How to Care for a Dog


In exchange for all the love and pleasure dogs give their families, they do require various kinds of care in return, many of them several times a day. But don't be scared -- these will quickly become part of your familiar routine, and the better you get at caring for your pooch, the more pleasure you'll both derive from your relationship. In this article, we cover all the key aspects of dog-care, including:

  • Dog-Naming Tips Naming your pooch is a joyful task, but one you'll want to put some thought into ahead of time. Both you and your dog will have to live with the name you choose for your entire time together. There are many ways to come up with appropriate dog names, including appearance, heritage, special characteristics, and behavior. We cover them all in this section. We will also tell you about some dog names and dog-naming mistakes you will definitely want to avoid.
  • Dog Supplies Think of how many personal items you have, and how many of them are indispensable to your health and happiness. Dogs require fewer accessories than us humans, but theirs are no less vital, and by selecting the proper items, you can improve your pooch's health in ever regard. If you've ever ventured inside a pet store, you know how confusing it can be just picking out a collar or leash. We will cover all the basics like food and grooming accessories, as well as specialty items like a carrier.
  • Dog Feeding Nothing is more vital to the health of your dog than proper feeding. Dogs are eager eaters, and this is part of their charm. But it also means that you need to be well informed about what is will give a dog good health and energy and what could be bad for her, despite her willingness to try it out. Here are all the details, including several make-it-at-home recipes for delicious, nutritious and economical dog food. (We also answer the eternal question, "Why do dogs eat plants?")
  • Puppy-Training Tips A new puppy can really melt your heart, but they can also be a handful. The sooner your pooch is accustomed to doing his business outdoors and on schedule, the better for all of you. Interestingly, this is made easier when correlated to the feeding schedule. There is more to training your puppy than housebreaking, however. You must also know the correct way to humanely discipline your new dog when he misbehaves. All the details of this crucial stage in your dog's life are in this section.
  • Dog-Grooming and Bathing Tips Dogs can get messy, and they don't naturally keep themselves quite as clean as we'd like them to be as co-habitants in our homes. As the owner, proper grooming on bathing is your responsibility. But there is more to caring for your dog than simple bathing. You must also care for your dog's nails, teeth, eyes and ears. So in this section we cover key strategies for keeping your pooch clean and everyone happy. We'll even tell you when it's time to throw in the towel and seek the aid of a professional groomer.
  • Dog-Proofing Your Home Dog-proofing your home can be just as challenging as proofing your home for a child or for allergies. For instance, do you know which types of houseplants can be poisonous for dogs? You might also be surprised to learn that some of your favorite treats can really upset your dog's stomach. For everyone's health and happiness, it's vital to make your house safe for your dog and to train the pooch to respect the home, as well. In this section, we give indispensable advice for forging a good relationship between your pet and your residence.
  • Dog-Proofing Your Yard Most dogs spend at least a little time in the yard, but this congenial place poses its own challenges and dangers. First, you will need the right type of fence to keep your dog from roaming the neighborhood where he could possibly get injured or hurt others. We will examine the option of invisible fences and the so-called "shock collars." Also, everyone needs a place to call home, and that includes your dog. We'll tell you how to design and build the perfect doghouse. Learn how to keep both your dog and your yard safe and happy.
  • Dog-Identification Tips Nothing else matters when your dog is lost. Taking a few simple steps when she first comes home can save everyone heartache later. The right tag can get your dog back home where he belongs in a matter of hours. Here we discuss the best methods of providing identification for your dog. We will also discuss some identification options that you may not have heard of. Did you know that some pet owners tattoo their dogs with vital identification information? How about microchip implants? Regardless of the method you choose, we will also tell you how to register your dog's identification.

Before you can really get to know your dog, you have to give him or her a name. Move on to the first section for some tips on christening your new friend.

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Dog-Naming Tips

One of the most enjoyable parts of dog ownership is giving your pooch a special name. But once you've done that, you also need to take steps to give your dog proper identification, in case he's lost. Here are extensive details on naming and identifying your dog.

What's in a Name?

One of the most important ways you communicate with your dog is through her name. When your dog hears her name, she should jump to attention, ready for good times -- even if it's just mealtime. Choosing the right name is a special part of dog ownership, so consider your choices carefully. Here are some things to consider to get you on the right track.

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Your dog's looks. Spot, Blaze, Tiny, or Blackie are all tried and true dog names. The upside is they're descriptive, making it easier to identify your dog if she gets lost. The downside is there are a lot of other dogs with those names. You might want to be more creative so your dog stands out from the crowd. A tall, leggy dog with a brindle coat -- a Greyhound, for instance -- might be named Savanna or Tiger, after the flat grasslands of Africa that might have produced an animal with this striped coat pattern.

Your dog's heritage. Investigating breed history is a great way to find the perfect name. A Scottish breed, such as a West Highland White Terrier, Scottish Terrier, or Cairn Terrier, might be named Murray or Stuart. Safari is a suitable moniker for a Basenji, the barkless breed from Africa. Tundra is a favorite name for Northern breeds like Alaskan Malamutes and Samoyeds.

Your dog's breed. Beagles, Bloodhounds, and Basset Hounds will follow their noses to the ends of the earth. Sniffer is a good name for one of these dogs, as is Sherlock or Gypsy. Lots of terriers are named Digger, and it's easy to see why. These dogs were once bred to go after varmints that lived in underground dens, hence their tendency today to excavate their yards.

Your pup's special traits. Why did you get your pup? If the two of you will be hunting or fishing together, you might go with the name Pal or Amigo. Border Collies are said to be the smartest of all breeds, so consider giving yours a name to match her intellect: Einstein or Newton, for instance.

Your puppy's registered name. Breeders often give litters a theme or names beginning with the same letter. A litter with a country music theme might have pups named Nashville's Yoakam, Nashville's Dolly, Nashville's Reba, and Nashville's Waylon. Registered names may include the kennel name or the names of the sire and dam. Thus you might have Cloverhill's Indian Summer, Craigwood Higgins of Switchbark, or Magnolia's Prince of Thieves. Although these names appear on the dog's registration papers, they obviously aren't good choices to use around the house. The breeder or owner gives the dog a nickname, or call name. Craigwood Higgins of Switchbark probably goes by Woody to his friends.

Your hobbies and special interests. If you're a sports fan, you have lots of great names to choose from, whether your game is golf, tennis, basketball, football, track and field, or hockey. You might name a fleet-footed Greyhound or Whippet Carl, Jesse, or FloJo. Naming a Boxer is almost too easy: How about Frazier, Ali, or Sugar Ray?

Your favorite books, movies, or television shows. Lots of dogs are named Lassie in honor of the Collie of literary, film, and television fame. But you don't have to name your pet after another dog in a movie or TV show. Pick the name of any one of your favorite characters for your dog.

Helpful hints. Avoid names that rhyme with the word no, such as Mo, Snow, or Beau. You don't want to confuse your pup when you're training her. Avoid long or difficult names. Worcestershire may look impressive, but by the time you get it out of your mouth, your dog's attention will have long since shifted elsewhere. Finally, make sure the name is one you won't be embarrassed to call out in front of the neighbors.

