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Let’s Talk About Pets

Two-thirds of Americans live with an animal, and most pet owners think of their dogs and cats as members of the family. With so much love out there, we explored what it means to be a pet owner.

Article
Preview Staff
Photos
Courtesy
Posted
May 28, 2019

The gentle nudge of a paw. A friendly chirp. A boisterous purr. A soul-penetrating gaze.

These are the moments pet owners cherish and cling to, that make messes or misbehavior irrelevant because we need their love as much as they need ours. But why? Why can animals — whether they’re furry, feathered or scaled — inspire such deep emotion in humans? And how do they maintain such loyalty despite the broken promises to walk them, the late dinners we feed them and the hours we spend venting to them?

Scientists call it the human-animal bond, an indisputable phenomenon supported by an ever-growing body of research. The average person might call it unconditional love.

They’re not judgmental; they’ll listen to us all day. They’re always happy to see us. It’s a strong relationship where they focus on us and give us everything, which you don’t always get from another person.

Whatever the terminology, this much is true: Animals of all shapes and sizes provide unique benefits to their human companions, prolonging their life spans, improving their moods and helping them navigate challenges.

All the more reason to adopt a nonhuman sidekick in need.

So, sit. Stay. And enjoy.

Choose the Right Pet

Start with a realistic self-assessment. Then, rescue organizations and good breeders can help you pick the best pet.

They say you can’t choose your family, but what if you could? You’d be very careful. You’d think about all the stories you’d hear over and over at all those shared dinners. Or you might think about the cost for orthodontia, college, and surprise charges on your credit cards.

Choosing a pet is similar except they won’t be going off to college. Your pet is more likely to stay home with you when your daughter (i.e., “owner”) goes away to school.

A pet should be a family commitment. When you think about it, your dogs and cats are going to probably outlive one or two of your cars, the job you’re in, maybe even the human relationship you’re in. Many can be with us up to 20 years.

Having a dog or cat can be very similar to having a child. You have to be conscious of your surroundings to make sure your pet is safe, and you need to make sure they’re getting regular checkups, nutritious food, and plenty of exercise.

There is one thing you don’t have to worry about with a pet, thanks to spaying and neutering: in-laws.

If you think a pet makes sense for you, consider these tips:

Can you commit?
Will you have the time to walk your dog three times a day? If the answer is no, and you have no one who can perform those essential tasks, you should stop right here and consider a fish or a parakeet as a low-demand animal companion.

Will your pet fit your lifestyle?
Choosing a pet based on how popular or cute it is, is probably one of the worst decisions people make. Too often, these pets are unceremoniously dropped at an animal shelter when they show themselves to be too high energy, too needy, too intolerant … the list is endless.

Pet ownership is a long-term commitment. Dogs and cats have an average life span of 10-15 years. Would you be able to commit to them for such a long time?

Get to know the breed you are interested in and be open to changing your mind if it doesn’t fit your ability to provide for its temperament. Ask lots of questions from the people adopting the animal out, and maybe even find a breed-specific group to ask questions of some of the members.

Interview veterinarians before the adoption
Before you have settled on the type of pet that will suit you, ask your friends for their veterinary recommendations. A veterinarian can be an excellent source of information to help you choose the best pet to suit your lifestyle and needs. Not all vets are the same, and you want a veterinarian who best matches your needs. Read online reviews of the vets in your community, ask groomers in your area who they recommend, and make interview appointments with them.

Make your home pet-friendly
Did you know that something as simple as chewing gum can be deadly for dogs, or that ibuprofen is toxic to cats? It is highly valuable to go through your home before you bring a new pet home to search out hazards and get them out of the way or out of the house. This includes cabinets at pet level, counter tops, bottles of chemicals on the floor, small toys, electric cords, and curtain cords. And it doesn’t stop there. You will also need to check your home and yard for toxic plants for dogs or cats, and if you carry a purse or bag, you will need to find and discard any potential dangers.

Choose an age and breed appropriate food
Not all pet foods are alike. Some are better than others, and some make claims that are not always backed by facts. It would be easy to grab the pet food bag or can with the most beautiful design on the cover, but that is not what is going to guarantee our pets’ long-term health. From the time they are young until the time they are seniors, your pet food choices should be guided by the pet’s specific needs, life stage, and lifestyle. You can do some cursory research to get a good idea of why it is essential and what to look for, but for the best advice, consult your veterinarian.

