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How to Care for a Dog


Dog-Proofing Your Yard

Now that your yard is landscaped with dog-safe greenery, plants, and flowers, there are a few more touches you need to make it a complete home for your dog: a strong fence with a gate that latches properly and easy access to shade, shelter, and fresh water.

Fences and Gates

Whatever type of fencing you choose, make sure it's sturdy, with no way for your dog to escape. He shouldn't be able to jump over it, dig under it, or squeeze through a hole. If your pet is a confirmed digger, you may have to thwart him by lining the ground beneath the fence with concrete. Some homeowners like the open fields look and decide to put in one of those underground electronic "invisible" fence systems. If you're thinking of going that route, remember, although this type of fence might effectively keep your dog in, it won't keep other dogs or intruders out.

Also, some dogs figure out -- by trial and error or just by accident -- if they run through the shock or ultrasonic burst that these systems count on to keep the dog on your property, there's nothing to stop them from heading into the next county. If you have the low-tech but reliable old-fashioned kind of fence, it's also not going to help much without a well-maintained gate. The gate should be hinged to close and latch automatically when you enter or leave the yard, with no way for Rover to nose it open.

Dog House Safety

Just as when you're looking for a home for yourself, finding where to place Rover's doghouse depends on three things: location, location, location. The ideal site is shaded during the summer and offers protection from the elements in the winter. If you live in a wet climate, place the doghouse in a high area with good drainage. Of course, a doghouse should have a floor so Rover doesn't have to sleep on the cold, damp ground, and raising the doghouse off the ground provides extra insulation. Some doghouses are designed with raised floors. You might want to surround the elevated area with boards or place hay underneath it so the wind won't whistle under the doghouse. For further protection from the wind, place the doghouse so the door faces south or east. As a general rule of thumb, most cold winds come from the north, northeast, or west.

If you plan on keeping your dog in a doghouse, don't keep him there for longer than eight or nine hours at a time -- and even so, this should only be done if you are at work or will be away for the day. Also, check with your vet to determine the most comfortable outside temperature for your dog. What's adequate for one dog may be different for another, since a dog's comfort level will likely depend on his breed, health, and age.

There's no doubt having a yard to let Rover out into is a marvelous convenience, especially on cold or rainy nights. However, you still need to make sure your dog has constant access to fresh water, and you still need to pick up after him every day. Things can pile up pretty quickly (no pun intended!), causing problems with odors, insects, parasites, and unpleasant encounters with Rover's paws, the lawnmower, or even your feet.

Doghouses used to be rickety wooden structures, usually with a mournful old hound dog chained to them. If the dog was lucky, he might have a ratty scrap of old carpeting to lay on. But dogs today have it made. Modern prefabricated doghouses are designed for canine comfort and easy human maintenance.

Even if your dog spends most of his time in your home, a doghouse gives him a place to hang out when he's in the yard and offers shelter from sun, rain, and snow. Of course, not just any old doghouse will do. Consider size, shape, design, and placement when you're buying. You don't have to give your dog a mansion, complete with air-conditioning, but you do owe your dog a comfortable, safe, clean, and inviting place to hang out when he's outdoors.

Your dog should be able to stand up, turn around, and lie down comfortably in his house. Don't assume bigger is better. A cozy doghouse retains heat, helping your dog stay warm in winter, and appeals to his denning instinct. If you are buying a doghouse for a puppy who will grow to be the size of a pony, buy it for how large he's going to be and provide plenty of bedding or block off part of the house until he grows into it.

Choose a house with a slanted or sloping roof so rain and snow won't accumulate and weigh it down. A removable or hinged roof makes it easier to clean the inside of the house. If the house has to be put together, it should be easy to assemble and disassemble, with sturdy latches that are easy to fasten and unfasten.

The doorway should be protected by a baffle or canvas flap to prevent rain and wind from blowing inside. An off-center entrance allows your dog to curl up in a corner away from cold winds. Make sure the doorway is high enough for Rover to walk in without having to stoop and the roof is high enough inside for him to stand with his head erect.

If you buy or build a wooden doghouse, be sure it's finished with a nontoxic paint -- especially if your dog is a chewer. Wooden exteriors should be smooth so your dog doesn't get splinters in his paws or scrape his skin on the surface or on protruding nails. Sand down any rough or sharp edges. Like a wooden deck, a wooden doghouse should be treated with sealant to protect it from water damage.

Line the doghouse with a pad, a blanket, straw, or hay. A plastic mat or pad is durable and easy to clean. A blanket is soft and can be thrown into the washing machine as needed. Straw or hay is inexpensive and easily replaced, but it can be prickly or harbor insects.

Bedding in the doghouse must be cleaned or changed regularly. Wipe down plastic mats, and wash blankets or bed covers weekly in hot water to remove odors and kill parasites such as fleas and their eggs. Replace straw or hay regularly so it is always clean and sweet-smelling. During flea season, treat the bedding and the interior of the doghouse weekly or as directed on the label with a pyrethrin-based premise spray or powder. Remember: Once you acquire a shelter for your dog, keep it clean and well maintained for your dog's comfort.

Now we'll move to a crucial part of dog-ownership: providing your pooch with the proper identification. It could save you a lot of heartbreak someday. It's covered in the next section.