The immense joy a dog brings to a family is unparalleled. The thrill of coming home to the deliriously happy barking of a dog is one of the few moments that makes owning a dog such a magical experience. The dog often becomes the one member of the family whose love for each person in the family is unconditional and unflagging.
Yet, owning a dog has its pitfalls. Or, to put it more positively, responsibilities. Responsibilities that, ultimately, parents must be willing, and able, to take, irrespective of whether their children will take on some of the attendant chores.
This is especially so, because the joy of having a dog in the family may not be terribly apparent when he needs to be walked at the crack of dawn on a cold wintry morning when you’d rather be snuggled in a warm bed. Nor is it particularly enjoyable to have to make boarding arrangements whenever the family feels like a holiday. Or, to watch your prized piece of furniture disintegrate between the jaws of a teething puppy (however cute he may be before and after the “incident”!)
Let’s face it. Dogs mean work. They need to be walked, fed, taken to the vet now and then, given a bath, groomed and de-ticked, looked after when they are sick and often tied up when you have guests. They will probably bring in trails of mud, puffs of fur, pieces of bone and other odds and ends into your immaculate home.
But there’s a flip side. And, what a slurpy wet, wonderful flip side it is. They’ll give you a loving lick when you’re feeling down and out (and even when you’re not), they’ll fight to the finish with any burglar who has the temerity to enter your home, and they’ll be the most trusting companions you and your children could ever ask for.
It’s a trade-off that any prospective, responsible dog owner needs to think about seriously. If you have any doubts, there’s only one answer – don’t get a dog. Any dog lover would much rather you dream about having a dog, than get one and then neglect it.
Okay, so if the decision is made and you want to make a dog a part of your family, here’s what you need to keep in mind:
Getting a Puppy
Having got a puppy please keep this in mind…
Signs of health
Getting a puppy :
Puppies are normally ready to move into their new homes when they are four to six weeks old. So, depending on the kind of dog you are looking for, you need to start scouting around. Before you start, you need to first assess the size of your home and what kind of dog would suit it best. Dogs come in amazing varieties, so you need to short-list a few “must-have” traits before you get that puppy home.
Coats: Long, medium or short haired dogs: Dogs like the Lhasa Apso, the Maltese and Spaniels have long flowing hair that may be a delight to behold but needs a fair amount of grooming. Others, like Labradors, Terriers and German Shepherds have shorter, more manageable coats, while, at the extreme end, the Mexican Hairless dog is practically bald.
Size: Large, Medium, Small: If you have plenty of space and are able to provide plenty of exercise opportunities to your dog, you could opt for one of the larger breeds like a St. Bernard, an Irish Wolfhound or even a Nowfoundland. Most medium-sized homes are sufficient for medium-sized dogs like German Shepherds, Retrievers, Dalmatians and Dobermans but remember, most of these dogs were bred as gun dogs so they need plenty of exercise.
Among the smaller dogs, often called lap dogs, are Terriers, the Lhasa Apso, and at the tiniest end, the Chihuahua.
Breed: Pure, Cross-bred or Mongrel: Pure-bred or pedigree dogs are descended from a line of dogs used traditionally for a particular form of work. For instance, Dalmatians were once carriage dogs, so they should only be kept if you can provide them with plenty of exercise. Pointers, Spaniels and Retrievers are Gun dogs and were trained to find game and retrieve it both on land and water. Which is why they are obedient and dependable. However, being pure bred, they are more delicate than other dogs of mixed ancestry and more likely to inherit defects. Cross-breds are the progeny of two pure-bred parents of different breeds. They are not only cheaper to buy but also have a stronger constitution and are less highly strung than either of their parents. Mongrels are dogs of mixed ancestry. They are inexpensive, robust and affectionate. But since their sires are unknown it is impossible to predict how the puppies will develop.
Male or Female: Dogs are rather independent. This trait means that they are more difficult train and control than bitches. It also means that they like to wander off on their own, particularly in search of bitches on heat. Bitches are more popular as family pets. They are usually affectionate and companionable, but unless they are spayed or treated with hormone injections or pills, they will need to be contained securely when on heat.
Neutering: Unless you have definite plans to breed from a dog, we strongly recommend that all dogs kept as household pets be neutered. Millions of pups are born all over the world every year, of which, over half are unwanted and have to be destroyed. Neutering all dogs not needed for breeding is the single most important step that can be taken towards halting this tragic destruction.