Be prepared for an adjustment period
If it’s a puppy you’ll be adopting into your home, be prepared for crying. Yes, just as with human babies, baby dogs cry during the night in their first days in their new home. But unlike human babies, it is not a good idea to take your puppy to your bed to soothe him. The best thing you can do before bringing the puppy home is set up a quiet, enclosed space with a comfortable bed, or a kennel that can close, keeping your puppy secure from wandering. Choose the spot that will be your dog’s permanent spot. During the day, let your puppy have free, supervised privileges to roam around the house to smell everything. This will also be an excellent way to spot any hazards you might have missed on the first go ‘round.

Bedtime for cats is a bit easier. Arrange the kitten’s sleeping area in a secure area close to his litter box so that he doesn’t get lost looking for it, and then leave him to romp around in his area until he drops off to sleep.

Train your pet
If your happy home is going to remain a comfortable home, the house training will need to start immediately after bringing your pet home. If you are adopting a kitten, introduce him to his litter box as soon as you get him inside. If it is a puppy, leash him up and take him outside to start getting to know his neighborhood. A very short walk on the first outing is all that is needed. Begin training on that first outing. When the puppy relieves himself outside, while he is doing it, say, “Go now.” Repetition of this command will eventually make it so that you will be able to take your dog out in any weather without worrying about how long your dog will take to relieve himself.

Select appropriate pet treats and toys
The right treats are essential, especially for puppies. Treats are one of the best tools for behavior training when used sensibly. Experiment with a few different dog treats, and stick with the one that has the highest value for your puppy. Stay practical when giving treats. It is tempting to be liberal when it comes to treating our “babies,” but just like giving candy to a human child, too many snacks can lead to an unhealthy body; even healthy snacks can add up in excess weight.

Toys should be free of buttons, strings, and anything that can be bitten off and swallowed. Stick with rubber balls made for dogs (they’re harder to tear apart), nylon-bones, non-toxic stuffed toys, and ask other dog “parents” for advice on toys that hold up under puppy pressure.

For cats, feather wands are always popular, and a lot of cats are responsive to laser light devices. And don’t forget the old standbys: the catnip stuffed mouse toy and the old boxes. Cats love treats too, so go with the same advice as above and treat sensibly.

Consider spaying and neutering
Neutering, a term that can refer to spay or castration surgery, can typically be done as early as eight weeks of age. Generally, the neutering procedure is performed around four to six months, plenty of time before the animal has reached the age of reproduction. Some people choose not to fix their pet, based on the feeling that the animal will lose its sense of identity (male), that the animal will be missing out on the life milestone of giving birth (female), or that the animal will lose its ability to be protective. None of these reasons are based in fact.

The best thing you can do for your pet’s health is to have him or her neutered. Yes, neutering does decrease aggression in most instances, but it does not make a dog any less protective of his or her human family. And your female animal will not feel less-than for not giving birth. It would be worse for her to have her babies taken from her than to have never given birth at all. She will not know the difference.

Ask your veterinarian for their recommendation.

Outfit your pet with a proper ID
Ensure that your puppy or kitten is appropriately outfitted with ID so that if he should ever get loose — and it does happen to most everyone eventually — you will have him returned safely to you. Have your contact information on your pet’s collar, either on a tag or printed directly onto the collar (the latter can be custom ordered or made by you). A GPS device that attaches to the collar is a smart way to track your pet, but it loses its efficacy when the collar gets lost.

Microchips are the best assurance for identification and need to be used in combination with a collar for the best chance of finding a lost pet. Make a point now of remembering to update your contact information with the company that keeps records for the microchip every time there is a change in your contact information.

Don’t Forget to Consider Less Common Pets

Dogs and cats win the pet popularity contest for many reasons, but familiarity is a big one. Just as people tend to buy brands they recognize, most choose animal companions they know something about. Or at least, they think they know. Shelters are packed with standard pets whose owners still didn’t understand what they were getting into.

That’s why the Humane Society of the United States strongly opposes keeping wild animals as pets. That category includes some that are bred in captivity but haven’t had the thousands of years of domestication dogs and cats have. Given how difficult it might be for people to invest the time, energy and money into caring for them properly, the Humane Society stresses that most people aren’t cut out for a more exotic pet.

