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Choosing the Right Pet to Fit Your Lifestyle

man with cat, dogs

Nothing is more exciting than searching for the perfect pet. Getting to know and fall in love with a new, lovable companion and welcoming him or her into your life can be an extremely rewarding experience — one that will go smoother if you put some forethought into it. Adopting a pet is a lifetime commitment that requires us to seriously consider our needs, lifestyle, and resources.

When looking to adopt a pet, one of the first things we notice is their appearance. We might take into account their size, coat, and any obvious physical characteristics, but there are many other factors beneath the surface that can determine whether the pet will be a good match for us.

How do I know which pet is right for me?

When it comes to choosing the right pet for your lifestyle, it’s important to consider factors such as energy level, dietary needs, required training, common medical issues, and proper environment. These can all have an impact on your pet’s health and happiness, as well as your ability to properly care for them.

Energy level

A cat or dog’s energy level can be a critical determinant of whether or not your lifestyles will be compatible. Higher energy dogs are usually best suited for someone who lives an active lifestyle, or is able to take frequent walks. Lower energy dogs, however, typically do well under the care of a person who enjoys a lot of downtime, or a working professional who spends daytime hours away from home. Most dogs require 30 minutes to two hours of exercise per day, though this depends on the breed, age, and overall health of the dog. While cats can spend as much as 14 hours a day sleeping, engaging them in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes per day is usually recommended.

Temperament

Like people, all animals have unique personalities and temperaments that are displayed in their habits or behavior. While some dogs are more outgoing, social, and crave attention, others can be more laid back, calm, or even shy. It’s important that the pet feels comfortable in their new home, so consider what your needs are and what type of environment the pet will be living in. For example, dogs or cats that are more low maintenance, patient, friendly, and gentle will usually make good family pets. On the other hand, more active, sensitive or protective dogs usually do best living with one individual who understands and accepts their needs.

Special Needs: Dietary or Training Requirements

Also, consider special dietary requirements based on age, size, and breed, as well as any formal training requirements. While many common breeds of dogs and cats require minimal or basic training, some may require more advanced or specialized training. This is particularly true with hunting dogs, service dogs, or high-maintenance breeds that have an intrinsic desire to work.

Common Medical Issues

While there is no guarantee, certain breeds of dogs and cats tend to share a propensity for developing particular medical issues. When looking to adopt a pet, it will be important to research the types of medical problems, if any, that are common among the breed of dog you’re considering. You’ll also want to consider things like lifespan, cost of any related surgeries, ongoing care or preventative maintenance, or other unforeseen events that could arise as a result of medical troubles. Don’t just assume you can deal with a medical issue if and when it arrives—be prepared and proactive.

Be Honest

Ask yourself honestly how much time, money and energy you are ready to devote to your pet.

Being a responsible pet owner goes beyond love. It sometimes involves sacrifices or changes in lifestyle, and it is a lifetime commitment. Of course, sometimes there are factors beyond our control that may necessitate finding our pet a new home. In that case, organizations like Get Your Pet can help to find the perfect new home for your pet.

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Calling Your Dog

Getting your dog to come to you on cue is one of the nicest things you can do for your dog.  Knowing that your dog will return whenever you want her to allows you to give her freedom to play and go where she wants to — within reason.  The recall, along with a solid “emergency down” may save her life one day, so it’s worth putting some time into training her to respond quickly.

So how to build this solid recall?  First, choose a word for the cue.  If your dog is a puppy, you can choose whatever you want, just stick to it.  If your dog is a rescue, you might want to pick something out-of-the-ordinary as your cue.  She might have bad associations with “come” from her previous guardian.  Just test it out, and she’ll tell you.  If she ignores you, that’s okay.  If she runs away, that’s a sign you should use a different word.

Let’s assume that your recall cue is “come.”  You want this to be one of the best words your dog knows.  It means, “run to me, there’s a party over here!”  The idea is to never let your dog know that there is something better than coming to you.  So never say “come” when you think your dog may not do it.  The second thing to be sure that you do not do is doing something scary after your dog comes to you.  When your dog comes when you call her, do not do anything that she does not like.  That includes nail-clipping, putting the leash to leave the park, or yelling at her for pouncing on the neighbor’s cat.  The last thing she did was come to you — you don’t want to punish that, you should reward it!  You’ll have to be satisfied with telling her, in a nice, upbeat voice, what a rotten dog she is.  Finally, the last bit of negative advice is to never chase after your dog.  You do not want her to think that running away from you is a fun game.  Whether she has a sock, you need to take her out of the park, or you just think its fun, chasing is not the answer.

The major steps in teaching the recall are to introduce the cue and then practice in a huge number of different circumstances.  Vary how far away you are from the dog and how many distractions there are.  When you make one aspect harder, make the other one easier.  You might use a long line for safety or as a gentle reminder of your existence, but don’t use it to tug your dog to you.  If you need the line very often, you are pushing her too fast. Set your dog up for success.