Now let's move to the everyday chores involved with dog care. We'll explain how to make them beneficial and enjoyable for you and your pet. It's in the next section.

Dog Supplies

You've spent months thinking about getting a dog. You've done the research and found the dog who's just right for you. Now the day has finally come for you to take home the pooch of your dreams, but you may still not be quite ready yet. Before you bring your dog or puppy home, be sure you have the following supplies on hand:

Collar and tag. Order a tag engraved with your name and phone number several weeks before you bring your puppy home. Attach it to an adjustable buckle dog collar, and place the collar and tag on your puppy before you leave the breeder or shelter. As a puppy grows, check the collar frequently to make sure it isn't too tight. You should be able to slip two fingers between the collar and the puppy's neck. Collars can be made of leather or nylon, both of which are durable. However, puppies love to chew, and leather has an attractive scent and texture. If leather is your choice, wait until your puppy is past the teething stage.

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If you have a puppy or are training your dog, you will need a training collar (also known as a choke collar). These collars are training devices to teach your dog not to pull as you walk him. These types of collars should only be used for training your dog; they are not substitutes for a regular collar. Also, never leave any kind of collar on a dog who's in his crate, unless you're there to supervise -- it can snag and cause fatal choking. For the same reason, never leave a choke collar -- whether nylon or metal -- on an unsupervised dog.

Carrier. We're all familiar with the classic image of a dog riding with his head stuck out the car window, ears flapping in the breeze, and tongue hanging out; but a car in motion is not the place for a dog of any age to be roaming free. You'll need a crate (portable kennel) to safely contain your pooch during the ride to his new home as well as for future visits to the veterinarian and groomer.

Choose a sturdy carrier to hold your dog comfortably and keep it safe in case of an accident. Plastic airline carriers are lightweight, long lasting, and easy to clean. They are suitable for air travel if your dog will be living a globe-trotting lifestyle, and they can be secured in a car by running the seat belt through the handle. Wire crates are well ventilated and fold up flat when not in use. They can be covered to offer privacy or protection from the elements. Soft-sided carriers are comfortable and easy to transport. The zippered top and end closures make it easy to place the dog in and remove him from the carrier, and it's durable and easy to clean. On most airlines, soft-sided models are acceptable carriers for dogs traveling in the cabin, but they can't be used in the cargo area. Whichever style you choose, make sure latches are sturdy and edges are smooth, and be sure all screws, nuts, and latches are securely and properly fastened. Don't scrimp on quality to save a few bucks -- it isn't worth risking your dog's life and safety.

Leash. Learning to walk on a dog leash is one of the first lessons of canine etiquette. Buy a lightweight, well-constructed leash. Leather leashes are handsome and durable, but skin oils can stain them and puppies delight in chewing on them. Nylon leashes are lightweight, colorful, and strong. Leashes made of chain are practically indestructible, but they are heavier than nylon or leather and can be noisy. A retractable leash gives your puppy the illusion of freedom but allows you to reel him in when necessary.

Food. A healthy dog needs the proper fuel. A dog's nutritional needs change over his lifetime -- a puppy needs a different balance of nutrients than an adult or elderly dog -- so talk to your veterinarian, breeder, or shelter for recommendations of the right food for your dog or puppy. Be sure you choose a food labeled as complete and balanced. Ideally, the label will state that the manufacturer has used feeding trials to substantiate the food's nutritional value.

Before you leave for home with your dog, find out the last time he ate, how frequently he's been fed, and what he's used to eating. If you plan to use a different food, introduce it gradually, over a two- to three-week period, by mixing the new food with the old food. An abrupt change in diet can cause diarrhea or vomiting.

Dishes. Food and water dishes come in a variety of materials. Each has advantages and disadvantages. Metal bowls are practical, last for years, and are easy to clean; but if you use canned food that has to be refrigerated, they can't be used to reheat a meal for your pup in the microwave. They're also fairly lightweight, making spills more likely. Ceramic dishes are decorative, can be personalized, and are generally both dishwasher and microwave safe. They're heavy, cutting down on spills and tipping, but they're also breakable. Some ceramic dishes made outside the United States contain high amounts of lead and shouldn't be used by people or animals. Plastic dishes are lightweight, colorful, inexpensive, and easy to clean and are also dishwasher and microwave safe. However, food odors can cling to plastic, and some dogs love to chew on them.

Grooming items. The basic items you need are a flea comb, a wire slicker brush, pin brush or rubber grooming mitt (depending on your dog's coat type), and a nail trimmer. A dog toothbrush and "doggie" toothpaste or cleaning solution are wise additions, too.

First-aid kit. You can buy a ready-made kit or put one together yourself. A complete first-aid kit should include a rectal thermometer, gauze bandages, scissors, bandaging tape, tweezers, antibiotic ointment, a needleless syringe for liquid medication, cotton swabs and cotton balls, hydrogen peroxide or syrup of ipecac to induce vomiting, and activated charcoal tablets to absorb poisons. Other useful items include a blanket and towel, a cold pack or a plastic bag to use as an ice pack, and rubber gloves. It's also a good idea to include your veterinarian's phone number, the phone number of the animal emergency hospital, and a first-aid handbook in the kit.

Toys. If you don't provide dog toys to help your canine burn his boundless energy, he'll find some of his own -- like your shoes, your tennis racquet, or even your portable radio. To channel his energy in the right direction, provide toys to exercise not only your pup's body but also his brain. A sturdy chew toy made of hard rubber will satisfy the urge to chew and soothe a puppy's aching mouth when new teeth are coming in. The noise from a squeaky toy is a surefire canine attention grabber -- just be sure the noisemaker inside can't be detached and swallowed. A soft stuffed animal is the toy of choice for many dogs. Some curl up with it; others shake it and toss it in the air. Always choose a well-made stuffed toy, with no button eyes, bells, ribbons, or other attachments that could be easily chewed and swallowed. Finally, never give your dog anything as a toy resembling something you want him to leave alone -- an old shoe, for instance. It's almost impossible for him to make the distinction between the shoe you want him to chew and the closet full of shoes you don't.

Bed. Your puppy will enjoy having a soft place to curl up and nap after playtime. From cushions to custom couches, paisley to plaid, there is an infinite variety of beds to suit not only each dog but also each decor. Choose a well-constructed, machine-washable bed. A wicker bed is classic, but remember, a puppy is a chewer and can easily destroy this kind of bed.

Now let's consider the most important element of dog care: feeding. It's covered extensively in the next section.

Dog-Feeding Tips

Anywhere people live, you'll find dogs. Our species has made its way into nearly every nook and cranny in the world, and we've bred dogs to go with us. One of the main reasons why dogs are so remarkably adaptable is their ability to survive on a variety of foods. While cats need nutrients only found in a meat-based diet, a dog's digestive system can pull the nutrients out of just about anything that's edible. That's why dogs don't need as much protein in their diets as cats. Still, dogs are naturally meat eaters, so meat protein is still an important part of a dog's diet. An all-around balanced diet is a six-part story: protein, carbohydrates, fat, vitamins, minerals, and water.