However, “exotic” has many definitions. Less common pets can make fantastic companions, provided people are willing to research their traits and requirements before leaping. Here are five creatures to consider:

Rat
Rats have a marketing problem. Because their wild counterparts can cause trouble and spread disease, even the sweetest ones are associated with pests. And their less fluffy, more angular appearance makes them no competition for hamsters in the cuddle department. But their intelligence and highly social, affectionate demeanor make them far superior pets. Rats recognize and respond to the sight and sound of their owners, and they relish hanging out with their human pack.

Chinchilla
These exceedingly soft rodents with roots in the Andes Mountains of South America could be considered high maintenance, but once you understand their routines and show yourself to be gentle and consistent, they can be playful and deeply bonded friends. Their thick coats require a daily dust bath, and cages should be multilevel with plenty of perches and other objects enabling exercise. Just keep in mind that they can live 20 years, so be ready for a long commitment.

Bearded Dragon
They might look like extras from Game of Thrones, but beardies are more like teddy bears than dragons. Their docile nature has resulted in many photos in costume on the internet. Reptiles magazine rates it “one of the all-time best lizard pets” for being as hardy as it is tame and fun to watch. They can grow to be 2 feet long, so make sure you can accommodate a pet that isn’t pocket-sized.

Hermit Crab
Those looking for a pet with serious longevity should consider the hermit crab. The tiny crustacean has been known to carry its shell/home around a well-maintained tank for 30 years, demanding very little and defying the definition of its name. They burrow in the sand, crawl on top of rocks and will even curiously investigate items in the environment. Occasionally, you may also hear a chirping sound from your hermit crab.

Love Bird
This compact parrot fits its name. Love birds bond intensely and crave social connections. They don’t need to be bought in pairs. They can get just as close to humans but will favor another bird if there’s a choice. If you decide to take on the full responsibility for their emotional needs, be prepared to spend quality time — otherwise, you’ll be dealing with a feather child who’s aggressive and jealous.

Effects Pets Can Have on People

Detection of danger
Just as dogs can detect drugs and bombs, they can sniff out cancerous tumors. Tumors emit odors known as volatile organic compounds that dogs can pick up in human breath and urine, potentially alerting people to the early stages of the disease. Cancer-sniffing dogs already are assisting researchers in some science and medical laboratories. And more studies examining dogs’ cancer-sensing skills are underway around the world.

Emotional support
Whenever there’s a natural disaster or mass-casualty incident, photos usually emerge showing first responders and victims cradling cats and dogs. It’s called pet therapy, based on research that indicates the presence of an animal can lower a person’s blood pressure and trigger the release of oxytocin, a hormone that can reduce anxiety and depression. Plus, animals are nonjudgmental, making it easier for people suffering from anxiety, depression or post-traumatic stress disorder to accept their companionship. It’s important to note that while animals can help reduce the symptoms of those medical conditions, they’re not a substitute for proven treatments.

Autism assistance
Autism spectrum disorders often cause social and behavioral challenges that make it difficult for children to connect with other people. However, a study from the University of Queensland in Australia found that animal companionship can unlock social inhibitions in children with autism, making them better at talking, forming bonds and looking people in the eye. A Journal of Pediatric Nursing study surveyed parents of children diagnosed with autism and found that 94 percent of respondents with dogs said their child bonded strongly with the pet. While studies have focused on canine companionship, researchers have suggested other animals may prove a better fit for some children.

Health care savings
Studies have shown that an animal’s presence can yield long-lasting medical benefits for people, improving cardiovascular health, lessening allergies and increasing happiness. Aside from making humans feel better, animals help us save a large chunk of change. Researchers at George Mason University found that pet ownership translates to an estimated $11.7 billion savings in health care costs in the United States every year. The most significant cost saving came in the form of doctor visits: Pet owners visited a physician 0.6 times less than others. The amount of time people spent walking their animals — and decreasing their weight as a result— also contributed to reduced health care costs, according to the study.

Tough Pet Problems Solved: Canines

Dogs may be man’s best friend, but it takes patience and persistence on the owner’s part for a well-behaved pup.