And now that you’ve got a dog, here are some things to keep in mind.
Signs of health: The best way to assess the health of a puppy is to see it with its mother. A healthy dog has bright, clear eyes and a dense coat without scabs or bald patches. A dog with signs of diarrhoea should be avoided. Buyers should also note a dog’s reaction to their presence. Timid, cringing dogs or puppies should not be chosen, even out of pity. Nor should dogs that seem over-assertive, let alone aggressive.
Health check: The dog’s health should be checked as soon as possible by a veterinarian. Every dog should have been vaccinated against the major canine diseases and have an up-to-date certificate recording initial vaccination and subsequent boosters. A dog with no certificate should be vaccinated as soon as possible.
Bedding: The bed is the dog’s own territory: the place where it keeps its valuables, and the only part of the house where it can be sure other members of the family will not intrude. For a puppy, the ideal bed is a cardboard box with
a “gateway” cut in one side. As the puppy outgrows its bed, or chews it up, it can be replaced with another, bigger one.
Whichever type of bed is chosen, it should be big enough to allow the dog to go through its primordial routine of turning round and round before settling to sleep.
In all cases, the bed should be lined with newspaper, topped by comfortable bedding such as a cushion, a towel or an old blanket.
Introducing the new dog:
Before the dog arrives, the owner should have decided where it will sleep, where its food and water bowls should go and which parts of the house it should be allowed access to. The garden should be made escape proof. On the day itself, the bed and bowls should be put out, and the dog’s collar, identity tag and lead must also be ready for their wearer.
When the dog arrives, let it explore its new territory as it wishes. This will give it confidence, and will also give the owner a chance to observe it. Warn children that it needs time to settle down. Do not leave very young children unsupervised with a dog. Introductions to other pets should be handled carefully and gradually. Take care to make a special fuss of the older pets, so as to reassure them that the newcomer has not robbed them of their place in the household.
Feeding: Although dogs are classified as carnivores, they do not need an all-meat diet. But they do need a well-balanced one. This means feeding them enough high-quality protein, fat and carbohydrates to meet their daily nutritional requirements. The actual choice is up to the owner and the dog.
Feeding times: Some large breeds are content with only one meal a day, usually fed in the evening. However some very large breeds, such as the Great Dane, require so much that they need to have their daily food intake split into two. They are fed half their rations in the morning and half in the evening. The same, two-meal, routine is needed for small dogs and old dogs.
While meat is a staple food for dogs, a vegetarian dog can be brought up perfectly well too. If you are feeding your dog meat, it is recommended that all meat be cooked before it is given to the dog, along with rice, chapati or dog biscuits as an additional source of carbohydrates. Cooking meat is especially important in warm countries where meat is prone to spoiling.
If you opt for a vegetarian diet for your dog, it is extremely important to plan its meals in a way that the dog gets adequate proteins, vitamins and minerals. A daily diet of milk and bread or milk and chapatis is inadequate and needs to be supplemented with fortified food. A practical solution is to vary the diet during the week, alternating milk and bread with a mixed stew of rice, vegetables and lentils (dal). This is an extremely easy meal to make. Simply put 2/3 cup rice, 1/3 cup lentils, and ½ cup of assorted vegetables, ¼ tsp. Salt and 3 ½ cups of water into a pressure cooker and cook for about 10 minutes. Once the cooker has cooled down, serve this “khichdi” or rice stew along with yoghurt or milk. Soya nuggets too make a tasty and protein-rich addition to any meal. An egg – raw – can be added to every meal. Most vegetarian dogs respond very well to a daily dose of any fish oil like cod-liver oil, either in liquid or capsule form. It gives their diet an added boost and is excellent for their coats. Cottage cheese too is an excellent, though expensive, addition to a meal.
Bones: All dogs appreciate a bone. But they should never be given small bones that splinter, such as those from lamb, chicken, or any type of chop. Cooked bones must also be avoided. However, a large raw bone cleans a dog’s teeth, massages its gums, and becomes a valued possession. Bones of this type are particularly good for dogs fed on soft food.
Drinking water: Fresh drinking water must always be available.
Exercise: As a species, dogs are strongly built, with a large lung capacity, giving them both speed and stamina. The actual amount of exercise needed by different breeds varies greatly, but is usually proportionate to their size.