Water of Life

Fresh, clean water is more important to your dog than any other nutrient. About 70 percent of a dog's body is made up of water, which is vital for cell function and tissue lubrication. Dogs can live for many days without food, but a lack of water will kill them quickly. When it's hot outside, or if your dog is sick, especially if he is vomiting or has diarrhea, water is even more important.

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If you drink bottled or filtered water because of the quality of tap water in your area, you may want to safeguard your dog's health by also giving him bottled water or investing in a good-quality water filter for your tap.

If you're taking your dog on a trip, don't leave home without either bottled water or a gallon or two of the water your dog is used to drinking. A change in drinking water can bring on an upset stomach. Mix your dog's regular water with the new water for a few days until his digestive system adjusts.

If your dog is suddenly drinking a lot more water than usual -- and having to go out to urinate more often -- it could be a warning sign of several serious health problems, including diabetes and kidney disease. Take your dog to the vet right away for a checkup.

Buying Dog Food: Which Is Best?

You've always suspected dogs eat better than people, and it may well be true. Pet food manufacturers spend millions of dollars researching the nutritional needs of dogs and cooking up tasty foods dogs like (and people will buy). Choosing a dog food that offers complete and balanced nutrition is the first step on the road to your dog's good health, but there are four other factors to consider as well: taste, digestibility, calorie level, and price.

Whatever food you buy should be labeled "complete and balanced." This means the food has just the right amount of nutrients a dog needs to play hard and work hard. But how do you know a food is really okay for your dog to eat? Well, just like any other industry, pet-food makers have rules and regulations to follow. The Association of American Feed Control Officials tells pet-food makers the type of and amount of nutrients that should be in their foods. The manufacturers have to prove their foods meet these standards by conducting feeding trials or chemical analysis of their foods. Feeding trials are the best way to determine whether a diet truly meets a dog's nutritional needs. Look for the words "feeding tests," "AAFCO feeding test protocols," or "AAFCO feeding studies" to make sure the food was tested with feeding trials.

Companies that conduct feeding trials must certify they followed AAFCO guidelines and their nutrition claims are supported by test results.

Taste test. Whether or not your dog likes the food is obviously important, too. You could buy the best food on the market, but if your dog won't eat it then its nutritional value isn't worth a hill of beans. However, just because a food tastes good doesn't mean it is good for your dog. (Think of the foods you love to eat that aren't good for you.) Read labels carefully to ensure the food your dog likes is also good for him.

Look out, stomach. Digestibility means the amount of nutrients in a food that can actually be used by your dog's body. A food with poor digestibility often causes excessive gas, loose or large stools, and diarrhea. On the other hand, a highly digestible food provides the same level of nutrients in a smaller amount of food. This means less waste, resulting in smaller, firmer stools.

To determine digestibility, examine the label for high-quality sources of protein such as meat or poultry, cheese, and eggs. Labels don't contain digestibility information, but you can write or call the company for its figures. Look for foods with at least 75 to 80 percent dry-matter digestibility.

Counting calories. Growing puppies need food that is chock-full of calories and nutrients, but once they hit adulthood, this same diet will cause them to gain too much weight. Read labels carefully to see if a food is intended for puppies, adult dogs, or mature dogs. Some labels show the percentage of calories supplied by carbohydrates, fats, and proteins.

Money over matter. There's usually a direct relationship between a food's price and the quality of its ingredients. Like the saying goes, you get what you pay for. Although a premium food may have a high price tag, the high nutritional value it provides means you can feed less of it to your dog to meet his nutritional needs. You may even discover its cost per serving is comparable to generic foods. The good nutritional support this kind of food provides means your veterinary bills are also likely to be lower, providing an added savings.

There's an old saying among country folks: A man's most valuable possession is his reputation (well, that and a good hunting dog). The same is true for any business, and in particular, a company that makes pet food. So, the manufacturer's reputation is something else you should factor into the cost of food. A company that cares about its customers -- canine and human -- shows its concern by consistently producing a high-quality product, providing its address and phone number in easy-to-read lettering, and responding quickly and openly to questions about its food. It's easy to see how spending a little extra for a high-quality food can pay off in the long run.

Reading the Label

Ever try to read the ingredients on a package of dog food out loud? Some things are familiar enough, but eventually you run into some tongue-twisting 17-letter scientific words that only a research chemist understands. A good dog owner wants to know what's in his dog's food, but deciphering those labels can be pretty frustrating.

By law, manufacturers must label a food with a name, an ingredient list, a guaranteed analysis of the food's percentages of crude protein, crude fat, crude fiber and moisture, and the food's nutritional adequacy. Here's a quick guide to understanding what's on a label.

  • Ingredients are listed by weight, in decreasing order. For instance, if the first ingredient is lamb, followed by rice, you know the food's main source of protein comes from lamb. But keep an eye out for an ingredient -- wheat, for example -- listed several different ways, such as flour, flakes, middlings, or bran. By splitting the general category of wheat up into these four different forms, each will appear farther down the list than if they were combined and listed as a single ingredient. Of course, even if you buy the same brand all the time, the ingredients may change from batch to batch. Manufacturers change ingredients depending on their price and availability, so check labels from time to time to see if the formula has changed. A change in the formulation isn't necessarily a nutritional problem, but changes in diet are sometimes the cause of digestive trouble in dogs.
  • The guaranteed analysis panel will tell you if the nutrients in the food fall between the minimum and maximum percentages of nutrients, but not exact amounts. A particular brand of food may contain much less than the maximum stated on a label or much more than the minimum.
  • A nutritional adequacy statement tells whether a food is meant for growth, maintenance, or weight loss; provides complete and balanced nutrition; and whether feeding trials or formulation was used to test the food's nutritional value.

Dry Food vs. Canned Food

Canned dog food looks more like something we'd eat than those chunks of dry kibble. Canned dog food looks more like chopped meat or beef stew, and dogs certainly love to eat it. But is canned food better for dogs than dry food? Not necessarily.

Studies show both canned food and dry food can be nutritionally complete. However, each has its own advantages and disadvantages. As long as the food meets your dog's nutritional needs, just weigh the benefits and potential problems against your dog's age and health, your budget, and your dog's preferences.

Dry foods help prevent the buildup of tartar and plaque on the teeth. Dry dog food can be left out all day without spoiling, and it is generally lower in fat and higher in carbohydrates than canned food. If your dog tends to gain weight easily, a dry food may be the best choice for him.

On the other hand, you might worry your dog will be bored with a diet consisting solely of dry food. Canned food is tasty, and most dogs love it. If you brush your dog's teeth regularly to remove plaque and tartar, a diet of canned food can be just fine. Of course, you can also mix dry and canned foods so your dog will have the best of both worlds.

Feeding Table Scraps: Yes or No?

Any dog owner who tells you he never slipped his pooch a piece of hot dog or gave him the leftover scrambled eggs is pulling your leg. There's nothing wrong with giving your dog an occasional small taste of people food -- as long as it's really occasional. As a regular diet, it's not healthy at all. On the other hand, if you really enjoy cooking and would like to prepare your dog's food at home, here's a tasty recipe that will meet all his nutritional requirements.

Caution: Check with your veterinarian before giving your dog any homemade meals. This is a basic diet for dogs with no known food allergies. Adjust the serving amount depending on your dog's appetite, activity level, energy needs, and weight gain or loss. Switch your dog to this diet gradually to prevent an upset stomach.

