When it comes to our dogs, we want to be our best. And we know that being a good dog mom or dad means keeping our pups happy, healthy and safe. This involves regular vet checkups, frequent walks, training, socialization, toys and playtime, cuddles, treating them with kindness and more. But that's just the start. Here are 15 tips for pet parents and how to be a good dog owner. (Just know that you're probably still a great dog parent if you don't decide to do these!)
Use ID Tags And Microchips (And Keep It Up-To-Date)
It's estimated that one in three pets get lost during their life and although identification tags and microchips provide the best chance for reuniting, many owners don't use them. A study published in Preventative Veterinary Medicine showed that, despite 80% of owners surveyed reporting it's important for animals to wear ID tags, only 33% of owners use ID tags. Another study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association found that only 22% of lost dogs were reunited with families but 52% of microchipped dogs were reunited with their owners (a 238% increase). And for microchipped animals who weren't returned to their owner, most often it was because of incorrect or no owner information (with only 58% of microchipped animals’ microchips registered in a database with accurate contact information). In short, microchipping your dog and keeping the information up-to-date provides extra security and much greater chance of reunion in case your dog becomes lost or stolen.
Learn About Your Dog's Breed
Every dog is a unique individual, but there are often a handful of universal breed characteristics you may notice. Researching your dog's breed or breeds can help you better understand them and personalize their care. You'll be able to learn about their behaviors, preferences, tendencies, health risks and more. For instance, you'll know whether your dog needs longer or shorter walks, if they're sensitive to certain foods, what health issues and symptoms to look out for (such as hip dysplasia, tumors, etc.), what instinctual behaviors to watch out for or encourage (guarding, stranger danger, chewing, herding, retrieving etc.) and beyond. Whether you have a purebred or not, you can learn about your dog's breed - you'll just need a DNA test to find out what breeds are in your mutt. We used Wisdom Panel, but there are plenty of other Dog DNA kits to choose from!
Switch Up Exercise
Daily walks are an excellent source of exercise for dogs. They allow your pup to get physical exercise and mental stimulation, plus the benefits of being outside. But sometimes it's nice to switch things up for our dogs, just like it is for us. Instead of the same walk, try taking a new path or switching up the exercise all together (like running or jogging, hiking, cycling, swimming, playing fetch or frisbee, agility courses and more). This provides enrichment and injects excitement and newness into your dog's daily life. Just make sure the exercise you choose is something your dog is able to do and enjoys doing.
Encourage Your Dog’s Instincts In Healthy Ways
All dogs have natural instincts with some stronger than others, often depending on their breed. For example, our younger Retriever Staffy mix likes to chew and retrieve while our older Rottweiler, Shepherd, Collie mix likes to chase and herd. Understanding your dog's instincts and providing a safe way to express them can be very beneficial to our pups. A few ideas include:
- Playing fetch
- Running around together or playing chase
- Dog-safe chews (like bully sticks or chew toys)
- Squeaky toys
- Puzzle toys and brain games (e.g. so your dog can "hunt" for their food)
- A special digging zone just for your dog
- Giving your dog a job to do (e.g. carrying groceries, fetching something in the house, farm animals to herd, etc.)
Regularly Check Your Dog's Body
Regular trips to the vet are necessary to keep tabs on the health of our dogs. But frequently checking their body gives you the opportunity to find any abnormalities (bumps, lumps, cuts, ticks, etc.) between vet visits. You'll want to check from nose to tail and head to feet (don't forget between the toes!) to ensure you're hitting every spot. Also make sure to regularly look at their eyes, ears, teeth and gums. Bonus: doing this teaches your dog to be okay being handled all over.
Let Your Dog Sniff On Walks
Sniffing is your dog's way of gaining information about their surroundings. This is because dogs have up to 300 million scent receptors in their noses, a bigger area in their brains devoted to smell and an organ that helps detect normally undetectable odors. So letting your dog sniff allows them to explore and experience the world, and provides them with enrichment and mental stimulation. In fact, sniffing throughout a walk can be more tiring to your dog than a brisk 15 minute one without sniff breaks. For more dog walking tips and enrichment, check out our article on making the most of your dog walks!
Pro Tip: Some dogs only want to sniff and may need some training to help them refocus during walks. That way you can find a balance between enough sniffing without disrupting the flow of your walk.
Make Your House As Dog-Friendly As Possible
Dogs are rambunctious, playful creatures that don't necessarily have regard for nice household items and decor. Beyond that, they drool, shed and might smell, have accidents or express their anal glands. Moreover, many things found in the home can be harmful to dogs. So it's always a good idea to pet-proof your home as much as possible (with the understanding that it's nearly impossible to do so 100%). Ways to do so include:
- Using performance fabrics for seating and rugs
- Opting for machine washable materials
- Keeping anything toxic (houseplants, onions, chocolate, anything with Xylitol, cleaners, etc.) out of reach
- Installing shades or frosting windows to prevent dogs who like to bark at the door from doing so
- Wiping up spills, crumbs, etc. immediately
- Fencing your backyard
- Dog-proofing your garden
Brush Your Dog's Teeth
Brushing our dog's teeth is a small task that's a bit of a pain, so is easy to overlook. But it goes a long way to keep your pup's dental hygiene and health (and subsequently, overall health) in tip-top shape. Poor dental health can contribute to mouth pain, tooth decay, bad breath and other serious health issues (like kidney disease) down the road. Though nothing replaces brushing in terms of effectiveness, if you really can't get yourself to do it regularly, you can also use dental additives for their water. To learn more about brushing your dog's teeth and other dental hygiene tips, read our article on at-home dental care!