Disobedience
Whatever theories you have about your dog ignoring your commands, it’s likely because you haven’t established yourself as the leader of the pack — even if the pack is just you and him. The dogs are stressed for a reason. The dogs have separation anxiety for a reason. So reassure them: “Hey look, I’m the alpha here. I’m guarding the cave. I kill the meat and bring it home to the pack members. I’m protecting you out on a hunt when we’re walking.” Translating it into the canine psyche and reassuring the dog, “I got this,” is a tremendous relief to the dogs, because that’s why they’re scared; that’s why they can sometimes be aggressive.

Solution:  Make your behavior consistent. And remember that good leadership isn’t based on fear of punishment or the promise of a treat. It’s about the dog understanding that the leader of the pack — you — provides safety and resources.

Puppies being puppies
You can’t train puppyhood out of a puppy — that’s impossible. Manage them and educate them, but you can’t expect a puppy to lie on a couch for 12 hours a day. They’re going to want to play.

Solution:  This is less about changing the dog’s behavior and more about working on your patience with the natural development process. Whether it’s potty training or discouraging the urge to luxuriate on the couch, it will take some time to condition your pup to house rules. Would you expect a human baby to behave like an adult? In both cases, it helps to create a routine and stick to it.

Aggression
Dogs are byproducts of their environment. So while hitting or shocking them might deter lousy behavior at the moment, it can foster tendencies in the animal that might be dangerous. It’s like having a loaded gun lying around. You never know if the dog will act out. If you need training, contact a professional.

Solution:  Learn to discipline without violence. While approaches differ based on circumstances (i.e., separating your dog from a fight at the park versus isolating him if he growls at your young nephew), the general advice is to assert your authority when things get tense. Stand tall, move into the animal’s space slowly and speak calmly in short commands. Let the dog know that you’re in control, and he doesn’t need to defend you against other animals or people.

Separation anxiety
We live in a society now where people work two jobs and 12 to 13 hours a day, so the byproducts of that are stressed-out dogs who don’t have their owners. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) notes that separation anxiety happens more with dogs from shelters than those raised in one home since puppyhood. However, dogs can develop separation anxiety for numerous other reasons, like an inconsistent schedule or a change in residence or household members — maybe you brought home a new baby, or your child went off to college.

Solution:  Find the cause of the behavior and address it. The Humane Society offers some tips: Leave an old article of clothing that holds your scent with the dog, and create as predictable a routine as possible, so the dog has some sense of your rhythms.

Sibling rivalry
If you have multiple pets, they might compete for the valuable resource of your affection, which they connect to food, toys, and other essentials. Unfortunately, that competition can translate to jealousy and aggressive behavior.

Solution:  Take a look at your actions: Are you spending more time with one dog? Do you feed one more often? Did you properly introduce the new dog to the senior dog? The first step is addressing your role, and the second is to try the “nothing in life is free” approach to behavior modification. This teaches the pets that good behavior results in treats or a cuddle session, that prizes can be earned by obeying. According to the Humane Society, such positive reinforcement communicates that you are the leader because you control all the resources.

PRO TIPS:

  • Educate yourself: Read up on common dog behaviors and fixes, though it’s best to stick to one source for advice; otherwise, an owner can turn a small behavioral problem into something much more drastic.
  • Know what you’re getting into fiscally: A considerable part of owning a pet is being financially responsible for it, including annual vet visits and providing quality food, shelter, and exercise every day.
  • Make sure the breed is compatible with your lifestyle: If you live an active life, don’t get a more relaxed breed, and vice versa. Don’t force a square peg into a round hole.
  • People tend to spoil small dogs, enabling bad behavior just because they’re not threatening. Some people let their dogs get away with murder because they don’t associate them with being as aggressive. No breed is born aggressive or dangerous — it’s the human treatment that conditions animal behavior.

Tough Pet Problems Solved: Felines

Some people are convinced cats can’t be trained, that they’re too headstrong. A bigger problem might be the assumption that cats inherently know what we want from them — something we usually don’t expect from their canine counterparts.

Territorial spats
Two cats not getting along is the No. 1 problem many pet people deal with. The cats’ personalities and routines may not be anything alike, yet owners put them together and expect them to share food, space, and attention. A strong dynamic often arises from a poor introduction, meaning humans don’t address signs of aggression when it counts most.