All dogs, whether they need a lot of exercise or a little, need to be exercised regularly – at least once a day – and possibly twice. The energetic breeds, in particular, are capable of taking a considerable amount of daily walking and running. They quickly become bored, restless and unhappy if denied the physical effort and mental stimulus this gives them. The big mongrels, the hounds, gundogs, working dogs, some of the utility breeds and terriers are built and bred for sustained physical output. The fittest of them will enjoy as much as 16 km/10 miles a day.
Ideally dogs need to be taken where they can safely be let off the lead to run free, with no risk from traffic, and no threat to livestock and wildlife. A park, or open ground or even a quiet secluded neighbourhood area is good for this. However, all their exercise, even that taken off the lead, should be supervised and the dog kept within calling distance.
Training: All dogs need some basic training if they are to have good relationships with their owners. An untrained dog is a liability to itself and its household, and a danger to other people. To behave in public, a dog needs to understand three basic orders: ‘Come’, ‘Sit’, and ‘Stay’. Dogs also need to learn how to walk on a lead and, for this, the command ‘Heel’ is useful.
Whatever the age, rewards and approval have a much greater effect than punishment, and training sessions should be made as pleasant as possible for the ‘pupil’. Reproofs should be minimal, and must immediately follow the offence. Otherwise the dog will not understand what it has done wrong.
To teach a dog to ‘Come’, call its name, followed by the word ‘Come!’ Pat the front of your legs; dogs respond to gestures as well as to words. Made a great fuss of it when it arrives. Repeat as often as possible. If training outdoors in an area where dogs must be kept on leads, use a long training lead.
To teach ‘Sit’, put the dog on its lead. Holding the lead in the right hand, position the dog on your left. Say ‘Sit!’ and press the dog’s hindquarters down with your left hand. Keep its head up with the lead. When it is sitting, make a fuss of it. Repeat frequently, both on and off the lead.
Use a long training lead to teach ‘Stay’. Make the dog sit, and stand in front of it. Raise one hand, flat palm outwards, and say ‘Stay!’ Move slowly backwards a few steps, repeating the command. Praise the dog if it stays still. If the dog moves, scold it and make it sit down again, then re-start the exercise. Repeat frequently, lengthening the distance you move backwards.
Brushing and grooming: Grooming removes dust, dead skin, loose hairs, burrs and tangles. It also massages the skin and improves the tone of the underlying muscles. Parasites are exposed, and the owner can examine the dog for signs of health.
The accessories used depend on the coat type. Medium and long-haired dogs need a nylon or natural bristle brush, and a metal comb. A very stiff brush is needed for wire-haired breeds. For all the longer haired breeds, a curry comb is useful for removing hair while the dog is moulting.
Bathing: There should be no hesitation about bathing a dog which is dirty or smelling, although it is generally thought only two to three baths are needed in a year. Too frequent bathing will result in the coat becoming dry and brittle as the natural oils are lost. In warm tropical climates, where dust levels are high, even a monthly bath may be needed.
Apply a dog shampoo twice during the session, thoroughly rinsing off each application. Afterwards it is important to dry the dog as quickly as possible, either with a towel or using a hairdryer. It will also be necessary to groom the dog.
Vaccinations: All dogs should be vaccinated against the infectious canine diseases of distemper, canine hepatitis, leptospirosis, canine parvovirus, and kennel cough. The initial protection given by a series of injections in puppyhood does not last for life, however, and protection only continues if adult dogs are given regular booster injections, usually at intervals of one or two years.
Signs of Health:
Abdomen tapering towards hind legs; not distended or unduly sensitive to touch
Anus clean, with no staining or scouring
Appetite enthusiastic for food, eating their meals fast; no undue scavenging; no vomiting
Breathing quiet and even when at rest; panting to cool down; no coughing
Claws no splits, no overgrown claws; no interdigital cysts
Coat clean, glossy; free from parasites, loose hairs and dirt
Demeanour alert, vital; quickly responsive to sounds and calls
Ears alert to slightest sound; clean, with no deposit; head and ears held at normal angle; no irritation or scratching
Eyes clear; not unduly sensitive to light; no discharge; no bloodshot
Faeces vary according to diet, but should be passed regularly; once a day for small dogs; three or four times for large
Movement good stamina in youth, deteriorating with age; even in age retaining ability to jump small heights, and get into car unaided. Should move with an even gait, with weight evenly distributed on all four legs
Nose condition depends on environment; likely to be cold and damp on a walk, dry and warm indoors; no persistent discharge
Skin supple, clean, without scurf, inflammation, parasites or scores
Teeth clean, without tartar, with strong gums
Urine passes urine with no difficulty: entire male dogs spray small quantities of urine in house and garden to mark territory
Ailments and parasites
Like any other animal, humans included, dogs can suffer from a wide variety of ailments, ranging from allergies to rickets. Some of these – such as tumours, arthritis, and heart trouble – are mainly associated with older dogs. Protection against the dangerous canine diseases such as distemper can be given by vaccination. All owners develop a sense of how a dog looks and behaves when in good health. An owner who notices any change in a pet’s appearance and behaviour should not attempt home diagnosis. Veterinary help should be promptly sought.