Mix the following ingredients together in a large bowl:

11/2 pounds ground meat (chicken, turkey, lamb) browned and drained of most of the fat

1 medium potato, mashed and cooked

2 cups of cooked whole-grain brown rice

1/2 cup cooked oatmeal

1/2 cup cooked barley, mashed

1/2 cup grated raw carrots

1/2 cup finely chopped raw green vegetables (broccoli, spinach, green beans)

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

Store the homemade dog food in the refrigerator in a tightly sealed bowl, or divide it into daily servings and store it in the freezer, thawing a day or two at a time. You can keep the dog food up to seven days in the refrigerator.

Add the following when serving:

  • Yogurt (a teaspoon for a toy dog, a tablespoon for a medium dog)
  • A commercial dog multivitamin/mineral supplement
  • Herbal supplement (depending on your dog's needs)

(Reprinted with permission from The Consumer's Guide to Dog Food by Liz Palika.)

Yummy Yogurt

Dogs love yogurt, and it's good for them, too. If your dog has had to take an antibiotic, giving him plain, unflavored yogurt will repopulate his digestive system with healthy bacterial flora. (Make sure the yogurt contains an active culture.) Adding a small amount of yogurt to the food of a dog with gas can also cut down on his distress.

Avoid Raw Foods

You'd think things like raw meat and eggs would be more "natural" for a dog's diet. After all, his cousins, the wolves and coyote, eat their food raw. But domestication has made our dogs' digestive systems a little more sensitive. Raw meat, poultry, and eggs may contain bacteria -- such as salmonella -- that can make your dog very sick, so it's best to always serve these foods cooked. In addition, raw egg whites interfere with the absorption of biotin, one of the B-vitamins. To prevent accidental illness from raw foods, keep a tight lid on the garbage, don't feed your dog tidbits of raw meat or poultry you're preparing, and forget about that fine old tradition of mixing a raw egg in a dog's food to help give his coat a healthy sheen. If you live on the Pacific Northwest coast, don't let your dog eat any fish he finds on the shore. A parasite common to salmon can cause a potentially fatal disease.

Signs of salmonella or other bacterial poisoning in dogs are much the same as they are in people: loss of appetite, weight loss, lack of energy, fever, vomiting, and diarrhea. If your dog has any of these symptoms, take him to the vet immediately. Salmonella can be transmitted from dogs to people, so if your dog is infected, wash your hands carefully after handling him or anything he uses, such as food dishes or toys.

Now things get a bit tricky -- but that's why we're here. In the next section, we go over the right way to house-train your puppy.

Puppy-Training Tips

Puppies and babies have a lot in common: They both need around-the-clock care, they both have to be picked up after, and they both do better on a regular schedule. The advantage a puppy has over a baby is housetraining takes much less time -- that is, if you do it right.

Chow time. An important part of housetraining a puppy (or adult dog, for that matter) is her feeding schedule. Since housetraining revolves around controlling what's coming out of your dog, it makes sense to begin by regulating what goes into your dog and when. This is especially important in these days of working households.

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When you first bring your dog home, she may be as young as seven to ten weeks old. A puppy grows quickly -- even a medium-size dog will go from two-pound pup to twenty-pound adult in six to eight months -- and needs to eat three meals a day to build that much more dog. Not surprisingly, then, her diet must provide twice the energy as an adult dog's. This means puppies should only be fed a high-quality food specially formulated for growing dogs and should get it as part of a consistent feeding and exercise schedule that fits the needs of the dog and your household.

It's not a good idea to free feed your dog, leaving food out all the time. Not only does this make housetraining nearly impossible, it can also make your dog fat. A chubby puppy may look cute, but she'll be more prone to skeletal problems as she grows, especially if she's one of the larger breeds. So ask your breeder or veterinarian how much food your pup should get per day and divide that amount into three daily servings. For instance, if your Chihuahua puppy needs one cup of food daily, give her three one-third cup meals.

Toilet training. Here's a model housetraining schedule for a new puppy, which also applies just as well to an older dog.

  • At 6:00 a.m., take the puppy out of her crate and carry her outside immediately to eliminate. Bring her back inside, feed her one-third of her total food for the day, wait about 20 minutes, and then take her outside again. Praise her when she eliminates, and then head back inside for a little quality time. Put her in her crate so she can rest undisturbed while the family gets ready for work and school. The last person to leave the house should take her out to eliminate one more time.
  • The next time to take your puppy out should be around 12:00 p.m. A puppy doesn't really develop complete bladder control until around the age of six months, so it's absolutely necessary for a young dog to have her midday walk. This is a good time for the second meal, too. If you can't be home in the middle of the day, arrange to have a neighbor or pet sitter come in. Repeat the morning ritual: Take your dog outside from the crate, praise her for elimination, have some play time, give her a feeding, and then take another trip outside within 20 minutes of the meal.
  • At dinnertime, when everyone in the household is usually home, repeat the noon routine. This can be a good time for a walk on a leash, too. Let the dog hang out with the family during the evening, but be sure she's always under supervision. Remember, playing, eating, or drinking will stimulate the reflex to eliminate, so be sure to take the dog out after any of these activities. Take her out one more time before bed, then crate her in your bedroom.

Break the habit. Once you start shaping your dog's toilet habits, you'll need to focus on another important aspect of housetraining: teaching your pooch to respect your belongings. Once again, you want to create an environment that makes success easy and failure difficult.

First, use common sense: Put away anything you don't want the dog to chew on. Never give her your clothes or shoes to play with, unless you want your entire wardrobe to be fair game. Your dog can't distinguish between what's okay to use and what's off-limits.

Rotate her toys so she doesn't get bored with them. Put breakables where they can't get tumbled by accidental bumps or swept to the floor by the wagging tail of a rambunctious pooch. Always crate a puppy or confine her to a puppy-proof area like the kitchen or laundry room when you're not there to supervise.

Correct unwanted behaviors quickly, fairly, and briefly. Always positively reinforce appropriate behavior with praise and petting. In general, you should respond to unwanted behavior in one of three ways: ignore it, interrupt it, or redirect it.

Ignoring your dog is a social snub and lets her know the behavior isn't acceptable in polite circles. Give your dog the cold-shoulder treatment as part of an immediate correction for an unwanted behavior, but only keep it up for 10 to 15 minutes. (Any longer than that and your dog will have forgotten what happened.)

Interrupting the behavior helps break the habit and encourages the dog to try another strategy. Interruption works best when it comes unexpectedly; otherwise it can be programmed in as part of the cycle of unwanted behavior. For example, if your dog barks at the mail carrier every day at 2:00 p.m. and your response is to go and get the shaker can, after a few days your dog will expect you to do it and just keep barking. The idea is to set up interruptions so the dog doesn't know it's coming. That way, the correction gets associated with the behavior and not with you.