Solution:  Know how to spot aggression and prevent a potential fight, because letting cats battle it out is not the answer. The ASPCA says aggressive postures include a direct stare with constricted pupils; growling, howling or yowling; upright ears; a stiff tail and lowered head. Defensive positions include crouching and turning sideways; hissing or spitting; wide eyes with dilated pupils; and curling the tail around the body while delivering quick strikes with clawed front paws. Stop the fight, then evaluate what got the aggressor upset. If it’s related to territory, try separating the resources, putting identical beds, litter boxes and food bowls in different parts of the house.

Ignoring the litter box
Some owners panic when new pets don’t use their litter boxes immediately. Remember not to assume that the cat just knows what to do with the equipment it may find unfamiliar. More often, the issue is the owners haven’t tried any training. That cat isn’t going to turn around and be the image of perfection overnight. It is a process.

Solution:  The first consideration should be the type of box. Have multiples (two for one cat, three for two cats) big enough to allow turning around and kicking litter over the waste (kittens need low sides to get in and out). Location-wise, choose quiet spots to which your cat gravitates. They are intuitive about learning the litter-box routine, but it helps if you present it right away and place your pet inside after eating, napping or playing.

Standoffishness
Most dogs warm to people quickly, while cats often are characterized as more emotionally complex and aloof. So how do you interpret their body language? They communicate more subtly than dogs. After returning home from work, a dog might run to you, wag its tail or hurl toys your way, while a cat may either ignore you completely or saunter over to gently rub against your leg. There are exceptions to these examples, but they underscore the difference in the energies the two species devote to their social relationships.

Solution:  Don’t force it. The only way to encourage more interaction is to make them consistently positive. Find out what the cat finds pleasant; it may be food, petting on the body, scratching under the chin, or just sitting next to someone quiet. It is equally important to find out what a cat doesn’t like, like petting, a particular scent you’re wearing, or something else it finds offensive. These things would need to be minimized to increase the frequency of the cat seeking out the person.

Presents
Being natural hunters, cats are known to deposit dead or wounded prey around or inside the house. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not an offering to their owners. They’re just indicating that this is home.

Solution:  Cultivate an “indoor cat,” satisfying his need to hunt with toys and puzzles. If you let him roam, put a bell on his collar that will warn birds and rodents.

Urine marking
Cats don’t pee on your belongings vindictively. It’s a way of marking territory, maybe when a new animal or even a person enters the home. It’s a sign of stress in the animal’s living situation or perhaps the hallmark of a problem that needs a vet’s attention.

Solution:  Never punish a cat for urine marking. Instead, give reassurance and try to mitigate whatever caused the anxiety. Make sure to clean the marked areas with an enzymatic solution that will kill the scent. Otherwise, the cat will continue to spray.

PRO TIPS:

  • Work with the cat’s natural behavior not against it.
  • Reinforce positive behavior instead of trying to punish negative behavior.
  • Don’t use water: Spraying your cat may seem like a gentle deterrent from clawing the couch, but why not get a proper scratching post instead?
  • Beware of “door dashing”: A cat’s desire to dart outside whenever you open a door is not balanced with any understanding of the dangers that might be lurking in the busy street.

Paws Pals

For most of us, our pets are family. From fuzzy little puppies to geriatric old cats, our furry friends move into our hearts, our homes, and, for many of us, our beds. We want to give them the best quality of life, and your best ally is a veterinarian. Your pet’s doctor wants to help you and Fluffy to the best of their ability.

One way to help the veterinarian help you is coming equipped with questions. No matter your pet’s stage of life, don’t be afraid to ask questions, no matter how silly they may seem. Your veterinarian would rather answer a silly question then let a problem go unaddressed.

We tracked down a range of pet advice and common questions to help you better look after your pet. If you can’t find what you are looking for or you are concerned about your pet, we always recommend that you contact your vet.

Is this behavior normal?
Whether puppies or geriatric dogs, kittens or adult cats, pet behavior can be puzzling and sometimes it can be a problem. More than 45 percent of pets surrendered to shelters were given up due to behavior problems. Don’t let it get to that point. Whether it’s your puppy chewing on your furniture or your kitten chewing on your toes, you need to know how to stop bad behavior before it becomes worse. In older dogs and cats, behavior changes can sometimes indicate a health problem. Never hesitate to let your veterinarian know about your behavioral concerns.