All dogs can sometimes pick up parasites, one of the commonest being fleas. These cause the dog intense irritation, and also act as an intermediate host of tapeworms. They should therefore be eliminated quickly.
A flea infestation should be treated with one of the proprietary preparations available from veterinary surgeons and used according to instructions. As fleas breed in the dog’s bedding, it is also important to destroy the eggs they have laid. Do this by burning or washing the bedding and disinfecting any other likely breeding places: measures that are as essential as treating the dog itself. If there are other pets in the household they should be treated too, with similar attention paid to their bedding.
Unlike fleas, lice spend their entire life-cycle on the dog’s body. They multiply very quickly, and a severe infestation causes the dog extreme discomfort, and possibly anaemia. Puppies, in particular, are seriously weakened by them.
Lice cling to the skin, or burrow into it, and are not easily seen, but their white eggs, or nits, can be found in the fur. A dog with a dirty, patchy coat may well be infected with lice and should be taken for veterinary examination without delay.
Ticks are another blood-sucking parasite that may be found on a dog. Ticks spend a few days feeding on the dog, gradually becoming distended. They drop off when fully engorged. It is a mistake simply to pull off a trick with tweezers without first cutting off its air-supply for about 30 minutes with a smear of grease. If not killed in this way, the head-part will remain firmly embedded in the dog’s skin.
Demodectic mange may show mild symptoms of inflamed skin and hairless lesions or, more seriously, pustules and severe irritation. Prompt veterinary treatment is essential, as postponement may led to permanent baldness.
Sarcoptic mange is contagious to dogs and to man. It causes intense irritation and scabs on skin. Urgent veterinary treatment is needed, and isolation.
Ear mites are responsible for ear mange, which causes great suffering and may lead to permanent ear damage. The dog shakes its head and carries it at a different angle. There may be a discharge and loss of balance. Most ear problems respond well to veterinary care.
Many worms species can infest dogs and puppies. Some are transmissible to man, and can have particularly serious effects on children, including blindness. For this reason, dogs’ faeces should be cleaned up, and dogs should be kept away from children’s play areas. Children should also wash their hands after playing with dogs.
Puppies should be routinely treated against roundworm and adult dogs should be de-wormed regularly, in accordance with veterinary advice. This should also be sought promptly if a dog has tapeworms. Segments of tapeworms, which look rather like rice-grains, will probably be seen in its faeces.
Ringworm is a highly contagious infection caused by a fungus rather than a worm. Round, bare, encrusted patches develop in a dog’s coat. The infection can be quickly transmitted to people, and children should not touch an infected dog. Urgent veterinary treatment is essential.
This is administered with a helper holding the muzzle closed, and in a raised position. It is then possible to pour the liquid into a pouch of loose skin at the side of the mouth. Close the dog’s mouth after administering the medicine and hold it shut for a few seconds. Allow the dog time to swallow.
The method is to open the top jaw with one hand and the lower jaw with the other, leaving thumb and forefinger free to place the tablet well back on the tongue. Close the muzzle; stroke throat to assist swallowing.
Again using a helper to hold the dog, unless it is very tractable and sure of you, apply the drops to the inner corner of the eye. If the head is in the raised position, the drops will run over the eyeball naturally.
When needed, ear drops should be applied with a dropper. Hold the dog’s head on one side, then squeeze the ear drops into the dog’s ear.
Hold the head tilted while the medicine runs into the ear canal. In cases of extreme ear infection, a vet may advise you to hold the medicine in place by putting a ball of cotton wool in the outer part of the ear cavity.
Take very great care when cleaning away discharge from the ears. Use balls of cottonwool. Avoid using ear buds because they may accidentally enter too deep into the ear and puncture the ear drum.