  1. Introduce the cue to your dog.  Do this somewhere where you know the dog will come to you.  Have a treat handy, behind your back, for example. Have your dog about two or three feet away.  In a friendly voice (not a command or a question, but an invitation), say “Puppy, come” (the dog’s name here is Puppy). Then show her the treat and take a step backward.  Lean away from her, not into her.  Leaning in is doggish for “stop.”  Puppy runs over, gets clicked for showing up, and gets her treat.  Not just one treat, but several, one at a time (only one click).  Make it a real party. If she likes to be petted, now is a good time.  But be careful — she may often like petting, but maybe not all the time.  Watch what she does.  If she ducks away from your hand, now is not a good time. 
  2. Practice from further away. Do the same activity from 6 feet away. You say “Puppy, come,” then get her to come to you somehow.  She doesn’t fully know the cue yet, so you want to make sure that she comes to you. Legal moves on your part are: waving the food in front of her face and running away; making kissy noises; clucking with your tongue; clapping your hands, etc.  Illegal moves: walking over and grabbing her by the scruff of the neck or in some other way making “come” a scary word.
    You don’t have to have a party every time now, but at least twice a day, take a full 30 seconds to reward her for coming to you. Continue that procedure for a long time, at least a few months.  On times when you just give one treat, you can practice a few times in a row.  To get her to go away from you, throw a treat and make sure she sees it fly.  Then you can call her again. 
  3. Practice not luring her to you.  When your dog has a clue about what “come” means, start calling her without waving food around or making smoochy noises, from the same distance as before, or closer.  If she doesn’t start coming to you in a few seconds, make noise or get her attention and run away.  Toss the treat to make her leave you, then call her as soon as she’s gulped it down.
  4.  Practice as part of living.  Call her to you whenever you are about to do something good to her or for her.  Feeding time is a great example.  If you want to take her for a walk or let her out into the yard, those are good times, too.  If she knows sit, then call her to you, ask for a sit, then give her dinner, let her out, or clip on the leash.  Remember, only call her for the fun stuff, so don’t call her to give her a bath!
  5. Practice from even further away. Work up to ten feet, or fifteen, if she’ll do it.  All indoors, with low distractions.  Reward generously.
  6. Practice with distractions, closer in. Now make it harder for her by increasing the distraction level.  We don’t want to make it too hard, so have her closer to you, say 5 feet away.    

Keep increasing the level of distraction and the distance until you have the recall you want.   Make sure that any time you call her, you are willing to do what it takes to get her to come to you.  This may mean running away (one of my favorites) or running up to her, showing the treat, and then running away (safer method).  It may mean waiting her out, if she’s not entertaining herself by not coming.  When she doesn’t come when you call her, you are simply moving beyond what she is ready for.  Simply make it easier for her in some way and build reliability slowly.  

Here are a few examples of recall games that you can play with your dog:


(LOW distraction) Have a friend make noise to attract your dog over to him.  After she runs over, call your dog: “Puppy, come.”  The friend then shuts down and becomes the most boring human that Puppy knows, so she will eventually run over to you, the interesting one.

(HIGHER distraction) Have a friend make noise with a squeaky toy to attract your dog over to him.  After she runs over, call your dog: “Puppy, come.”  The friend then shuts down and holds the toy to his chest, again becoming the most boring human that Puppy knows, so she will eventually run over to you, the interesting one.  Then you give him a treat and run back over to the friend, who presents him with the toy and a fun game.

(possibly HIGHER distraction) Have a friend hold a container of extra-good treats and attract your dog over to him in some way.  After she runs over, call your dog: “Puppy, come.”  The friend then shuts down and holds the treats above dog level, yet again becoming the most boring human that Puppy knows, so she will eventually run over to you, the interesting one.  Then you give him a treat and run back over to the friend, who presents him with the even better treats.  Puppy learns that coming to you is the way to get what she wants.

(EVEN HIGHER distraction) When Puppy is playing with dogs, look for a break in the game and call her over to you.  Give her a yummy treat and send her back into the fray.

(WAY HIGHER distraction) When Puppy is playing with dogs, call her over to you (the difference here is that she is actively playing). Give her a yummy treat and send her back into the fray.  Be careful not to go past what she is ready for.  You don’t want her learning that she can say “in a minute” and go back to playing.

(SUPER distraction) Squirrels.  You may never get to the level where Puppy will come running to you if you call her during a squirrel chase.  There is a possibility that you can teach her to drop on cue so well that she will do that during a chase.  Then you can get her to calm down and, after a minute, call her to you.  Consult a professional.

Chase — chase is fine, as long as you are the one running away.  Call your dog, then sprint away as fast as you can.  She will catch you.  Turn and run a different direction.  She’ll catch you again.  Ask for a sit and give her a treat.  You don’t necessarily have to treat this one — chase is rewarding in and of itself.

Hide-and-seek.  Hide in a closet in the house and call your dog.  You may have to make a noise so she can find you, but don’t make it too easy for her.  Give her a nice reward when she finds you, maybe even a 30-second party.  You can play this at the park, too, when she’s ready for it.

