I remember when I first brought Shiva home it was a miracle to me that each day he was still alive and healthy. I had never before taken full responsibility for another living creature.
Many mistakes were made and a lot was learned by trial and error. Here’s what would be on my new puppy checklist if I had my chance to do over.
1. Dog proof your house and yard
The same way you would for a toddler.
See everything from puppy level and imagine what an inquisitive puppy would sniff out. Power cords, house plants, smelly socks left lying around. All can be hazards. If ingested they can cause illness/obstruction.
Even toys shouldn’t be left around unless you’re not 100% certain your dog is not likely to chew on them and swallow. Tennis balls can and do get eaten and they can and do kill dogs.
Close doors to rooms that aren’t safe. Put plants out of reach on benches and push them right to the back when you’re out. Place upturned chairs as barricades on couches until your pup learns furniture is out of bounds. Garbage cans should be self-closing and secure.
2. Go to the butcher / supermarket
Unless you’ve been able to source a natural rearing breeder, chances are your puppy will, unfortunately, have been weaned onto kibble. Don’t let that go on a moment longer than it has to. You can start your dog on chicken breast meat and chicken wings.
Which brings me to the big one…
3. Educate yourself on dog nutrition
Dog food makers and vets (whose education is funded by pet food companies) will have you believe kibble and canned food is okay.
What you buy in the pet store is highly processed food, no better for your dog than McDonald’s is for people.
We are so programmed to think otherwise that this may come as a shock. I have been there. So, educate yourself by reading widely and not just taking the word of the pet food clerk or the vet.
If you’re still in any doubt that a diet based on raw meaty bones is your dog’s best shot at a long and healthy life, check out the Raw Feeding Veterinary Society where they systematically (and with evidence) debunk every scare tactic that’s typically thrown up by opponents of raw feeding.
4. Pee pads
These are your best friend while toilet training. An absolute must if you live in an apartment.
How to house train your pup? After your little one wakes up from a nap, after a play, after eating or drinking or whenever pup starts to circle or make telltale signs of preparing to pee or poop, guide him to or plonk him on the pee pad. When he goes potty in the right spot, praise like crazy and even treat. He’ll understand in no time.
Dogs prefer to toilet outside, so as his bladder matures he’ll be and he gets to know the routines, he’ll hold it until his first walk of the day. Some say to withhold water after a certain time at night to prevent accidents but I think water should be available 100 per cent of the time. Pee pads mean pup always has a place to go.
5. Consider a slow feeder bowl
Especially if your dog is a deep chested breed, consider a slow feeder bowl. Having to eat around the grooves in the bowl slows pup down, lowering the risk of bloat, which is associated with gulping and gutsing food down.
Make sure you have the bowls flat on the ground. No raised platforms. These have been associated with an increased risk of bloat. In nature dogs eat from the ground. It’s natural and there’s no need for young dogs to be eating from raised bowls.
6. Take off the collar at home
By all means get your dog used to wearing a soft collar. But take it off when he’s secure at home or inside and definitely when left alone. Collars can catch on things and dogs have been strangled. I’ve known dogs to have their dog tags wedge between decking boards or in air conditioning grates and even in the teeth of another dog in the household. Dogs have died this way.
A webcam can be useful.
It lets you keep an eye on your pup when you’re out so you can see how he handles being alone and how undesirable behaviors come about, if they do.
Many web cams allow you to talk to your dog through an app on your phone. Don’t do it just for fun because your voice coming from nowhere can be confusing, but if you need to deliver a well-timed “Ah ah”, the option is there.
8. A quality dog bed
You might as well go straight for an orthopedic dog bed, to give your dog’s joints the best support from the very start.
Sleeping in your bedroom is totally fine but think about it before you allow your dog to sleep in your human bed. Aside from the fact that everything will soon smell like dog, sleeping together signals equality to dogs. This can be confusing when you’re trying to send the message that you’re in charge.
On this note it’s also helpful for your dog to see you eat first, before feeding him — pecking order is another way dogs communicate dominance. All of these things will make obedience training and general good behavior easier to achieve.
The other thing a dog bed achieves is it avoids hygromas, or fluid-filled sacs, developing on your dog’s elbows from too much lying on hard surfaces. Check out what they looked like in Shiva and how we fixed them.
9. Beware herbicides on fields and sidewalks
Dogs are exposed to toxins daily, everywhere they go. Pesticides and herbicides on grass and gardens. Chemicals on city sidewalks. They’re exposed even more than us because they use those sniffers to really inhale everything.
Beware public gardens and sports fields and roadside verges for this reason.
