Whether you’ve just adopted a new puppy or you’ve had dogs your whole life, there's bound to be something in this list of dog care tips that you didn't know - but should.
As someone who's worked in animal hospirtals for 10+ years, and an avid #doglover, I promise this massive list of 39 dog care tips will help you be a better pet parent.
Here's what you'll find:
- Dog health tips
- Housekeeping and puppy-proofing
- Exercise and mental stimulation
- Winter care
- Summer care
- Dog safety
Dog Health Tips
1. Don't overfeed your dog, it will significantly impact their health and happiness
More than 50% of dogs in America are obese and this number is on the rise. Overweight dogs are at increased risk of metabolic abnormalities, cardiovascular disease, joint diseases, a lowered immune system, and many other health problems. They also are less mobile and can’t run, play, or do other activities as much as they’d like. Do your pet a favor, feed them the amount recommended by their vet and don’t give in to those puppy dogs eyes when they ask for more!
2. Touch your dog’s nose
Your dog’s nose should feel wet. The level of moisture will vary between dogs and by time of year, but a healthy dog will have a cool and slightly wet nose because dogs secrete sweat through their nose to cool down.
3. Make annual vet appointments
Let the experts examine your dog regularly to screen them for any health issues and to provide you with the best, personalized information to keep your precious pup healthy for many years.
4. Make a "pet first aid" kit
Accidents and emergencies happen and being prepared with all the essentials to help your dog is a crucial step in being a responsible pet owner. This is especially important if you take your dog out hiking or camping, whenever you may be far away from help. A DIY pet first aid kit is something every dog parent should have.
5. Get pet insurance
Emergency and unexpected accidents and illnesses often cost $800 to $1500. With as many as a third of pets needing emergency care per year, this can quickly become a financial burden. Pet insurance can help to cover these unexpected costs, prescription medications, long term health conditions and more, making it an important investment for the furry members of your family.
Pro Tip: Explore the pet insurance marketplace on Pawlicy Advisor.)
6. Brush your dog’s teeth
Brushing your dog’s teeth is often overlooked, but hugely important to their overall health and avoiding expensive dental treatments in the future. Make this a part of their normal routine and make sure to use a toothpaste made specifically for dogs. With a little bit of time and training, teeth brushing can be a fun activity for your pet every day!
7. Have an emergency plan in place
It’s not pleasant to think about, but it’s crucial that you have a plan for your dog in place should anything happen to you. Make a list of important information about your dog’s lifestyle including how often they’re fed, how much they’re fed, medications, their vet’s phone number, etc. Give copies of this to someone in your life that could take care of your dog in the case of an emergency. It’s also worth your time to ask around and make sure you have at least one or two people who live close-by that could help your dog on short notice.
8. Play with Purpose
When petting and playing with your dog, especially when they are young, intentionally play with their feet, ears, and mouth. By doing things like touching their feet, toes and nails during positive play experience, you will desensitize them to being touched in these areas when its time for nail trims. Looking in their ears and mouth and getting them used to being handled in this way will make it much easier for your vet to examine your dog when they go in for check ups. This will make your vet’s job easier, your pup will be less stressed during their exam, and your vet will be more likely to catch any abnormalities in the event that there is something wrong with your dog.
Housekeeping and puppy-proofing
9. Keep your trash secured
Dogs are drawn to the delicious smell of your trash and may eat things that are toxic, harmful, or not digestible , so make sure your trash is secure. Ingestion of foreign objects or toxic substances could lead to costly emergency surgeries.
10. Give your dog a safe space
Have a temperate area of your home with your dog’s bed or blanket, some toys, and a water bowl, where your dog feels safe and can easily take naps during the day. This can help your dog to self-soothe during stressful situations, like parties, a baby crying, or thunderstorms. If your dog was crate trained as a rescue puppy or when joining your family, keeping their crate open and available even after they no longer need it for training may provide them with a perfect place just for them that they’ll love to have.
11. Lock up household toxins
Always keep your household chemicals, such as cleaners and pesticides, out of reach from your dog. Many clever dogs can and will get into products kept under the sink or in the garage. Try using baby proof locks to seal cabinets with toxic products.
12. Regularly wash your dog’s things
Germs, dirt, pollen, and more end up on your dog’s bedding, soft toys, and blankets. Make sure you’re washing these items weekly to keep them fresh and clean for your dog. If your dog suffers from seasonal allergies, this can be especially helpful in reducing their pollen exposure.
13. Keep your dog away from human food
Many human foods, such as chocolate, avocados, or onions, are toxic to dogs and can have serious ramifications to their health. Keep human food out of reach and be especially careful with gum and candies, as many contain xylitol which is a sugar-like substance toxic to dogs. Don’t feed your dog human foods on purpose unless recommended by your veterinarian. Some human foods, like plain chicken, canned pumpkin, or plain rice may be recommended intentionally by your vet for specific reasons such as digestive upset, diarrhea, to help hide oral medication or as highly motivating training treats in small quantities. In these instances “human food” may be appropriate for your dog, but they certainly don’t need to lick your dinner plate clean or eat your leftovers.
