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Keeping a pet dog is a huge commitment and responsibility; they require shelter, a balanced diet, daily exercise, veterinary care and training. Upon bringing a new dog into your family there are many things you will need to consider. A good place to start is by taking your dog to the vet to make sure that all of their vaccinations are up to date and to talk about the basics of dog care. In the meantime, some important things to consider are:
Dogs should be provided with a clean, comfortable and safe environment which meets their behavioural and physiological needs. Where dogs have access to an outdoor backyard area this must be escape-proof and include sheltered areas to protect the dog against weather extremes such as the wind, rain, cold, heat, sun etc.
If your dog indicates that they would prefer to sleep indoors and where this is possible and safe to do so you may decide to allow your dog to sleep indoors. Avoid leaving a dog with children unsupervised.
If it is not possible to allow a dog to sleep indoors, a well-built, well-furnished and weatherproof kennel should be provided. Kennels should be warm, dry and draught-free, off the ground near the house,and not in a thoroughfare.
The kennel should be protected from rain and excessive sun. Ideally the roof of the kennel should be hinged to make cleaning easier. Washable rugs, cushions or blankets should be used for extra comfort and warmth and bedding should be cleaned regularly.
Dogs require a properly balanced diet that is tailored to their size, age and any health conditions they might have. Dogs should be fed a high quality premium commercial food and then offered some natural foods to ensure a "balanced" diet is provided. Natural foods include human-grade raw meat, raw meaty bones and vegetables. Feed adult dogs at least twice a day. Please see the articles " What should I feed my dog?" and "What should I feed my puppy?" for more information.
You may wish to hide some food in puzzle toys so that your dog is encouraged to work for his snack. Ensure that your dog always has an adequate supply of fresh, clean water.
Early socialisation and training are essential. Owners should proactively socialise their puppies and dogs. Puppies have a 'critical socialisation period' between about 3-17 weeks of age. Puppy preschool is highly recommended as a starting point. Classes are usually available through veterinary clinics for puppies from 11-12 weeks of age. You can also take your puppy to meet with the puppies and dogs of your friends and family, either at your house or their house. But you should make sure that the other dogs and puppies are friendly, healthy and up-to-date with their vaccinations. Training methods for puppies and dogs should be based on positive reinforcement and using the dog's natural instincts. Aversion therapy and physical punishment must not be used in training programs because of the potential for cruelty.
· Exercise and Play
Digging holes in the garden, wrecking plants and pulling washing off the line are all symptoms of frustrated and bored dogs. Dogs need an outlet for their energy and this is best channelled into exercise and play. Dogs need regular exercise, at least once a day for most dogs. Forms of exercise can include walks, off leash runs and structured play. Ideally, dogs should be taken to council designated areas where they can be safely let off the leash. All exercise should be supervised and the dog kept within calling distance. Dogs should always be under the control of the owner, either physically via a lead or by verbal command. If you know that your dog does not respond to your instructions it is unwise to let him off leash. A large back-yard will offer the opportunity for some exercise but this is not a substitute for regular walks where your dog has the opportunity to socialise with other dogs and with humans.
Dogs should not be exercised immediately before or after eating as it can cause problems such as bloat (which can be fatal), particularly in deep-chested dogs.
· Bathing and Grooming
Regular grooming is essential, particularly for long-haired breeds. It is best to establish this habit early in your dog's life, so that grooming is an enjoyable bonding activity and part of their routine. Grooming removes dust, dead skin, loose hairs, grass seeds and tangles. It also reduces the amount of fur shed during the autumn and spring moult. Dogs should be bathed when necessary using a shampoo specifically prepared for dogs. Using a flea control shampoo and a flea rinse, particularly in the summer, will also help control fleas although there are now a number of options for this problem. When bathing a dog in cooler weather, towels or a hair drier can be used to remove excess water and assist in drying the coat.
If you are away from your home for any extended period of time you must make arrangements for the care of your dog. Most owners place their dogs in a boarding kennel. In choosing a boarding kennel it is recommended that you visit the establishment first to check that the accommodation, exercise area and staffing are appropriate for the needs of your dog and that the environment is clean and secure. Most boarding kennels will only accept dogs which have been properly vaccinated and will require proof of vaccination.
· Veterinary care
Your dog will require annual visits to the vet for vaccinations, boosters and general health checks. Your vet can also advise you about flea, tick and worm prevention. If your dog is not already desexed you should have this done as soon as possible to prevent the birth of any unplanned, unwanted puppies. Early desexing reduces the likelihood of health conditions such as mammary cancer and enlarged protates later on in life.