoned or neglected dogs.  To help control the abandoned pet population, all dogs that come through Agape are spayed and neutered.  This prevents accidental pregnancies in dogs and reduces the amount of stray dogs needing homes.

Fleas and Ticks: More than Just an Annoyance

You can imagine how annoying fleas and ticks must be to your dog, but did you know the treatment of fleas and ticks is good for your dog’s health?  Flea or tick infestations can cause significant harm to your dog in the form of skin rashes, open sores, lime disease, and other parasites.  Keep your dog and your house free of fleas with flea and tick medication for your dog as well as practical use of flea powder in your dog’s bed, crate, house, and other areas where he spends lots of time.

Dental Care for Dogs

Doggie dental care has become more popular as pet owners strive to keep their dogs in top shape.  Canine dental care helps to keep dogs’ breath fresh and prevents gum loss and tooth decay, just as in humans.

How to Keep Your Dog’s Teeth Clean

Here are some tips on how to provide good dental hygiene for your dog:

  • Provide dental chews.  Doggie dental chews should be given sparingly in accordance to the label.
  • Consider brushing your dog’s teeth periodically to remove plaque build-up around the gum line.  You can find pet tooth brushes at most pet supply stores.
  • Don’t feed your dog human food.
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