PRO TIP: For a comprehsive checklist of everything you need to "puppy-proof" your home, download the free puppy checklist.
Exercise and Mental Stimulation
14. Walk your dog for both their health and happiness
Regular walks provide many benefits for your dog, including preventing boredom, helping the digestive tract, keeping them at a healthier weight, and helping them to burn off excess energy. By giving them a constructive outlet, you may find bad behaviors, like chewing, barking or digging, decrease too.
15. Fight boredom by adding variety
Break up your dog’s normal routine by adding in extra walks or outings. Take them to a dog-friendly place or drive-in for a change of scenery. Take them on errands with you and switch up their toys to keep them mentally stimulated.
16. Challenge your dog mentally
Just like us, dogs need plenty of mental stimulation to stay happy and healthy. Give your dog a puzzle toy, teach them new tricks, and play new games with them to keep them engaged. Puzzle toys are a fantastic way to give your dog something fun to do when you can’t devote 100% of your attention to them.
PRO TIP: This is extra important while social-distancing with your dog.
17. Slowing down a super eater
If your dog or puppy eats their meals very quickly they increase their risk of having stomach issues or upsets that may lead to vomiting. Slowing down your dog’s eating is good for their digestive health and can be done easily. One option is to buy a puzzle feeder from a pet store or online. Alternatively, a cheap easy solution is just to put a large tennis ball in their bowl. Both the ball or puzzle toy will work similarly making your dog have to work around the inedible obstacle to eat their meal.
18. Exercise together
Race your dog in the park, try dog yoga, climb stairs with your dogs, or take them on an adventurous hike. You’ll both reap the benefits of exercise as you have fun together.
19. Be a friend to your dog
Dogs need love and affection to thrive. Make sure they’re spending plenty of time inside with you and your family. Give them attention, treats, and play games with them.
20. Have patience with them
It can be challenging when your dog acts out or isn’t picking up on a new training technique, but with some grace and patience, they’ll be more likely to continue trying. If you’re feeling frustrated, take a break from training and consider consulting your vet or local training professional. Dogs are very good at reading our body language and won’t respond well to training if you are tense or angry.
21. Hang out with them while they eat
Dogs are by nature pack animals and you’re their pack. Stay near them when they eat and make this an ongoing communal act. Picky eaters might also show more interest in their food when they see you take an interest.
22. Applaud your pet when they successfully relieve themselves outside
Potty training can be difficult, especially with stubborn dog breeds. Applaud and cheer your dog on when they go outside and do their business every time and they’ll eagerly continue this behavior until it becomes a habit. For dogs who are learning to be house-trained, bring treats outside with you and immediately reward your dog after they finish peeing or pooping somewhere you approve of. If you do this every time, and take your puppy out frequently enough (including after every meal, after every drink of water, and at least every 4-6 hours) house breaking will be significantly easier.
23. Make training a game
Switch up the treats, rewards, and praise. If they view training as a game, rather than something they are scolded during, they will have more fun and you’ll see better results. You may also find that your dog responds better to different types of rewards through this process. When training, always reward positive behavior with treats, a clicker, pets, and/or verbal praise and simply ignore bad behavior. They will learn if they want a reward they must do what you’ve asked of them.
24. Consistent training is key
Decide what the “house rules” for your dog are and stick with them! Will your dog be allowed on furniture, in all parts of the house, or around the family during dinnertime? Stick with the same training commands and rules while training your dog to prevent confusion. Make sure all members of your family are on the same page and agree to consistently abide by the rules to avoid confusing your pup or perpetuating bad behavior.
25. Immediately correct bad behavior
Dogs have a short memory and if you scold them for doing something wrong five minutes later, they will not correlate the scolding with the bad behavior. Reprimand them only if you catch them in the act. On the other hand, always give your dog positive feedback and rewards right away for good behavior to encourage the repetition of this behavior.
Winter Care Tips
26. Moisturize your dog’s paws
Cold weather can cause your dog’s paws to crack due to the dry air. Try moisturizing your dog’s paws with pad moisturizer products topically to relieve the discomfort especially if they seem raw or painful after your pup has been outside.
27. Limit their time outside
Dogs are susceptible to getting frostbite, especially in their paws, ears, and tails. Even dogs with thick fur coats should not be left outside for long periods of time in chilly weather. When you start to feel chilled, take your dog inside with you because they are probably feeling cold as well.
28. Beware of ice and winter salt
Both ice and winter salt on sidewalks can cause your dog’s paw pads to develop cracks or burns. Wipe your dog’s paws off after any venture outside and watch to make sure they don’t try to eat salt off the ground or lick it off their paws. If this is causing your dog consistent discomfort, consider investing in a pair of dog booties to protect the sensitive skin on their feet. They also make pet safe salt for drive and walkways that you can use around your home. Pet safe salt is non-toxic to pets feet and not harmful if they accidentally eat any of the salt.
