Pet adoption is one of the noblest acts possible; you are providing a home for an animal who might otherwise have to be destroyed.
Unfortunately, not everyone is prepared for the pet adoption experience. Nearly a third of the people who adopt pets end up returning them. But what many inexperienced owners see as major problems are actually easily correctable. With some thought, patience and planning, pet adoption can be a happy experience for everyone. Here's how:
The First Few Days
- A new home takes getting used to. It's a shock for your new pet, especially if it's a young animal who is suddenly without its mother or litter mate. Tricks like wrapping an old fashioned ticking clock in a towel and placing it next to a sleeping pet can make it feel more at home. (Some say that it sounds like its mother's heartbeat).
- Be prepared for some crying the first few nights. But don't give in to excessive comforting. This will only delay the adjustment process.
- Find out the pet's diet before adoption; and if it must be changed, don't do it too abruptly.
- Monitor your new friend carefully the first few days. If the pet has continuing problems, try to find out the cause; it may be stress or possibly something that needs medical attention.
- Make an appointment with a vet to have your new pet checked out as soon as possible.
- There are two basic methods of house training a dog -- crate training (or "denning") and paper training. Paper training is especially suited for older dogs, but may not work as well with adopted animals who will be used to the limitations of the shelter environment.
- With crate training, a dog learns to keep its area clean through use of a special kennel box. The dog should be praised when it goes outside to relieve itself.
- Through paper training, a dog learns to refrain from bladder or bowel movements outside the areas covered with newspapers. Gradually, the papered area is reduced in size and shifted outdoors. Within a few days, your dog should be trained to use the outside exclusively.
- A firm "NO!" directed immediately at the dog, pointing out any accident in training, helps prevent a repeat of the accident.
Diet and Feeding
- Obesity is the number one nutritional disease. Almost any commercial brand pet food will generally suffice for the new dog. If special veterinarian-recommended foods are needed, don't be alarmed. In the long run, because of their high nutritional value, they can turn out to be cost-effective.
- Puppies under four months need to be fed two to three times daily, with some breeds and sizes needing twice daily feeding through the first year.
- Today's puppy food brands may be good for dogs up to one year old. Switch over to adult food gradually.
- If your dog is getting well-balanced meals, diet supplements usually are not necessary. Table scrap feeding should be strictly avoided; it sets the stage for trouble down the road.
Exercise and Safe Play
- All dogs benefit from regular exercise. But when it comes to jogging or running, too much pounding of joints can lead to problems, especially in bigger dogs, where it is important to limit exercise the first two years. About 20 minutes of moderate exercise a day is ideal.
- Take precautions in hot and cold weather. For older animals, and those with arthritis or other health conditions, consult with a vet on an exercise plan.
- Select chew toys carefully. Every dog needs something to chew, especially puppies, who chew on objects to help get rid of their baby teeth. But make sure chewables can't break or unravel. Nylon and plastic polymer bones are sturdy. Pressed rawhide is relatively risk free, but sheet rawhide can unravel posing choking dangers.
- Always keep dangerous chemicals and other potentially hazardous substances away from pets.
- Don't let dogs play with toys in the form of shoes or clothes -- they can't differentiate from the real thing. If your dog is chewing on something forbidden, interrupt immediately with a firm "NO"!
- Never hit or kick animals for discipline. If verbal corrections are not successful, a noisemaker or brief squirt of water from a plant sprayer may be necessary to discourage bad behavior. But always give your pet lots of praise when correct behavior is displayed.
- By nature, dogs are pack animals. To gain their respect, you must avoid spoiling them, and instead show yourself as a clear "leader of the pack."
Healthcare and Hygiene
- Good nutrition, moderation in exercise and safe toys are key to the long life of pets. But also your new dog, especially a puppy, will need extra attention to make it feel at home.
- When you bring your puppy to the vet, bring along a stool sample so a check for parasites can be made.
- Vaccinations for distemper, hepatitis, leptospirosis, para-influenza, parvo virus and rabies, are all essential.
- Corna virus, bordatella brochiseptica and lyme disease are potentially lethal diseases for which vaccinations are often given routinely. Check with your vet!
- Heartworm is a serious problem in certain parts of the country and also requires preventative measures.
- Spaying and neutering will benefit your dog's health. Spaying between 5 and 7 months (before the 12th month) can almost entirely eliminate the chances for breast cancer in females. Contrary to popular belief, spaying and neutering won't change your dog's personality or make it fat and lazy.
- Brush your dog's teeth regularly. Dog toothbrushes and paste are available, quite effective and even enjoyed by most dogs. (Never use human toothpaste on pets!)
- Regular grooming is an important part of helping to control ticks, lice and fleas. Avoid supermarket gels. Ask your vet for a recommended flea control product. Home, yard and your pet are all sources of fleas and must be attacked at the same time.
- Some barking is normal for a dog. If it seems excessive, find out why. Discourage too much barking with a sharp "QUIET!" followed by praise when your pet does quiet down.
Prevention: Key to Mutual Enjoyment
After four or five months, your new pet will be ready for a big step in adapting to your household -- formal training. Training is one of the many ways you can prevent future problems with your pet. And if you stop problems before they start, you've greatly increased the odds of your pet leading a happy and healthy life. Maybe you can't teach an old dog new tricks, but with proper diet, exercise and regular visits to the vet, you should be able to enjoy the company of your adopted pet for a long time.