Know Thy Dog

Dog owners, I’ve got some bad news. Almost everything is potentially dangerous to dogs. Google any pet related item or activity, and I promise you’ll find a few horror stories about it. Hit the streets with your dog often enough, and you’ll probably get some unsolicited advice about everything you’re doing wrong. This is why so much of good pet ownership comes down to knowing your dog.

Some dogs have a bad habit of ingesting non-food, and everything from rocks to toys to walls are potentially deadly. These dogs require a vet check to make sure it’s behavioral, and also training and careful confinement and management. A crate or dog-proofed room is probably a good idea for them, and training them to wear a muzzle to prevent them from eating sidewalk snacks might be a good option. Other dogs might panic and try to escape from a crate or small room and injure themselves that way. One size does not fit all dogs.

Many experts will tell you that dog doors are dangerous, and they are, for the wrong neighborhood, yard, and dog. If your fence isn’t secure or your dog is an escape artist or noisy, or your neighbors are a threat, then a dog door is a horrible idea, but many dogs live safe, happy, lives while enjoying the extra freedom a dog door offers.

When I’m trying to make decisions for my dogs, I try to balance their particular habits with their desires, their environment, and the likely outcome. My dogs would like to sleep in my room, but my particular hounds need to be kept apart from my cats, so my bedroom is cat only. I’ve opted not to crate train my dogs because they prefer to have more freedom and my house is set up for that, but if they were prone to swallowing dangerous things or a breed that is likely to require extended crate rest for medical reasons, that would be a bad choice. I let my dogs out in my yard without direct supervision because my fence is very secure and they don’t want to escape, but if they were small dogs that would be unsafe in my neighborhood because we have problems with coyotes.

Picking a chew is one area where it seems like every option is bad, and for some dogs, some types of chews are bad. Plastic chews aren’t digestible so dogs who might chew off a piece large enough to cause a blockage shouldn’t have them. Antlers have been reported to break teeth in some dogs. Rawhide and bone chews have been known to cause impactions and splintered bones are dangerous to swallow. You have to carefully assess your dogs chewing habits and see what they like and can be safe with. Maybe your dog can only chew frozen food-sicles safely. My dogs are allowed to have antlers because they aren’t vigorous chewers and have no dental problems. If I thought they were likely to break teeth, I would avoid them, and if I’m wrong I’ll be responsible for the vet bills.

It can be stressful as a first time dog owner trying to figure out what’s safe for your dog, and sometimes experienced dog owners can have trouble adjusting to the needs of a new addition. This is especially true with puppies and adolescents after you’ve gotten accustomed to a nice, mellow adult dog. Accidents certainly happen to everyone, but by just observing your new dog for a few months, you can be much more confident you’re making the right choice for your pets.

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Laura-C

Hopes to someday train her dogs not to be douchebags.

13 thoughts on “Know Thy Dog”

  1. The dog my roommate and I are caring for (who is meeting TWO sets of new people this weekend!) is an escape artist. She pushed the chainlink fence’s gate out of the way to get into the front yard (and ran to the front door to beg to be let in).

    (Both sets of people have another dog with similar energy levels, fenced-in yards, AND a human at home all day; one set has kids, too. Harley will be so much happier.)

  2. No antlers for us! We have a freakish drive to chew and someone will happily chew her mouth bloody because of the rough spots. Big cow ankle bones are great though. Smooth, fun to suck the marrow out of, and just the right diameter. She loves my parents’ doggy door, and while she has never attempted to go OVER the fence, we do block the gates, because she has been known to attempt to wiggle under things.

    Our biggest problem right now is that she has found out that she CAN chew the soft wood framing our apartment door and front window. She does it only when a certain dog (who now gets pet sat across the hall from us) comes into view from her perch. I’m hoping that window clings will keep her from seeing her triggers and prevent furthering the already terrific damage she has done this week. Crating isn’t an option, because she will actually cry and tear at the crate for HOURS if you leave her in it, but will settle almost immediately if she can have a whole room. I choose to believe it’s claustrophobia.

    Know thy pet is great advice, Laura. I think these columns are great for a way to let pet owners brainstorm together to see if there’s anything that will help someone else!

    1. My dogs are the opposite. Any real bones require a ton of supervision because they resource guard them and then try to swallow them. Antlers and nylabones are fun to chew but not worth squabbling or self injury.

      Huckleberry does like to run around with an antler in his mouth and he might eventually stab me in the knee, but I’m willing to take that risk. :)

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