These four simple tips will help ensure your life with your dog is as joyful, rewarding and “low maintenance” as possible.
Studies show that owning a dog improves your life. But sometimes it can be stressful, especially if your dog is “high maintenance”. It’s true that some breeds and temperaments require more effort to train and care for, but for the most part, creating a happy and healthy “low maintenance” dog is your job.
Before we get started, the term “low maintenance” doesn’t mean taking the easy way out of having a dog. It definitely doesn’t meant neglecting his needs for your own convenience. On the contrary, a “low maintenance” dog is one that’s well cared for. He’s contented, and doesn’t pace or whine for attention. He doesn’t get upset when you leave the house, or engage in unwanted behaviors. He isn’t anxious or worried, because his life has routine and regularity. He is happy and healthy.
The term “low maintenance” doesn’t mean taking the easy way out of having a dog.
Tip #1: Feed your dog a healthy diet
Choose a healthy, wholesome, high quality dog food, and don’t cut corners to save money. Research his food, and check labels for fillers or other unhealthy ingredients such as corn or wheat gluten, by-products, BHA, BHT, ethoxyquin, food dyes and rendered fat. Buy foods made from whole named meats and fresh veggies. There are all kinds of high quality packaged dog foods on the market now – from dry and canned to raw frozen and dehydrated.
It’s also important to feed your dog on a regular schedule, and give him the same quantity of food each time.
Tip #2: Give him regular exercise
A tired dog is a contented dog. Walk your dog regularly, at least three times a day if possible. Walking not only gives him the exercise he needs, but will help him stay calm – and the physical activity is good for you too! Playing games such as fetch creates a bond between you and your dog. This bond builds trust and affects how well he listens to your commands. Depending on his breed, he might need extra exercise to keep him happy and relaxed. Dogs that tend to need more exercise are Australian shepherd, Labrador retrievers, Weimaraners, Dalmations and border collies.
Walk your dog at the same times every day. He will learn when it’s time to walk and when it’s time to rest.
Tip #3: Make sure he receives good healthcare
- Regular veterinary checkups are vital to maintaining your dog’s health and helping to prevent costly or difficult-to-treat health problems.
- When it comes to vaccination, less is better. You dog should receive the core vaccines when he’s a pup – rabies, parvovirus, distemper and adenovirus. Yearly boosters after that are not necessary, since these vaccines can protect your dog for many years, and possibly even for life (although rabies shots are legally required every one to three years). Ask your vet about titer testing in lieu of annual boosters.
- Taking good care of your dog’s teeth helps him become “low maintenance”. Regular brushing removes the tartar buildup that can cause gum disease. Choose a dog toothbrush or finger brush that gets into those hard-to-reach areas of your dog’s mouth. You can make a safe, natural dog toothpaste recipe with one teaspoon of coconut oil, ¼ teaspoon of ground-up mint leaves or peanut butter, and ½ teaspoon of baking soda. Put a small dollop of this mixture on your dog’s toothbrush or finger brush. Let him smell the toothpaste first, then gently brush his teeth. No-brush dental solutions and gels are available for dogs that won’t tolerate tooth brushing. Your dog’s teeth and gums should also be regularly checked by the veterinarian, and professional cleanings done when and as needed.
- A “low maintenance” dog is free of fleas and ticks. A healthy lifestyle as already described can help boost his immunity and protect him from flea infestations and the resulting skin problems. Essential oils can help repel fleas and ticks and can be a useful alternative to toxic chemical flea and tick products. Be sure to buy pure, high quality, therapeutic-grade oils, and dilute them in an oil such as coconut or jojoba, or water. Two essential oils that prevent fleas and ticks are lavendar and cedar (see sidebar at right). Be sure to apply the oils year round, especially in warmer climates, to prevent an unexpected flea or tick invasion.
Tip #4: Train and socialize your dog
A properly trained and socialized dog will be happy, contented, well-behaved and emotionally balanced – in other words, “low maintenance”! No matter what age your dog is when you adopt him, start right away with some basic training, remembering to only use gentle, positive, reward-based methods. You want your dog to listen to you, and to come, sit or lie down when asked. If you need help overcoming any unwanted behaviors, such the ones mentioned below, enlist the help of a professional positive dog trainer.
Dogs also need to be socialized so they’ll get along well with other people or dogs, and not engage in fearful or aggressive behaviors. Schedule regular doggie playtimes with other dogs. It will teach your dog how to interact with others of his kind, and he’ll be better-adjusted and less stressed out around other canines and people. Again, if you’re having difficulty, consult a trainer or dog behaviorist.
Common unwanted behaviors and how to deal with them
- Separation anxiety — A dog with separation anxiety displays destructive behaviors such as tearing up furniture or clothing when left alone. “It can be difficult to train a dog with separation anxiety,” says dog behaviorist Dr. Nicholas Dodman, one of the co-founders of the Center for Canine Behavioral Studies. “Don’t cater to him with a big friendly greeting when you come home. Teach the dog independence.” You might need to send your dog to daycare to help him learn to be away from you.
- Jumping up on people — Dog trainers suggest the best way to stop this behavior is to ignore it. Because the jumping is a form of attention-getting, yelling at the dog actually encourages the bad behavior. Train your dog to sit when guests come, and reward his sitting with a treat. It helps to role play a guest coming to the door ahead of time, so your dog knows what is expected of him.
- Barking — Dogs bark for many reasons, such as fear, protection or excitement. It’s important to figure out why your dog is barking. If he barks when a visitor arrives, it can signal fear or happiness. Again, yelling won’t make him stop barking. Some trainers suggest saying “stop” or “good dog” will help him know he’s done his job and can stop barking.
Having a dog should be a rewarding and enriching experience. By following these four tips, you’ll enjoy the benefits of a happy, healthy “low maintenance” dog!