Redirection is a more advanced technique and should be used once your dog has learned a basic vocabulary of commands such as sit, down, off, wait, leave it, and out. Once your pooch has these commands nailed down, you can use them to stop unwanted behavior in its tracks. So when your pup starts to jump up, you can tell her, "Sit!" or "Off!" instead. When she's eyeing your shoe as a chew toy, you can tell her to leave it (or if the shoe is already in her mouth, "Out!"). The wonderful thing about redirection -- and an obedience-trained dog -- is punishment is almost never necessary. You give the redirecting command, the dog responds, and you praise her. It's a win-win situation: The unwanted behavior stops, and Fido gets to be a good dog!

Now we'll move to a part of dog care that makes life more pleasant for everyone: grooming and bathing. They're covered in the next section.

Dog-Grooming and Bathing Tips

Even if you're too young to remember product slogans like, "Look Sharp, Feel Sharp, Be Sharp," you probably know good personal hygiene keeps you happier and healthier. Heck, if you've ever gone on a weekend camping trip, you'll understand. As nice as it is to get away from it all, there's something even nicer about getting back to a hot shower and shampoo. Well, the same goes for your dog: Clean, well-groomed fur, trimmed nails, clear eyes, and clean teeth keep her feeling more comfortable and looking and -- let's face it -- smelling better. To keep your dog at her best, you'll need to know some basic grooming skills -- and when it's time to see a professional groomer.

Coat Care

Without regular brushing and combing, your dog's hair can develop mats. Matted hair pulls and inflames your dog's sensitive skin and can be even more painful to remove. Even dogs with short, flat coats need regular grooming to distribute skin oils and remove dead hair. With this in mind, every dog owner needs to have some basic grooming tools on hand.

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A fine-toothed metal flea comb will last your dog's lifetime. Also use the flea comb to remove loose dead hair. If your dog's coat is heavily tangled, don't use a comb on it; you'll just end up hurting her.

Regular brushing keeps skin healthy by stimulating blood flow and distributing natural oils. If your dog has a short coat, a weekly brushing will usually do. But a breed with a thick, long, or shaggy coat, such as an Afghan or Old English Sheepdog, may require daily care. A wire slicker brush helps prevent mats from forming, and a curry brush or rubber grooming mitt removes loose hair quickly and easily. For best results, be sure you brush all the way down to the skin.

Use a natural bristle brush on shorthaired dogs. This type of brush can also be used on dogs such as Huskies and Collies who have "double coats" -- a soft undercoat and weather-resistant outercoat. A steel pin brush is best for dogs with long coats, such as Maltese, Shih Tzus, and Yorkshire Terriers. Some dogs -- Poodles, Bichons Frises, Kerry Blue Terriers -- have curly or wavy coats requiring the use of a fine curved-wire slicker brush. For dogs with straight, flat, silky, feathered coats -- like Setters or Spaniels -- the pin brush or wire slicker brush is a good choice. Ask the breeder if your dog's coat requires a special type of comb or brush, especially if you plan to show the dog.

Before you begin brushing, mist your dog's coat with a spray-on conditioner. This helps the brush move smoothly through the fur, and cuts down on static electricity and broken hair.

To remove mats, work some baby oil or liquid tangle remover into each one. After several minutes, try to loosen and separate the mats, using your fingers or the end tooth of a comb. Carefully brush out the loosened sections, going slowly so you don't hurt your dog. In severe cases, the entire coat may need to be clipped.

You may notice your dog's skin and hair are drier than usual in the wintertime, and her coat is crackling with static electricity every time you pet or brush her. Everyone in the house will feel better if you run a humidifier during heating season. After bathing, treat your pooch's skin with a conditioner made especially for dogs. A light coating of petroleum jelly can also help soothe dry or cracked footpads.

Pedicure

Don't overlook routine dog foot care. Because your dog spends so much time on her feet -- without the protection of shoes -- she's prone to punctures or wounds from glass and other sharp objects, as well as scrapes and abrasions from cement and gravel walkways. Examine your dog's feet on a regular basis to make sure she hasn't picked up any foxtails or goathead stickers. If grass seeds become embedded in the paw, remove them with tweezers. Clean small cuts, and apply antibiotic ointment or cream. Seek veterinary treatment for more severe cuts.

Small cuts or mild skin disease may cause infections in the sweat glands in your dog's feet, resulting in swelling or abscesses between the toes -- a problem especially common in Bull Terriers, Dobermans, and Pekingese. Soaking the afflicted foot in warm salt water often will relieve the pain. A more severe or persistent infection calls for veterinary care, antibiotics, and other follow-up treatment.

If your dog steps in something gooey, soften it up by rubbing the foot with margarine, peanut butter, or shortening; then work it off. Apply ice to chewing gum to make it brittle and easier to remove. You can also try soaking the foot in a mixture of warm salt water and olive or mineral oil.

For dogs who live in regions with ice and snow in the winter, road salt and sidewalk ice-melt products can irritate the footpads. Washing and drying Muffy's feet after being outside helps reduce this painful condition, and it prevents her from swallowing the salt when she licks her sore pads. Booties are another option, although some owners -- and some dogs -- find them undignified. Dogs who spend time out in the ice and snow can also form ice balls between their toes. These can be prevented by using a silicon spray on the dog's feet before she heads outdoors.

Trimming a dog's nails takes equal measures of practice and perseverance. Keeping your pup's nails properly clipped means less wear and tear on your carpet and floors and less chance of a painful snagged, broken, or ingrown nail. The sooner you start getting your dog used to having her nails clipped, the easier it will be in the long run (especially if you get your dog as a puppy). Use nail trimmers made especially for a dog's nails. For best results, wait until your pooch is relaxed or sleepy. Clip just where the nail curves, beyond the point of the sensitive, pink area referred to as the quick. It's easy to avoid the quick if your dog's nails are clear, but dogs with dark nails require more precision. If you clip too much of the nail and hit the quick, use a styptic stick or styptic powder to stop the bleeding. Also, dipping the bleeding nail into a small amount of cornstarch will help stop the bleeding. Or keep a bar of soap handy when you're trimming your dog's nails. If you nick the quick, just rub the nail along the bar of soap to stop the bleeding. A dampened tea bag is also good for this purpose. Trim your dog's nails about every two weeks, or as necessary. Nails need to be trimmed if they touch the floor when the dog is standing on a hard surface or if they make clicking sounds when she walks.

Dental care

Although dogs don't usually get cavities, they are prone to gum disease caused by tartar buildup. Tartar is a by-product of plaque, which is a soft, gummy residue left on teeth after eating. When plaque hardens, it forms tartar (or calculus), which in turn can cause the gums to get red, inflamed, and sore. This condition is called gingivitis. Gum disease is one of the most common problems veterinarians see in dogs. Besides causing bad breath, if periodontal disease gets bad enough, it can interfere with a dog's ability to chew and even effect internal organs, causing bacterial infections in the kidneys and heart.

Good dental hygiene can't start too young. If you begin tooth care in puppyhood, you can greatly reduce the chance of your dog developing periodontal disease. To brush a dog's teeth, use a small, soft toothbrush or finger brush with toothpaste or tooth-cleaning solution formulated for pets. (Human toothpaste foams too much, and the additives can upset your dog's stomach.) You can also wrap gauze around your finger and gently scrub the teeth with doggie toothpaste. To make toothpaste for your dog at home, mix baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) with a little salt and water. Apply it with a toothbrush or with gauze wrapped around your finger. Don't use this recipe if your dog is on a sodium-restricted diet.