Pro Tip: If you have a puppy, start brushing their teeth as early as possible so they become familiar with it.
Rotate Your Dog's Toys
Many owners buy their dog toys and only remove them once they're destroyed. But our pups can get bored of their toys, even if they love them. Instead of leaving all of their toys out, you can rotate a portion of them every month or so to keep your dog interested. It's also a budget friendly and green way to give your dog "new" toys. No matter how long you've had a toy, bringing it out after a few weeks or months can make it feel brand new to your dog. Bonus perk: rotating dog toys can help toys last longer, especially if your dog likes to play rough with them.
Give Your Dog Frequent Massages
Studies have shown that massages can provide benefits to your dog's physical and mental health. So giving your dog daily, or at least frequent, massages is a great way to go above and beyond for them. Some of the believed benefits of dog massages include:
- Improved circulation and blood flow
- Reduced stress and anxiety
- Release of endorphins and alleviate pain
- Lower blood pressure
- Relaxation of tight or sore muscles and stiff joints
- Aiding in recovery and healing sprains or strains
- Improved digestion
- Strengthened immune system
- Improved lymphatic fluid movement and flow
Bonus: engage in gentle, loving eye contact and raise your eyebrows while massaging your dog. These are two ways to express affection to our dogs, who use their eyes to communicate a lot, including affection. In addition, Japanese behavioral scientists have found that dogs who feel bonded to someone raise their eyebrows (especially the left one). Just be careful because forcefully staring into a dog's eyes can be interpreted as a challenge or aggression. So try gazing kindly into your dogs eyes while petting him or her gently and speaking softly.
Talk To Your Dog
MRIs have shown that dogs can understand human language better than we thought. The technology has even shown that dogs experience the most happiness when they hear speech in a praising tone or actual words of praise. So having a one-way conversation with your dog is a great way to display your affection. Try using "baby-talk" because research also shows that dogs enjoy that quite a bit. In addition, you can read to your dog. Reading has been shown to calm anxious or high-energy dogs, as well as help shy dogs open up.
Do Activities With Your Dog
You and your dog spend a lot of good quality time together every day, but sometimes it's nice to plan something a little extra special. This can include taking them along on a family vacation, going on a road trip or camping adventure, visiting a dog-friendly beach, going together on a lake or mountain getaway or whatever else your heart desires. The possibilities are nearly endless!
Organize Doggie Play Dates
If your dog is well socialized and enjoys other dogs (or even has a few specific friends), you can organize play dates for them. This may involve going to the dog park at the same time as a friend or getting together at someone's apartment, house or yard.
Research Food Brands Through The Pet Nutrition Alliance
Finding the right food for our dogs can be stressful. There are so many options between the different types (like dry kibble versus wet food), recipes and protein choices. Not to mention all the brands to choose from. Fortunately, The Pet Nutrition Alliance (PNA) can help with that. The PNA is an organization with the mission to improve pet health through proper nutrition. It is led by vets and vet nutritionists and includes many organizations like the Academy of Veterinary Nutrition Technicians, American Academy of Veterinary Nutrition, American Animal Hospital Association, American College of Veterinary Nutrition, American Veterinary Medical Association and more.
To help you better understand the brands behind our dog's food, the PNA has created a manufacturer report. They have four criteria to evaluate those making the food:
1. Is a contract manufacturer used to manufacture your pet food? Possible results:
- Name, if provided (*ideal answer)
- Name not disclosed
- No (if contract manufacturer not used)
- Did not respond
- Declined to respond
2. Is a Nutritional Expert used in the manufacturing of your pet food? Possible results:
- Yes, with details about qualifications and role (*ideal answer)
- Declined to respond
- Did not respond
3. What percent of the manufacturing plants where your pet food is manufactured is owned by the manufacture? Possible results:
- Own 100% of plants (*ideal answer)
- Own 1-99% of plants
- Own 0% (If they own 0%, options are: use a contract manufacturer, manufacture in sites owned by other companies, both or other)
- Declined to respond
- Did not respond
4. Nutritional level of a randomly specified nutrient. Possible results:
- Provided information, meaning manufacturer was able to provide the requested info, it was above the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO) minimum and, where available, below the AAFCO maximum for that nutrient (*ideal answer)
- Declined to respond
- Did not respond
- Implausible or incomplete results (note that manufacturers were contacted for any implausible or incomplete results with an opportunity to correct inaccuracies)
- Does not meet AAFCO profiles
Respect That Not Everyone Is A Dog Person
As dog owners, we love our dogs so much and they're truly part of our family. But not everyone feels the same way about our canine companions. Maybe they're allergic to dogs, scared of them or just don't like that they can be messy. We may not understand, but we can respect their preferences and boundaries. Even though it can be hard to leave our dogs unnecessarily, it's best to get together with someone who isn't a dog person in a setting without your pups (especially if they aren't trained well enough to leave them alone).