10 tips for being a good dog parent

In memory of Stevie (2 July 2002 – 24 July 2014)

2014 was a year where I was acutely aware of both the joy and sorrow that being a ‘dog parent’ can bring.  In February, we lost Mina – the hound that started my love affair with dogs and the hound responsible for my change in career.  In June, and completely unexpectedly, we welcomed a young greyhound puppy – Ava – into our home. 6½ weeks later, we said our final goodbyes to Stevie – our beautiful blue greyhound.

Losing two hounds within 6 months of each other hit me hard. It was particularly bittersweet to see Ava bloom whilst Stevie seemed to deteriorate before our eyes – a stark reminder of the relative brevity of our dogs’ time with us.

This got me thinking – what if our dogs could tell us how to be a good ‘dog parent’? Wouldn’t life be simpler then?

So, as a tribute to Stevie this is what I think he would have said about what it takes to be a good dog parent…

1.  Allow me to be a dog

I like to stop and sniff the ‘pee mail’, I might like to dig or chase things, I might like cuddles (or I might not) – provide me with a suitable outlet to do the things that dogs do and don’t make me do things I don’t like (not all dogs like cuddles).

Remember, I am not trying to dominate you or become a ‘pack leader’ – I’m just a dog (for heaven’s sake, I sniff butts to say ‘hello’ and can’t open tins of dog food – definitely not a sign that I want to dominate you and take over the world)!

2.  Remember, you’re my ‘dog parent’

I form strong social bonds with my ‘parents’ and will look to you for guidance.  I expect you to keep me safe and away from harm, provide me with a comfortable bed, nice food and physical and mental stimulation and look after me if I’m ill.  In return, you’ll receive my love and the chance to see me develop into a well-mannered family pet.

3. Don’t punish me

If I do something ‘wrong’ – don’t punish me. I may not know your rules and I certainly don’t know what’s right & what’s wrong. Rather than punish me, think about what you’d like me to do instead and teach me how to do it. If I jump up at visitors, teach me that sitting every time someone comes to the house, is more rewarding than jumping up. If I shred the post, install an external mailbox (I used to love to shred post and then my humans installed an external mail box…spoilsports!) and give me other stuff to shred or things to occupy me like a stuffed Kong.

If you punish me, you’ll only make me afraid of you and less likely to want to do things with you as you will become scary and unpredictable in my eyes.

 

4. A dog’s life is short

Our time with you humans is short. Don’t hang onto or dwell upon past regrets, live in the now and fill life with positives. Stop to smell the flowers/coffee, read the newspaper (I’m told this is the human equivalent of checking pee-mail). Appreciate life as it happens and treasure your moments with your four-legged companion.

5.  When I’m young

Be patient and kind.  I will have boundless energy and I’ll be exploring the world I’ve arrived in.

 

Guide me, teach me and show me how you want me to live with you.  Don’t keep saying ‘no!’  I don’t really know what it means (I know some dogs who think their name is no) and just think you like giving me attention.

Find a good puppy class to take me to. Make sure you socialise and habituate me to all the things I’m likely to encounter in life – pair them all with the good stuff (food) and I’ll learn that all these new things I encounter, aren’t scary at all.

Provide me with safe outlets for my puppy exuberance… I will grow out of it, with your guidance.

6. Do things with me.

Find out what what I like to do. Us sighthounds love to chase fast moving objects – you can make things fun for both of us by playing with things I can chase, like furry toys and flirt poles. Play scent games – did I tell you that my nose is amazing and can sniff out things you couldn’t imagine?

Find a good trainer (like my humum) who only uses reward based, fear-free training methods. Join their class – you and me will learn new things together. Oh, and don’t be stingy with the food reinforcers – think of them as my pay for a ‘job well done.’

Don’t think I’m untrainable or stubborn: I can’t read and I don’t know those words – they simply don’t exist in my vocabulary.

All dogs are trainable – after all, I learned to live with several cats and I spent most of my early life chasing furry things around a race-track! I also learned how to sit, would recall and loved scentwork – all things that (books say) greyhounds can’t do!

7. If I’m afraid…

Don’t let me suffer alone. My fears may not seem rational to you but contrary to popular belief, reassuring me won’t make me more fearful.

I hated fireworks and loud noises but they became more bearable when my humum was there. She provided me with a den, appropriate calming aids,  and more – she helped make it less scary.

8. Be patient

It’s true, patience is a virtue. If I don’t ‘get something’ first time, I’m not being obstinate – take the time to teach me. Just like humans, not all dogs learn at the same rate and we can have ‘off’ days too.

 

9. When I’m old

I’ll need more of your patience, love and care. I may bump into things, toilet in the house, start barking at things that aren’t there, stop and stare into space or simply want to sleep more – I’m not being difficult and I may not know that I’m doing all these things.

Keep a watchful eye on my health and behaviour – if you’re worried, take me to the vet. There are lots of things that can help elderly dogs from nutrition supplements through to exercise like hydrotherapy.

10. Know when it’s time to say goodbye

Let me go with dignity and love.

If you can, be with me at the end and hold my paw or cradle me until I have breathed my last. Know that I loved you, as you loved me and that, despite your breaking heart, you are doing the ultimate act of love.

 

And finally…

If your heart can stand it, open it again and allow another dog into your life. A heart like yours deserves to be filled with the love of many dogs. Provide them with the love and care you have shown me and when the time comes, we’ll all meet again someday over rainbow bridge.

This blog post is a version of a post first published on my personal blog – Diary of a Canine Convert – on 8 August 2014
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