Ideally, you should brush your dog's teeth every day, but even a weekly brushing will help. Tartar buildup has to be removed by your veterinarian, with the dog under anesthesia, so the extra effort of regular brushing will save you and your dog much more effort and expense later on.

Ears

Your dog's ears are delicate, sensitive, finely tuned instruments allowing her to pick up sounds far out of the range of human hearing. Considering how picky people get about their stereo equipment, you'd think everyone would understand how very important it is to take good care of a dog's high-quality "sound system." Infections or foreign bodies can seriously damage these marvelous creations, but just taking a few minutes each week to examine and clean your dog's ears will help keep them safe and sound.

The outer ear (also called the earflap or pinna) is most vulnerable to injury and infection since it's constantly exposed to foreign objects and dirt. Keeping the outer ear clean is the first line of defense against ear problems. Begin by examining your dog's ears daily. Healthy ears are light pink inside, with no apparent bad smell or discharge. Next, check for foreign objects. If your dog spends a lot of time outside, especially in tall grasses or wooded areas, she can get foxtails or ticks in her ears. Remove foreign bodies carefully with your fingers, then clean the ear with mineral oil. (Never use soap and water to clean a dog's ears; soapy water can cause an ear infection.) If a foreign body is deeply embedded in the ear or you're not confident about taking it out, have your veterinarian remove it. The old folk method of removing ticks -- burning them with a blown-out match -- is not really very effective. The best way to remove ticks is to grasp one firmly at skin level with tweezers and pull it straight out with a gentle, steady pressure.

Give your dog's ears a complete cleaning weekly or monthly, as needed. (Floppy ears usually need more attention than pricked ears.) Moisten a cotton ball or cloth with mineral oil, olive oil, or witch hazel, and gently wipe the inside of the ears. Don't use a cotton swab; it's easy to accidentally damage the delicate mechanisms of the inner ear. Certain breeds, such as Terriers and Poodles, have hair growing inside the ear that must be plucked to prevent wax and dirt from collecting. Ask a groomer or breeder to show you how to pluck the hair.

Always be on the lookout for the early warning signs of an ear infection, which is a not-so-uncommon problem for dogs. If your dog constantly shakes her head, has sore or red ears, or if the ears smell bad or have a discharge, take her to the veterinarian. Most infections of this type are caused by lack of air circulation and occur most commonly in breeds with floppy or furry ears. The moist, warm, dark environment is the perfect place for bacteria and yeast to flourish. By catching the early signs, you'll be getting your dog's developing ear infection under control sooner, preventing more serious complications that can lead to hearing loss.

Some areas of the country have regular problems with biting flies. A dog's ears are the perfect target for these annoying little critters, and repeated bites can result in fly-bite dermatitis, which leaves the ears scabbed and prone to bleeding. To help keep your pooch itch-free, apply a pet-safe (not a human strength) insect repellent to your dog's ears before she goes outside.

If your dog shakes her head and paws at her ears frequently but has no other signs of an infection, she could be bugged by ear mites. These tiny, spiderlike creatures invade the ear canal and feed on skin debris. A telltale sign of ear mites is dark debris that looks a lot like coffee grounds. Ear mites are most common in puppies and young dogs, since they're easily spread and pups spend a lot of time on top of each other while playing and sleeping. If you've got other dogs or cats in your home and one of them turns up with ear mites, it's best to treat them all. Most of the safest and more effective remedies are available only through your veterinarian, so don't wait to make the call.

Of course, good old commonsense prevention is the most important thing you can do for your dog's good ear health. Keep the ears clean, dry, and free from foreign objects and substances. Put cotton balls in your dog's ears at bathtime (if she'll stand for it) to keep water out of the ear canal, and dry the ears thoroughly when the bath is over. Most dogs love swimming, so be sure Muffy's ears are clean and dry after taking a dip. When it comes to ear care, an ounce of prevention is truly worth a pound of cure.

Eyes

Like the ears, your dog's "windows to the world" are sensitive organs. Check your dog's eyes daily, and wipe away dried matter from the corners of the eyes using a moistened cotton ball. Examine the eyes for redness, tearing, or discharge. Eye problems that don't clear up within 24 hours should be treated by a veterinarian. Among the eye problems affecting dogs are excessive tearing (usually caused by allergies, infections, injuries, or irritation), conjunctivitis (inflammation of the membrane that lines the eyelid, the conjuctiva), and foreign objects in the eye.

Tearing is especially common in toy breeds such as Poodles. If your dog's eyes seem to be tearing excessively, have your veterinarian take a look at her and see if it's possible to determine what the problem is and how to treat it. In some dogs, however, tearing appears to have no underlying cause. For whatever reason, they just shed lots of tears.

Especially in dogs with white or light coats, even normal tearing can cause dark stains beneath your dog's eyes. To help keep these stains under control, wash the area under the eye frequently using warm water and a cotton ball. Be sure to carefully trim stained hair. Do not use soap near a dog's eyes -- soap in the eye will cause a corneal ulcer.

An unusual amount of discharge in the corners of the eyes or a reddish or "meaty" appearance of the conjuntiva are signs of conjuctivitis. Conjunctivitis is especially common in dogs who ride with their heads stuck out of car windows or spend a lot of time outdoors in windy, dusty weather. In mild cases, conjunctivitis sometimes clears up on its own. If the problem persists, take your dog to the vet for treatment.

Dogs will paw at their eyes to clean them (although most dogs aren't nearly as fastidious as cats), but if you see your dog continually pawing at her eye or squinting, she may have a foreign body in her eye. Examine the eyes in a well-lit room so you don't miss anything. To get a good look, pull down on the lower lid and up on the upper lid. If only one eye appears to be affected, compare it to the other eye to see how they differ. If you can't find anything or if you can't remove the object, take your dog to the vet for treatment.

Bathing A Dog

Dogs don't need to be bathed frequently -- only when they get dirty or smelly -- but it's a good idea to accustom your dog to the bathing process while she's still young and open to new experiences. If you introduce bathtime as a fun, comfortable activity, it will be easier to accomplish when Lady is grown up and weighs 125 pounds.

Once again, follow the Boy Scout motto: "Be Prepared." Have everything you need laid out within easy reach before you start the water: brush, cotton balls, shampoo, and towels. Also, place a rubber mat in the bottom of the sink or tub so your pup won't slip and slide. Then fill it with warm -- not hot -- water.

Now it's time to add the dog. Brush her thoroughly, from the skin out, to remove tangles and loose hair. Tangles and mats only get worse when they get wet, so make sure you remove all of them first. Place cotton balls snugly -- but not deeply -- in your dog's ears to keep out water and soap.

Next comes the fun part: Splashdown! (Make sure you're wearing clothes you don't mind getting wet.) Place your dog in the water, holding her gently but firmly. Wet her from the head down, making sure you keep water out of her eyes and ears. Don't dunk the dog in water. Apply a shampoo specifically formulated for dogs. (Never use human shampoo -- your dog's hair covers her entire body, not just her head, and the dose of ingredients she'll get from your shampoo may be too much for her.) Now, lather her up, working the shampoo down to the skin. If you're bathing a puppy with a flea-control shampoo, make sure it's safe for dogs her age. Always read and follow label directions carefully. Avoid getting the shampoo in your dog's eyes and ears.

