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Tips for being the best dog owner you can possibly be:

  • Spay or neuter your dog. Spayed/neutered dogs live longer and healthier lives. The best age to spay or neuter your dog is right before puberty - five to six months old. Don't contribute to our country's pet overpopulation problem.
  • Keep your dog healthy. Make sure you take your dog to the vet annually and get all of his vaccinations and shots. It's important that your dog eats healthy, nutritious foods and has clean water at all times. Bathe and groom your dog on a regular basis.
  • Tag your dog. If your dog should get loose, he needs proper identification so he can find his way back to you. Your dog should have a tag with your name, address, and phone number. 
  • Exercise your dog. A bored dog is a mischievous dog. Make sure you walk and exercise your dog regularly, which will benefit him both physically and mentally.
  • Keep your dog safe. It's important that you keep your dog safe and not let him run loose around the neighborhood. If going outside, make sure you use a leash in public. In case of a disaster have a pet evacuation kit on hand.
  • Pick up after your dog. If you are taking your dog for a walk, always carry poop bags and scoop your dog's poop. It's not fair to others to step into your dog's waste. Additionally, obey all local ordinances when it comes to licensing, leash requirements and noise control.

Remember that the benefits of pet ownership come with obligations and it is important for pet owners to provide for their pet's needs in many ways. Getting a dog is a serious commitment, one that should not be taken lightly. Make sure to pick a breed of dog that fits in with your family's lifestyle.

Want Happier, Healthier Dogs? Use Food Puzzles

The majority of dogs these days are born retired. Forget working to round up sheep or chase mice, our pets live in homes where nothing is expected of them except companionship. It may seem as if our pets have it made, but without something to do pets get bored, lonely, and destructive, and sedentary pets get obese and sick.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. There’s an easy answer for your pet to be more fit and less bored: food puzzles.

Putting The Brain to Work to Find Food

Food puzzles, or enrichment toys, come in many shapes, sizes, and prices. You can even make your own. What they all have in common is that they require an animal to exercise his mind and body before being rewarded with a small bit of food. This cuts into the time he could be getting into trouble and helps him maintain a healthy weight.

Favorite Food Puzzles

Food puzzles can be super simple or very sophisticated. Here are some that are often recommended by pet-care experts.

1. Homemade Challenge - simple scattering technique. This is easiest way to make your pet work for dinner. Take your dog’s kibble and scatter it in the grass, then let her use her nose to find it. For our barn cats, I separate their meals into tiny portions and hiding the bowls in places where they’ll have to climb and jump to find them.

2. The Kong. Dog trainer Mikkel Becker, is often asked for ways to keep puppies and dogs out of trouble when they need to be left alone. The answer: A Kong toy stuffed with food treats. These toys have long been popular since they’re so durable, and they're hollow in middle, so they're easy to stuff with treats. Mikkel likes to use a rawhide as a “fuse," placing it right down the middle of the hollow section of the Kong with a couple inches sticking out. (I would not use rawhide unless you are going to be there to supervise your dog) Then, she fills the rest of the cavity with kibble mixed with canned food. (For dogs on a therapeutic diet, you can freeze the prescribed kibble/canned product and just leave out the rawhide.)

3. Other Toys for canine Einsteins. Among the leaders in the enrichment movement (and in offering products designed by top trainers and behaviorists) is Premier. The company’s Busy Buddy line is one my pets love. And Sweden’s Nina Ottosson designs puzzles that really put a pet’s mind to the test. She makes interactive toys and treat puzzles for dogs, cats, and other animals, including those that require pets to move blocks, spin discs, and work through layers. Ottosson's toys used to be hard to find, but they're easy to find online and in boutique pet-stores -- even Amazon carries them now.

What Pets Are They Best For?

Not all pets are equally proficient at food puzzles. Take my two “grandpugs,” Willy and Bruce. Bruce rips through the layers of the Ottosson Tornado and then looks up to see what the next challenge will be. Willy, on the other hand, is still figuring out that there may be food inside. Either way, the dogs are entertained and so are we.

Will your pet ace the test? Go to your local pet retailer to check out the latest in food puzzles or just use your imagination (and some kibble) to get started. A happier, healthier pet will soon be yours.

Written by Dr. Marty Becker

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