Two-dog recall.  If you have multiple dogs, give a treat to the first one who shows up.  This also helps speed up responses to other cues.  Treat the first one to sit, lie down, etc.
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Patient is Key when Training

You know most of us nowadays have WAY too much to do in life in general. I don’t know about you but it seems like if I get to sit down and do nothing for even just a little while it’s a luxury!

You have a job and/or a family or maybe you have another business or volunteer work or you are active in your community or church. Or maybe you just have an active social life.

Anyway sometimes you can be so busy that you wish the dog was just EASIER to deal with!  “I don’t have time for all of this right now!”

Have you ever said this? Maybe your dog is starting to “act up” or misbehave and you feel like, “I don’t need this right now!”

Once you start feeling or thinking this you need to go on high alert! You may be about to lose your patience!

A couple of things to remember: First, if your patience is thin, don’t even think about training your dog or trying to fix any behavior problems. Now is not the time to train!

Take a deep breath and get through the situation, whatever it is, without “losing it” and remember: Whatever is going on with your dog you can begin to make changes almost immediately but not if you’re pushed for time or impatient. Your dog will feel your tension and will also feel tense. This will make the situation worse!

Second, remember that one of the keys to getting your dog to behave is for you to be the leader. In the dog world the leader doesn’t “lose it”. The leader is calm and composed. 

When you get tired or impatient or pushed for time by your circumstances it’s easy to be frustrated when your dog doesn’t respond like you want.

So if you are having one of those frustrating moments or days when your dog is just not behaving well, don’t lose your patience. When you lose that then you’re not acting like a leader!

Get through the situation by reminding yourself that it can be fixed, but today is not the day. Wait until you have more time or your situation is more convenient to begin the training.

Be patient and be the leader!

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General Training Tips

Easy ways to teach your pooch some doggone manners

Few things will land you on your neighbor’s bad list faster than poor dog etiquette. The good news is that being a respectful dog owner boils down to two major things: Be conscientious and don’t be lazy. Proper dog etiquette can mean the difference between living peacefully amongst your neighbors and living a life fraught with conflict and turmoil. Here’s how to make sure you’re doing what you can to be on the right path.

Make sure your dog knows basic public etiquette

As a dog owner, you don’t have to teach your dog dozens of tricks. They don’t have to be able to balance a ball on their nose or be able to bark the numbers one through 10. All your dog has to do is be able to exhibit basic public etiquette, otherwise known as not being rude around other people.

First, this means they will need to know the basic commands. These are fairly easy to teach. If your dog knows how to sit, stay, come, and get down, you’re well on your way to having a dog that behaves well in public. Etiquette around dining situations is also crucial (think neighborhood BBQs!). Your dog should learn not to beg for food and to never be aggressive with any food item.

Avoid the temptation to forgo the leash

If you have a well-behaved dog whom you feel comfortable with, it’s tempting to just leave the leash inside when playing in the front yard or going on a quick walk around the block. Try to resist this urge. It’s okay to have your dog unleashed in a fenced-in area like your backyard or the dog park, but in all other scenarios it’s just good etiquette to keep them leashed up. A dog that’s simply being friendly can frighten or injure kids, for example. A leash just gives you ultimate control, and you’re better safe than sorry.  There are different leashes and collars that work better for certain dogs and situations. Another way to keep your dog safe is to invest in a GPS dog tracker. A high-quality GPS dog tracker can help you find your dog if he escapes your property.

Limit the Barking

Dogs bark. It’s just a fact of life. But there is a point in which the occasional bark turns into a full-fledged barking crisis – one that will make neighbors enemies really quickly. You can’t be a conscientious dog-owning neighbor if your dog is outside in the backyard incessantly barking. If your dog is alert barking at things outside, its best to keep him indoors. You can’t change this behavior if you’re not there to provide immediate feedback.

It’s fairly simple to curb a dog’s barking if he is barking for attention. Dogs bark to get attention and when you give them attention, they learn that barking works to get them what they want. If you don’t give them the attention they want, they will eventually stop trying that method. The moment your dog looks at you and starts barking for attention, simply say ‘bye’ and walk away. Your dog will learn that his barking makes you go away, which is the opposite of what he wants, and this should eliminate attention barking.

Finally, you should teach your dog to stop barking on command. This is done with positive reinforcement including giving out treats when they are nice and quiet.

Clean up

Does it need to be said? Well, you’ve stepped in a big pile before – so you answer that. Some (rude) dog owners must think that dog poop degrades quickly or something, because many owners fail to clean up their dog’s mess. This is dog-owner etiquette rule No. 1 – be a proactive pooper-scooper.

The overarching goal of being a good dog owner is to always remember that nobody loves your dog as much as you do. Your dog may not bother you when it does A, B, or C, but it bothers others. Think about ways to make you and your pet leave the smallest footprint on your neighborhood as possible and you’ll be well on your way to developing good ties (or mending broken ones) with your neighbors.

Photo by Samantha Scholl on Unsplash

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