Keep talking to your dog during the bath, reassuring her and telling her what a good dog she is (even if she's trying to get out of the tub). Rinse her thoroughly, again using warm water. Be especially careful about getting shampoo in her eyes and ears when rinsing her head. Remove the dog from the tub, tell her what a good pup she is, and towel-dry her until she is damp. If it is hot and sunny, you can let the dog air dry in a wire crate, exercise pen, or other ventilated enclosure. (You don't want her escaping to go roll in the dirt.) Keep rubbing her with a dry towel to speed the process. If sun-drying isn't feasible, commercial pet dryers are available for home use. These are useful to have if you will be bathing your dog frequently or if your pup will grow up to be a very large dog. Otherwise, you can use a blow-dryer (if the dog is not scared of it) on a low, warm setting to finish drying her. Never use a blow-dryer set on hot or high, and avoid putting the blow-dryer too near her. Keep the dog in a warm, draft-free area until she is completely dry, especially if the weather is cold, damp, or windy.

To keep your dog clean and sweet-smelling after her bath, brush her regularly: weekly for a shorthaired dog and as often as daily for a dog with a long or heavy coat. Brushing removes dead hair, dirt, and parasites, and it distributes skin oils to keep Lady's coat shiny and beautiful. Plus, it just plain feels good. If you make bathing and brushing an enjoyable process -- especially with a young puppy -- it'll be a lot easier in the future.

The Professional Touch: When to See a Groomer

In today's busy world, a lot of us just don't have time to groom our dogs. Regular trips to a skilled, professional groomer are just the ticket for the busy dog owner. Some dogs are particularly high-maintenance, though, and it doesn't matter how much spare time you have -- it may still be best to let an experienced groomer handle long, thick, or heavy coats. Other dog owners like to let the pros do the dirty work and keep their own interactions with their dog strictly for fun and learning. A professional groomer may also catch unusual spots, lumps, bumps, or even injuries on your dog that you may have missed under all her hair.

A dog whose coat is heavily matted or soiled needs professional care. Removing mats is a time-consuming, delicate process, and mistakes can result in injury. In severe cases, some or all of the coat must be shaved. The professional touch is usually a must for show dogs, too. Grooming requirements for the showing are fairly strict (terrier coats must be plucked rather than shaved, for example), and an amateurish grooming job just won't put your dog in her best light.

Now let's move to another kind of care -- making your home safe for your pooch, and in the process keeping your possessions safe from his curiousity. In the next section, we'll cover all the elements of dog-proofing your home.

Dog-Proofing Your Home

A curious dog can get into every kind of danger a baby or toddler can -- and even more sometimes. A dog's sensitive nose can sniff out intriguing -- and potentially dangerous -- off-limits items in hiding places that a two-year-old child would never find.

Puppies are especially vulnerable because of their natural curiosity, lack of training and experience, small size, and still-developing bodies. Before you bring a puppy -- or a dog, for that matter -- home, look around your house and grounds with an eye for potential dangers: plants, pills, and poisons are the most typical. Make sure they're put away securely -- well out of your dog's reach -- and always put back where they were. A good place to start dog-proofing is with houseplants and yard plants. Many common plants are poisonous to dogs. To protect your pooch, you can remove poisonous plants from the premises, move them out of reach (in a hanging basket, for instance), put them behind a dog-proof barrier, or supervise the dog closely when he's around them. Here are some more dog-safety tips.

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Poisonous Plants

We've already talked about how much dogs enjoy eating plants and grass. If you have a green thumb, you probably have lots of ornamental plants in and around the house. Since you grow them for show and never try to eat them, you might never have thought about whether they were poisonous. The leaves and stems of some plants contain substances that can be irritating and even toxic to the pet who chews on them. Common houseplants that can be harmful if swallowed include: dieffenbachia (or dumb cane), philodendron, caladium, and elephant's ear. Many yard plants such as flowers, shrubs, and trees are also dangerous to dogs.

The bulbs of flowers such as amaryllis, daffodils, jonquils, narcissus, hyacinth, and iris are poisonous, as are azaleas, holly berries, hydrangea, ligustrum, privet hedges, oleander, English ivy, jasmine, and wisteria. Of course, mushrooms and toadstools growing in the yard may be deadly. If your dog is the curious type, be extra careful about the kind of plants you keep around.

Other Dangers

Next, search the house for pills or poisons that might be accessible to a puppy. Household staples such as aspirin, acetaminophen (Tylenol and similar products), ibuprofen (Advil and similar products), cold or cough medications, diet pills, even chocolate and macadamia nuts can make your dog very sick or even kill him. Some household poisons are more obvious -- snail bait, ant and rodent poisons, insecticides, and herbicides. Others -- most notably cleansers and solvents -- may not seem to pose a hazard but are attractive to dogs and extremely dangerous. There's still an annual death toll among dogs from antifreeze poisoning. The sweet odor and taste make puddles of spilled or discarded antifreeze a deadly temptation for animals.

The chocoholics among us would never think of the rich, dark stuff of our magnificent obsession to be anything but food of the gods. But the fact is, chocolate contains two compounds toxic to dogs: theobromine and caffeine. Baker's chocolate is among the purest -- it hasn't been sweetened with sugar or mixed with other ingredients -- and therefore the most dangerous. Just three ounces of baker's chocolate can kill a 20-pound dog. Although milk chocolate is less toxic by virtue of added ingredients, it's actually more dangerous because the milk and sugar make it more palatable.

The bitter taste of baker's chocolate -- or even semi-sweet chocolate -- may discourage a dog from eating a fatal dose. You've heard the saying, "Life is like a box of chocolates. You never know what you'll get." Well, when a pooch bites into a box of chocolates, you know just exactly what he'll get: sick as a dog. Signs of chocolate poisoning include rapid heartbeat, muscle tremors, vomiting, and seizures. Without treatment, the dog can lapse into a coma and die. So keep anything chocolate out of paw's reach, especially at popular chocolate gift-giving times like Valentine's Day, Easter, Halloween, Hanukkah, or Christmas.

Who would think those yummy Macadamia nuts would be poisonous to some dogs, but they can be. Although somewhat rare, it can happen. As with chocolate, the degree of toxicity varies with the amount of nuts ingested. Common symptoms include weakness, depression, vomiting, staggering, tremors, and fever. Most symptoms occur less than 12 hours after ingestion. Call your vet immediately if you see your dog eating macadamia nuts or if you suspect he has eaten them.

While most dog owners can understand why any living creature, dog or human, would be attracted to chocolate, many make the tragic mistake of assuming their dogs won't be attracted to potentially dangerous substances that don't seem to be edible. Because dogs don't have hands, they use their mouths to investigate new things. The safest course of action is to put anything that isn't dog food or a dog toy safely out of reach. Poisons -- including household cleaners, bleach, and the like -- are best kept on high shelves or in cabinets secured with child safety locks.