29. Consider getting your dog a sweater
Many dogs have thick coats to keep them warm outside even in the coldest months, but not all of our pups have enough fur to brave the cold. Any dog can get hypothermia, and depending on where you live, and your dog’s breed, your dog may benefit from a coat or sweater during the winter. Some early signs of hypothermia that would indicate your dog might benefit from an extra layer of insolation include shivering, rapid breathing, ears and feet being cold to the touch, increased urination, and hair standing on end. Many dogs love winter coats or sweaters; they’ll look cute and have even more protection for wintery playtime.
Summer Care Tips
30. Keep your dog cool
Dogs don’t sweat like us. Instead of sweating all over their body as humans do, they sweat through their paw pads and rely on panting to release heat. Giving your dogs access to shade and a way to cool down like a kiddie pool filled with water or ice as a great way to allow your dogs to safely enjoy the outdoors in warmer months. Monitor them closely during hot weather and bring them inside if they are panting excessively to prevent heat stroke, stress, and dehydration. .
31. Provide them with a constant water source
Dehydration is incredibly dangerous to dogs and can happen quickly. Make sure your dog has easy access to clean, fresh water throughout the day both indoors and outdoors. Take note if they are panting excessively, lose interest in eating, or have a dry nose. Be sure to reach out to your vet if you notice these or any other unusual behavior from your dog during heat waves.
32. Avoid Toxic Algae
Algae, if ingested, can be harmful and in some cases fatal for dogs. It’s tempting to take your dog to the pond or lake during the hot summertime, but always check with your local Parks and Recreation department for any environmental warnings about toxic algae, water treatments, or harmful pesticides in and around the water first.
33. Watch their feet
Dog’s paw pads are sensitive to heat and can be burned when walking on hot surfaces. If you can’t comfortably place your bare hand or foot on the hot ground outside, the surface is too hot for your dog to walk on. In these cases, opt for grass, dirt, or covered paths when taking your dog out.
34. Never leave your dog in the car
The inside temperature of a car can quickly become hazardous or even fatal to your dog. Never leave them unsupervised in your car, even with the windows cracked, as they can easily succumb to heatstroke. Even when the temperature is only 70 degrees outside your car will be over 100 degrees in 20 minutes. Cars can reach fatal temperatures in minutes in the summer.
35. Never let your dog ride in the back of your truck
Approximately 100,000 dogs die from riding in the flatbed of a truck each year, whether this is from falling out of the truck bed or being hit by debris. This does not account for the many others injured in other types of vehicles. Please keep your dog inside the car with you, ideally restrained in some way. Depending on your dog's size, temperament, or the length of your drive you can safely keep your dog in a crate or carrier as long as it is secure and cannot slide around your car in the event of a sharp turn or accident. Alternately, you can keep your dog safe by buying them a seat belt attachment that buckles directly to their harness which would keep them securely in the seat. If you have any questions about where is safest for your specific dog to ride in the car you can always consult your veterinarian.
36. Keep an ID tag on your dog at all times
You never know how important an ID tag is until you become separated from your dog. Take the time to have an ID tag made up with your phone number, dog’s name, and vet’s phone number. Make sure this information is kept up to date.
37. Microchip your dog
Accidents happen and dogs can get loose from their collars. If your dog gets lost but is microchipped, a veterinary hospital or animal shelter will scan all found pets for microchips and can look up your personal information and get in contact with you if your dog has one. In the worst-case scenario, a microchip will also prove ownership of your dog if they were stolen. They are inexpensive, and as painless and easy as giving a vaccine.
38. Keep your dog on a leash at all times when in public
Even the most obedient dog may take off running if they see another dog, human, or animal. Be responsible and keep your dog leashed in public places to avoid losing your dog or having any accidents or injuries such as dog fights, vehicle impacts, or other physical harm.
39. Consult your veterinarian before trying new foods or medications
Diet or medication changes can cause several health issues for your pet if not done properly or with the instruction of your vet. You know your pet best and want to give them the best food, supplements, and necessary medical treatment possible. The best way to do that is to consult your veterinary team about any changes you’d like to make and why. That way your vet can make sure you’ve got a safe product and plan, as well as note the change in your pet’s medical records in the event your dog ever gets sick or injured, your vet will have the most accurate up to date information on your pets health and lifestyle.
Take good care of your pup
Quality health care for your dog is one of the most important areas to love and support your dog throughout their life, from puppy to senior. Download the new puppy checklist for an easy pdf you can save.
I also strongly recommend you consider pet insurance to hedge the financial risk that you dog might injure themselves or get sick. There is nothing worse than not have the resources to treat an animal when you have the knowledge and means. Because there's so many pet insurance options on the market, explore Pawlicy Advisor's marketplace to see plans from top companies side-by-side and get personalized guidence.