Is my pet at a healthy weight?
Most American pets are overweight, and obesity can lead to problems ranging from arthritis and diabetes to cancer and more. As Americans, we don’t seem to know what a healthy weight looks like on a dog or a cat. Dogs especially come in so many different shapes and sizes, it’s even harder to tell sometimes whether the dog is lean or chunky. Be especially sure to tell your veterinarian if your pet’s weight has changed without you trying to change it. A sudden weight loss or gain can be a sign of a problem.

What should I be feeding my pet?
This question often follows the weight question, but even if your pet is a healthy weight, you still might be able to do better nutritionally. Science has brought us pet foods specially formulated for specific breeds, sizes, and shapes of dogs and cats, in addition to meals for different ages. If your pet has a particular health problem, they may need to be on a special diet. Always ask before trying fad diets or something new you read about on the internet.

How is my pet’s dental health?
Teeth mean so much more than a pretty smile to your pet. From puppy or kitten to geriatric, you and your veterinarian need to monitor your pet’s dental health to make sure teeth, gums, and bones of the jaw are healthy. A cracked puppy tooth can open the door to a nasty infection and damage the incoming adult tooth. Gingivitis in your adult cat can lead to bone loss. Periodontal disease in your geriatric pet can cause systemic disease affecting the heart, lung, kidneys, and more. Ask about prophylactic dental cleanings and how often your pet should have them.

What vaccines does my pet need?
Vaccines are a tremendously important part of pet general wellness and, in the case of rabies vaccination, is legally mandated. Puppies and kittens have their core vaccine schedule, but once they reach adulthood, you should ask about current vaccine guidelines and when your pet needs boosters. Jake, the farm dog, may need a different vaccine protocol than Lord Fluffypants, the lap dog. Let your veterinarian know your pet’s lifestyle and ask if that makes a difference to their vaccine schedule.

What about parasites?
We worry about external and internal parasites in our pets.

External parasites are things like fleas and ticks. Some preventatives can be taken by mouth, applied topically, or worn as a collar. Be sure to discuss your situation with your veterinarian, things like if there are small children in the house, or other pets which might impact which preventative is best for your whole family.

Internal parasites are things like roundworms or tapeworms. They may not be as apparent as fleas or ticks, but for Rover’s health and comfort, they need to be taken care of. Things to let your veterinarian know about include contact with wildlife or other animals in the neighborhood. Your monthly heartworm preventative will usually do an excellent job of preventing internal parasites as well.

What are heartworms?
Heartworms are transmitted by mosquitoes, and in Oklahoma, pets should be on a preventative year-round. Heartworm disease can cause permanent damage to your pet’s heart and lungs, and veterinarians recommend dogs and cats and even ferrets should be protected. Discuss with your veterinarian whether a six-month injectable or a monthly chewable is better for you and your pets.

How often should we come in for wellness checks?
The common wisdom that every year for a dog equals seven for a human is simplistic and not wholly accurate, but when it comes to physical exams, it’s a good enough guideline. Would you go seven years between doctor visits? Your pet can go from “pre-teen” to “young adult” in a year. It’s even more pronounced with older pets. Two wellness visits a year isn’t too many, even for our younger pets.

Mind Your Pet’s Manners at the Dog Park

There are few things as joyful as a happy dog. Our fluffy friends can make our worst days bright, and in return, we pamper them, buy them treats, adorn them in Halloween costumes and make sure they’re adequately socialized and exercised.

When it comes to filling the activity requirement, Green Country is home to multiple dog parks. With so many options, there’s no reason not to give a few a try. But before you go, be sure to keep the following guidelines in mind to encourage a happy and safe experience.

Pick up the poo
Owners are responsible for picking up after their dog. Many local parks have disposable bags and trash cans specifically for this purpose.

Respect everyone
When dogs fight, it’s typically for territory (think toys) or to assert dominance over another. People, on the other hand, are more nuanced, and every individual has his or her parenting style when it comes to pets. Some are helicopter parents while others have a more laissez-faire approach. At the end of the day, everyone is sharing a common space and must be respectful of other pets and other people.

Pet owners might be legally responsible for their dogs and any injuries or damages that their dog causes. Visitors of the parks — both human and canine — enter at their own risk.

Don’t take an unhealthy dog to the park
Community spaces have the potential to be a breeding ground for disease. Don’t spread the sickness.

