You love your dog – or your cat, ferret, snake, or whatever pet you have. You consider it part of the family. The best way to show your love is to not only give it what it wants – a toy, a treat, a belly rub – but also what it needs.
“Education is key,” Elisa Lafont, our own resident animal expert here at Console & Hollawell, is fond of saying. Elisa, a paralegal in our office and a lifelong animal enthusiast, is a co-founder of the rescue organization Balanced Buddies Res-Q. She and co-founder Melissa work tirelessly to help dogs in the South Jersey area and beyond. With the aid of volunteers and foster families, Balanced Buddies Res-Q places homeless dogs – all kinds of dogs, but particularly pit bulls and bully breeds – in loving foster homes where they can receive proper training, nutrition, and socialization. Working with the dogs in foster homes prior to adoption means that once these dogs are adopted, they won’t bounce around from owner to owner or, worse, shelter to shelter. Instead, they’ll be happy, healthy, and comfortable in their forever homes.
In honor of Responsible Pet Ownership Month, Elisa and Melissa have shared with us their top five tips for making your pets happier and healthier. We’re thrilled to share them with you, too!
Did you think that only the biggest, most energetic dogs need exercise? Actually, physical and mental exercise is crucial for all pets.
“Whether you own a dog, cat, hamster, or lizard, a domesticated pet needs some kind of stimulation,” Elisa and Melissa advise. “Imagine sitting on your couch for a week with no TV, computer, phone, or reading materials, just sitting or lying there. Sure, the first day it would be nice, napping and relaxing. But by the second day, you would be crazy, looking for just about anything to stimulate your mind.” Like us, animals get bored – and boredom can turn into troublesome behavior, like unwanted chewing, scratching, barking, and digging.
For dogs, Elisa and Melissa recommend a good walk every day. No time? Hire a service like Melissa’s The Unmistakable Dog to walk your pet when you can’t so your dog can still explore new sights and smells. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
For pets of all kinds, from cats to hamsters, toys can provide entertainment and both physical and intellectual stimulation even when you’re away. That intellectual stimulation is essential. As little as 15 minutes of training to learn a new trick is more tiring for the average dog than a three mile walk.
2. Quality Nutrition
Pet nutrition has historically been “a very taboo topic,” but it’s time to talk about it. What you feed your pet matters, and making the wrong choice can bring about obesity, behavior problems and long-term health changes that can shorten your beloved pet’s lifespan. Elisa and Melissa recommend seeking out dog and cat food that’s free of corn, wheat, soy, and by-products, and choosing the best quality food that you can afford. In the long run, higher quality food saves you unnecessary vet visits (and bills) and could give your pet a longer life.
“Remember, Supermarkets are for people,” Elisa and Melissa advise. “If you buy your kibble where you can buy people food, the likelihood is that it’s not what is best for your pet.” Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
3. Appropriate Affection
Every pet owner knows that one of the greatest joys of pet parenthood is cuddling with your furry friend (or, for reptile enthusiasts, your not-so-furry friend). While pets enjoy a good belly rub or a scratch under the collar, “the greatest gift you can give them is to teach your pet what makes you happy,” Elisa and Melissa say. Reinforcing positive behaviors, the ones that you approve of, is a great way to show your pet some love.
Giving appropriate affection doesn’t have to be difficult. When Elisa and Melissa’s dogs chew on their bones rather than their owners’ furniture, they’re told what good dogs they are. With praise, treats, and affection, Elisa and Melissa reward their pets for playing with their own toys rather than their owners’ possessions and for sitting quietly in kennels and social situations.
Elisa and Melissa call this game “caught you doing good.” Play it with your pet today! Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
They also don’t reinforce unwanted behavior. Elisa and Melissa give treats to their dogs for quietly behaving in their crates, but they won’t give a treat to stop whining or other needy behavior. It can be emotionally hard not to comfort an anxious pet during a thunderstorm, but remember, your attention reinforces your pet’s anxieties – and that’s not good for you or your pet. “Domesticated pets look for approval from their pet parents in many ways,” Elisa and Melissa say. “Finding ways to let them know when they are being well-behaved ensures that the behavior will occur again.”
Socializing your pet is a key factor not only in their happiness, but in their safety and the safety of others around them. Lack of socialization is a big part of why chaining a dog can be so destructive, and it contributes too often to aggression and dog bites. However, not every reason to socialize your pet is to avoid a negative. Just think how much easier it is to take your dog to the vet when they enjoy car rides and meeting other dogs, or how much more enjoyable a trip to the pet store is when you can bring your dog along and make an event out of it.
“The unknown is scary for your pet,” Elisa and Melissa warn. “Let your pet explore the store, find new things, and maybe even get a treat.” Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
The best way to take away fear of the unknown is to confront it in a welcoming, safe environment. Then your pet will associate going places and meeting new people and other animals with good things, instead of fear.
5. Pet Advocacy
Throughout the ownership experience, pet parents confront an array of challenges. They need to know how to train their pets, what to feed them, how to meet their medical needs, and everything in between – and just as with matters of human wellbeing, guidelines for making the “right” choices are constantly changing as new research emerges.
Even the most respected professionals can’t give expert, definitive advice on every single aspect of pet care. It’s up to you, the owner, to be your pet’s best advocate and to make your pet’s life the best it can be. Photo Credit: Corbis Images.
- When it comes to medical conditions, find a balance between traditional medicine like veterinary care and holistic approaches that can help prevent or mitigate health problems.
- Training your pet is important, but so is how you train your pet. “Training techniques have evolved dramatically in the last 5 years,” Elisa and Melissa say. “It’s important to do your research and ask questions of any trainer or dog walker you hire.” Understand what training methods and tools the trainer will use, and check references and online reviews to make sure the trainer is the right choice for you and your pet.
- Plan for a possibility that you hope will never happen: becoming separated from your pet. While I.D. tags on collars are certainly important, they’re not enough. Tags can come loose and collars can get destroyed. “Micro chipping is the best line of defense in getting your pet back,” Elisa and Melissa advise. Just make sure to update your contact information regularly. The best way to remember? Make it a priority to check your pet’s microchip information every year on your pet’s birthday.
When we talk about responsible pet ownership, too often we focus on the benefits for humankind: things like making animals less aggressive, better behaved, quieter, less destructive, and essentially less of a nuisance to others. In reality, though, the ones who most directly benefit from responsible ownership are the pets themselves. They feel more secure when they understand their world, and that includes recognizing what behaviors their humans approve of and knowing that new experiences and people don’t pose a threat.