Terrierman's Top Tips for Saving Sanity and Cash After You Get Your New Dog
This piece appears in the November 2010 issue of Dogs Today.
As a general rule, people spend less time researching and buying a dog than they do buying a new car.
And the result shows – dogs totally unsuited for people’s lifestyles, dogs wreaked by serious health defects, and scores of thousands of dogs abandoned because “the puppy,” which once seemed so simple and sweet, has become “the dog” which eats the couch, craps the rug, and barks to wake the dead.
Of course buying a dog is often a well-planned venture compared to preparing for the arrival of the dog itself. Talk to any owner of a pet store, and they will tell you people walk in everyday, new puppy in arms, without a collar or a clue.
So is there a better way? Do I have useful advice?
I do, and it’s pretty simple stuff designed to save you both money and grief.
1. Use the Internet.
If you are getting a new dog, you are going to need a few things, and it’s best to try to manage down the price, even as you brace yourself for the expense. Items on your list of necessities will include food and water bowls (hard plastic is best), a brush and/or de-matting comb, crates, leashes, a collar, tags, dog toys, and at least one book on puppy care and dog training.
More on some of these items in a second, but Tip Number One is to use the Internet to price shop. Combine items as much as possible to get free shipping. A crate that is $60 at the pet store will be $20 on the Internet, and similar savings will follow down the line.
2. Get more than one dog crate.
A crate is where your dog will sleep at night, where it will be confined when company comes over, and where it will travel when you go to the park, store, or veterinarian.
You will want at least two hard plastic crates; one for the house and one for the car. A car crate protects both the car and dog, and is especially useful with a young, undisciplined dog, which is otherwise likely to distract the driver and cause an accident.
In addition to two plastic crates, give some thought to getting a really large metal collapsible crate where the puppy can stay confined during the hours when you are at work, or when you out are on errands. I have used “X-pen” folding fences for containment in the past, but a large collapsible metal crate serves more uses over time, is impossible for a dog to climb out of, and folds flat for easy storage.
3. Get a simple nylon web leash.
Retractable string leads are inadequate to control even a small dog, are easily chewed through, are almost impossible to affix to a fence or post, and can easily trip you. In short, there ought to be a law against them. You can also skip an expensive leather leash, as a puppy will inevitably use it as a chew toy. Instead, get two 6- or 8-foot web leashes (you will want one for the house and one for the car), and affix a carabiner to each handle so they can be easily clipped to fence, post, or belt, as needed.
4. Get an expandable nylon web collar with a snap closure.
Cheap, expandable nylon web collars with plastic snap closures are better than expensive leather and buckle collars which have to be swapped out several times with a growing dog, and which will rot and fail over time. Coordinate the color of your new nylon web collar and leash, and your young dog will be styling on Day One!
5. Get a slide tag for your dog’s collar.
The “dangle tags” commonly sold at pet stores are made of soft aluminum and will quickly wear out at the hole, only to fall off and be lost forever. Instead, order a stainless-steel slide tag which will lie flat on the collar and never wear out.
Slide tags are made to go on snap-closure adjustable nylon collars or single- or double-thickness flat collars (leather or nylon), depending on which version you order. Slide tags can be ordered from Indigo Collartags at http://www.indigocollartags.com, or Boomerang Tags at http://www.boomerangtags.com.
6. The right dog toys will save shoes and avoid surgeries.
Young dogs like to chew on things, and if you do not provide your young dog with something to teeth on, it will find its own options: electrical cords, shoes, socks, books, cell phones, reading glasses, and even upholstery.
Your dog need toys, but not just any toy will do. Skip plush toys and soft rubber items with squeakers inside them. Your dog will rip these up in no time, and may swallow the pieces, leading to expensive surgery to remove the blockage. Instead, go for two standbys in the world of dog toys: a flat rawhide chew (not a knotted rawhide) and a hard rubber Kong. Flat rawhide pieces will disappear over time, but they are likely to give a young pup several hours of enjoyment before they are fully consumed (though you may need to soften one end in water to get a young pup started and interested). Hard rubber Kong toys will survive even the most aggressive puppy chewers if they are properly sized, and they can be packed with treats and even frozen to provide hours of canine entertainment. Order four or five Kongs, so that two or three are always stuffed and in the freezer.
7. Your weaned puppy cannot control its bowels, so you need to control its access to food and water.
A puppy should stay with its mother until it is at least eight weeks old. After that, a puppy will be weaned, but it will still have strong oral fixations. Unfortunately, a dog under the age of four months cannot control its bowels, and so a very young dog presented with constant food and drink will poop and pee all day long. The result: your puppy will have a constantly soiled pen, and you will feel your dog is never entirely “safe” outside that pen. When “accidents” are routine, tensions increase within the family and resentment toward the dog builds.
A better way to live is to limit your dog’s water and food intake to four times a day with outside potty breaks a few minutes after intake, and again 20 minutes later. The notion that a young dog needs constant access to food and water after eight weeks of age is nonsense. In the wild, fox and wolf dams exit their dens for long periods to hunt, eat, drink, stretch, and socialize. When they come back to the den or rendezvous site, the pups tumble out to feed and defecate. Food and water are NOT provided 24 hours a day.
8. Puppies need boundaries.
Your puppy should not be allowed to roam anywhere and everywhere inside your house or apartment. Your attention will eventually wane, and when that happens a rug will be soiled, an electrical cord chewed, a book ruined, or your puppy will take a tumble down the stairs. Fence up! The good news is that we all have a perfect puppy room available -- the bathroom. Hard-tile floors and surfaces mean the dog has little to wreck, while the limited floor space is easily covered with newspapers. Make sure the toilet lid is down, the shower curtain is up, and towels and toilet paper are out of reach, and the pup will do fine with just a child safety-gate to block the door. Just step over when you need to go!
9. Get a few books, and read them.
No one was born knowing how to raise or train a dog, and YES, there are things to learn. Get a book that gives simple instruction on training a dog to walk on lead, sit, come, stay, and lie down. You want an instruction book here, not a book on training party tricks, a book of stories, a dog trainer’s autobiography, or a broad treatise on dog training theory. A dog only needs to know four or five basic commands to fit well anywhere, and all the training systems will work provided the owner is consistent and works with the dog two or three times a day for a month or two.
10. Walk your dog every day.
Your young dog needs socialization and exercise, and one way to achieve both is to walk your dog at least twice a day, morning and night. It should be said that YOU are walking your dog; it is not walking you. A short leash and a firm walk should signal that your dog is to follow you, not dawdle at the curb sniffing. There is a time and place for sniffing, but you will determine where and when that occurs.
Do I have other simple and practical tips?
Sure, but these will have to wait for another time. A dog is not made in a day!