Your council routinely sprays those areas with chemicals like Roundup (Glyphosate) which has been associated with causing cancer. In my neighborhood, it’s done in the early hours of the morning when noone’s around to observe it and the contractors never put up any signs to say they’ve just sprayed. Who’s out first thing on that same grass? Us and and our dogs.
That Natural Vets explain that environmental poisons are possible triggers for “autoimmune” diseases and likely have a stacking effect. In other words, “a strong, vital animal will probably handle one or two or three of these, but if they keep stacking up, or if something else affects the strength and vitality of the individual, then disease will likely result.”
10. Throw out your chemical household cleaners
Control the things you can control by avoiding chemical cleaners and other chemical products in the home.
I no longer burn incense or scented candles and switched to a steam cleaner for the floor which is 100% chemical free and very effective.
These days I actually also have an air purifier to further protect my dog. It detects and helps remove volatile organic compounds (VOCs) like off-gasses from the paint on my apartment walls. When I paint again I’ll use zero-VOC or nontoxic paint.
11. Avoid chemical wormers or chemical flea/tick preventatives
Too many owners have seen these products harm their dogs. Check out this facebook group to see firsthand accounts. There are natural alternatives, including vigilance.
Again, do your research and think about your dog’s particular lifestyle in order to assess the risk of exposure to these parasites, versus the risk from the chemical products used to prevent them.
If your dog is an indoor city dog, fleas and ticks may not even be an issue. We have no fleas or ticks and use nothing more than keeping a close eye and this gentle soap bar which kills fleas. Of course, check your dog for ticks after exposure to woodland areas.
Understand the heartworm life cycle. Heartworm is transmitted by mosquitoes and cannot survive unless it has a run of many warm days in a row. Right there you see that you don’t need to be giving heartworm products in winter.
12. Get a Dremel
Your pup’s nails won’t actually be long enough to need trimming yet, but it’s never too early to start getting your dog used to having his nails trimmed. Introduce it slowly, and build up to actually grinding the tiniest bit off one nail. Build on that day by day.
Same thing with getting him used to having his paws handled generally, his mouth inspected and his ears examined and wiped out. (Don’t put any potions or sprays in your pup’s ears. These are unnecessary. But get him used to having a plain cotton pad wipe out his ear.)
13. Neutering — do your own research
Neutering has long been equated with responsible dog ownership but the weight of evidence suggests it causes more health problems than it avoids.
When coming to a decision, consider the predispositions of your dog’s particular breed to certain diseases and whether they are the ones that tend to be increased or decreased by neutering.
Think twice about using a surgical procedure as behavior modification. Good management and training go a long way.
Remember neutering provides a good portion of vets’ incomes so it can be difficult to get an unbiased recommendation from this quarter.
The same goes for vaccinations as for neutering.
Do your own research and be aware of the economic forces at play. Most holistic clinics now acknowledge three-yearly cycles are safer than annual ones for many vaccines.
Regardless of how you weigh the costs and benefits, definitely avoid giving a whole bunch of vaccines at once. The convenience is not worth the extra strain on your dog’s system. Insist they be spaced out. This minimizes the risk of problems.
As for repeat vaccinations, titer testing is available as an alternative to automatic boosters.
15. Connect with other dog owners
Don’t take their word as gospel truth but other dog owners are great sources of leads and information that you can then investigate for yourself and verify as you work your way towards the best answer for your dog.
16. No pigs’ ears
Avoid pigs’ ears and most commercially made treats. The least junky option is a bully stick but check it’s 100% beef and made by dehydrating, without preservatives.
Always supervise chews and bones to avoid choking. Often they’re safe until they get to the end when there is a huge likelihood the dog swallows the last chunk. You want to be there before that happens so you can take it away.
17. Beware the dog park
Controlled exposure to another known dog, one on one is perfectly fine. But off leash dog parks, dog beaches and doggy daycare are the terrible trifecta of modern dog ownership, to be avoided like the plague.
For the same reasons, be very careful how you select a puppy school.
18. Find a good dog trainer
You want a trainer who runs dog obedience classes using positive reinforcement techniques. Agility trainer Susan Garrett is a wonderful example but there will be good ones in your local area.
Preparation for a new puppy begins long before you bring him home. And it’s about much more than buying leads and collars.
Your pup’s food is the single most important thing you can do for his wellbeing. Get that right and you’ll spare yourselves countless vet visits.
Above all, research, research, research. Be an active participant in your dog’s care. Don’t just do what your vet tells you. Understand why and know the alternatives. Be the informed decision-maker. It’s your job to advocate for your dog. You’ve got this!