Post your veterinarian's number by the phone, and keep a good pet first-aid book on hand -- one that includes a comprehensive list of common poisons and what to do if your dog swallows them. If you know what the dog ate, take the container with you to the veterinarian. If your puppy is vomiting but you don't know what he ate, take a sample of the vomit to help the veterinarian make a diagnosis.

Now let's consider how to make your yard just as safe for your dog as your house is. It's covered in the next section.

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.

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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.

Dog-Identification Tips

One of the responsibilities of being a parent is making sure a child knows his address and telephone number. Parents patiently remind their children if they ever get lost, they need only find a police officer and tell the officer where they live. A good, permanent, and easily recognized ID -- complete with your current address and phone number -- is the best way to make sure the four-legged members of your family always find their way home safely, too.

There are three types of identification for dogs who fit this bill: tags, tattoos, and microchips. Each has its advantages and disadvantages, but no one method offers complete protection. Used together, however, they provide the best chance of a happy reunion with a lost dog.

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ID tags. Most everybody knows to get a collar and tag for a dog. The classic dog ID tag is a simple and inexpensive way for your dog to carry your name and phone number. However, the collar-and-tags form of identification does have its drawbacks. The collar can come off or be removed deliberately by an unscrupulous person who finds the dog and wants to pass it off as an unidentified stray. Tags must also be updated when addresses or phone numbers change -- something that often gets relegated to the "one of these days" list during the hustle and bustle of a move. (And, unfortunately, a move is a prime time for pets to get out and get lost.) Tags with outdated information may be of just as little help as no tags at all. To top it all off, tags jingling on a collar can be annoyingly noisy, especially in the middle of the night.

Nevertheless, a collar and tag are the first line of defense against loss. Use a buckle-type flat or round collar with a sturdy D-ring for attaching tags. Never use a choke collar for anything except supervised training sessions. It's just too easy for it to snag on fences, shrubs, or other items and strangle an unsupervised dog.

Try to choose a distinctive collar and tag so it becomes part of your dog's unique description. For example, there are plenty of black Labrador retrievers in the world, but yours would stand out if he had a bone-shaped lime-green ID tag on a neon pink collar. The tag should be engraved and include your name and your day and evening phone numbers. These days, some experts advise against including the dog's name, since putting the dog's name where anyone can see it may make it easier to steal her. Leaving the dog's name off the tag can also help if someone finds your dog and tries to claim ownership. Certainly if you know the dog by name and the person claiming to be the owner doesn't, it makes it clear who's telling the truth.

There are options for an ID tag other than the classic metal tag, which may rust unless it's made of stainless steel. Plastic tags are sturdy and don't jingle as loudly as metal, but they can also fade and become brittle with age. Engraved metal ID plates can be attached directly to flat collars, and some nylon collars can have your phone number woven or imprinted on them directly. A small metal or plastic identification barrel attached to a collar is a distinctive variation on the ID tag. These eye-catching devices unscrew to reveal a slip of paper on which you can record not only your name and phone number but important medical information about your dog, too.

If you are moving or traveling with your dog, buy a temporary write-on tag with your new phone number or the phone number of a friend. Temporary tags are widely available through veterinarians, animal shelters, pet supply stores, and grooming shops. Ideally, however, you should provide your dog with an engraved ID tag listing not only your new address and phone number but also a contact name and number for your previous neighborhood. If your dog gets lost along the way, rescuers might not be able to reach you immediately at your new address. Some humane societies have a permanent ID tag registry system. The stainless-steel tag is engraved with the name of the humane society, the society's phone number, and a registration number. As long as you notify the humane society when your address or phone number changes, the tag will always be current, no matter where you go.

Tattoos. A tattoo is also a visible form of identification, but unlike a tag, it is permanent. Employees at research laboratories and animal shelters know to look for tattoos, and federal law does not permit laboratories to use tattooed dogs. A sticker or sign on your car, fence, or your dog's kennel noting your pet is tattooed can help ward off professional dog thieves.

Most dog tattoos are placed on a dog's belly or inner thigh. Tattoos remain the most legible when given after a dog reaches adult height. Avoid tattooing the inside of a dog's ear (as is done with racing Greyhounds); thieves have been known to cut off tattooed ears to prevent identification.

Tattooing can be done at a veterinary office, with the dog under anesthesia, or by a qualified individual at a dog club or other organization. The procedure is not painful, but it is noisy and time-consuming, so if your dog is squirmy or aggressive, he might require anesthesia.

Although a tattoo is a permanent identifying mark, it must be registered to be of any use. Otherwise, the finder has no way of contacting you. The registry can assign you a code to be tattooed on the dog, or you can use a number that will remain the same for your lifetime, such as a social security number (if you don't mind your personal information walking around in public). Phone numbers and birth dates are poor choices because they change frequently or can be shared by a large number of people.

The major disadvantage of a tattoo is not everyone knows how to contact a registry, or it may not be immediately clear which registry your dog is signed up with. However, tags and tattoos can be used in combination, with the dog wearing a tag bearing a registry phone number. As with the humane society permanent tag, it's crucial to let tattoo registries know if your address or phone number changes.

Microchip implants. These sound like something out of a science-fiction movie, but many "chipped" dogs and cats have been reunited with their owners already through this rapidly growing means of reliable, permanent identification. The chip is typically placed under the skin at the scruff of the neck through a procedure much like giving a vaccination. It is virtually painless, and a single implantation lasts a lifetime.

Available only through veterinarians and animal shelters, microchips are tiny, battery-free devices, no bigger than a grain of rice. Each is programmed with a unique, unalterable code number and some sort of information identifying the chip's manufacturer. Microchip registries keep your personal information on file, listed by the chip's code number. Code numbers are also cross-referenced to the animal hospital or humane society that implanted the chip -- an important backup in case you move and forget to forward your new address to the registry. Specially designed scanners read this information from the chip, through the dog's skin. Before implanting a chip, the veterinarian scans it to confirm the code, then scans again after implantation to make sure everything is working properly.

A microchip sends a signal only when it's activated by a scanning device. The scanner decodes the signal and displays the identification code on a liquid-crystal display window. Veterinary and humane organizations recommend microchipping as a safe and effective way of identifying lost pets and ensuring their return. This type of identification has the potential to save the lives of thousands of dogs who would otherwise die in shelters, unrecognized or unclaimed. As with tattoos, national registration is the best way to make sure you and your microchipped dog are reunited -- as long as the registry has your current address and phone number.

Registering Your Dog's Identification

Listing your tattooed or microchipped dog with a national registry gives you access to the registry's database and services, which often include 24-hour notification, a tag with the registry's phone number, and an indication that the dog wearing it is tattooed or chipped. Often, registries also work through a network of animal shelters across the country. However, many shelters and laboratories now routinely scan strays they receive for microchips, and even if you haven't listed your dog with a registry, the lab or shelter can still find the owner of a chipped dog by tracing the code number to the veterinarian who implanted the chip.

Protect your from permanent loss by ensuring he is well identified. Should he ever escape from your watchful eye, you'll be glad you did.

A dog can be a great source of love and companionship in your home. In addition to all your dog gives you, he also needs a little care in return. Take care of your dog and he will take care of you.

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