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10 Tips for Every Pet Parent

How to build a healthy, loving relationship with your cat or dog.

Mike and Peggy with their good boys, Pete (left) and Ernest
Credit: Roy Gumpel

How can we give our cats and dogs their best lives? The answer goes beyond simply providing for their physical needs. Here are my top tips for establishing a happy, healthy relationship with your pet.

1. Embrace the commitment.

Before bringing home that adorable puppy or playful kitten, ask yourself if it is the right fit for your family. Do you have the time and resources to feed, walk, groom, clean up after, play with and enjoy a dog or cat? Promise to commit to your pet for its lifetime—which could be 10, 12, 20 years or more.

2. Just say no to puppy mills.

Did you know that the dogs at most pet shops come from puppy mills? Never buy a dog from a puppy mill—a high-volume breeding facility with inhumane conditions. A responsible breeder will ask you for references and allow you to visit and meet the parents. Or adopt a homeless puppy, dog, kitten or cat from a shelter or rescue group.

3. Turn to a trainer.

Many pets are surrendered because their behavioral issues are difficult to handle. Before rehoming a pet, consult a professional trainer. A trainer can teach basic manners and address issues such as separation anxiety, jumping, barking and destroying furniture. It’s money well spent to help you and your pet live in harmony and give you both a happier life.

4. Avoid extended time in crates.

Crate training benefits most dogs, but it can be overused. Make sure the crate is big enough for your dog to stand, stretch her legs, get a drink, nap and play. Limit time to a few hours. For longer periods, puppy-proof one room or invest in a large indoor exercise pen. Be sure to tire him out before you leave. And remember, a puppy can hold its bladder for only about one hour per month of age (up to about six to eight hours). If these methods won’t work, consider a pet walker or doggy daycare.

5. Never leave your pet in a hot car.

Tragically, too many dogs die because they are left inside a hot car. Even parking in the shade with the windows cracked open is not enough to prevent suffering. Leave someone with the dog and the air-conditioning on, shop where pets are allowed, visit the drive-through or let your dog stay home.

6. Make exercise a part of every day.

Engage cats with dangly toys and feathers, and provide climbing trees. For dogs, walks rule the day—not only are they great physical activity, but they’re also a bonding activity. Get her energy out with toys and games of fetch. Or teach her tricks. A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.

7. Reduce boredom.

There are many kinds of interactive toys for pets. Chew toys are just a start. Dogs have fun with treat-dispensing balls, hide-and-seek toys and snuffle mats. Cats enjoy puzzle toys with balls, bells and mechanical mice. Be sure to put a few toys in the crate or room when you leave your pet alone.

8. Learn to think like your pet.

Instead of just telling your cat to “stop that” or your dog to “be quiet,” try to understand what is causing the behavior. For instance, when your dog barks, she may be frightened by a noise, responding to a squirrel outside the window or simply bored. Determine the cause, then address the problem.

9. Keep corrections positive.

Wouldn’t you rather teach your pet to obey because he loves you than because he fears you? Physical punishment or domination can make pets anxious and distrustful. Most training issues arise because your pet doesn’t understand what you want. Help them by rewarding desired behavior with treats, praise and time spent with you.

10. Make your pet part of the family.

Dogs are social animals. Don’t keep them shut away or force them to live their lives outside. Most cats enjoy your attention too. Spend quality time engaging with your pet. Bond with them. Love them. 

My hope is that all dogs and cats can live their very best lives. All we have to do is give them the same love and devotion that they show us.

For more inspiring animal stories, subscribe to All God’s Creatures magazine.

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