Stay alert
Fido should never be allowed to play at the park without an owner nearby. Be aware of your dog’s body language and watch for nipping, barking or mounting. Be sure you are always close enough to your pet to control or protect it. Have access to your dog’s leash and collar to make a quick exit. If your dog continuously pesters others or is being pestered by others, it’s time to leave the park and come back later.

Know the rules
Read the signs posted outside the gates. Each park has different hours of operation and guidelines. For instance, at City of Tulsa-operated parks, no dog more than six months old which has not been sprayed or neutered is permitted within an off-leash dog park, and choke, prong, pinch, and spike collars must be removed inside the park area. At the Gathering Place, no pets other than service animals are allowed in play areas unless otherwise authorized. Leashed pets are allowed on the Midland Valley and Riverside trails during designated days.

No treats
Food often causes aggression and jealousy in dogs, not to mention that some dogs have life-threatening food allergies. It’s best to leave treats in the car so pups can focus on playing with their friends.

No digging
Don’t let dogs dig holes. And if they do, it’s essential to fill them in so dogs and people don’t break a leg.

How to safely intervene in a fight
Even with the most well-behaved dogs, fights do happen, and it’s important to know how to step in safely. Don’t put yourself at risk of being bitten by reaching your hand in the middle of the fight. Instead, distract the dogs with loud noises or whistling. Once they’re distracted, take control and move your dog to a neutral area. Remain calm and don’t get upset. This will only aggravate and excite the dogs further, potentially escalating the situation. Check involved dogs to make sure they’re OK. If there are injuries, exchange contact information with owners, and take your pet to your vet.

918 Dog Parks

  • Biscuit Acres
    5804 E. 91st St. | Tulsa
  • Joe Station Dog Park
    2279 Charles Page Blvd. | Tulsa
  • Waggin’ Trail Dog Park
    8200 N. 91st E. Ave. | Owasso
  • Gathering Place
    2650 S. John Williams Way | Tulsa
  • Centennial Park
    1028 E. 6th St. | Tulsa
  • Guthrie Green
    11 E. M.B. Brady St. | Tulsa
  • Woodward Park
    2324 S. Rockford Ave. | Tulsa
  • Chandler Park
    6500 W. 21st St. | Tulsa
  • Turkey Mountain Park
    6800 S. Elwood Ave. | Tulsa
  • River West Festival Park
    2105 S. Jackson Ave. | Tulsa

Fur-Get-Me-Nots

Have you ever watched a movie or a commercial showing a runner cruising through a park or down a beach with their dog running alongside? The actor or actress usually makes it look effortless to work on their fitness while man’s best friend prances beside them. If you’re an even moderately active person and you have your furry friend, you might have thought, “I want my dog to be my running buddy.”

It looks like fun to get out and stretch your legs and let your dog run off some energy. It’s at least a nice thought. But then maybe you give it a go, and your best bud aims to drag you through the worst run of your life by chasing everything that moves and hustling down the sidewalk at an unforgivable pace. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, and your dog can’t keep up, so he or she shoots you glares from a few paces back while you struggle to get in your exercise.

While running with your dog might look like the perfect way to get some quality time together, there are a few things you should consider. Dr. Chet Thomas of City Veterinary Hospital encourages people to remember that pets are much like ourselves when it comes to conditioning and recovery for endurance activity.

Get a health check
Before hitting the trails with your dog, it’s essential to get a clean bill of health from your veterinarian. Running is a high-impact, cardio-intensive exercise, and unless your dog has been cleared for this activity, he can be at risk for injury — or worse. Joint problems, like hip dysplasia, luxating patellas, and arthritis, can make running painful or even impossible. Good cardiovascular health is also necessary for this intense activity. Your dog’s weight is another factor; overweight dogs will struggle more with running than their slimmer counterparts.

Your dog’s age is a consideration as well. While an elderly dog may be able to do some running, his fitness level will not be the same as that of a younger dog.

Proper training on a leash
Training your pup to walk on a leash should start early on. Begin with little loops around the driveway before working up to strolls around the neighborhood. It’s important for your dog to know that you’re in charge and be taught to fall in step slightly behind your lead. This will be easier to establish at a walking pace before taking them for a run.

Age
While your young pup may seem full of energy, remember that they’re still growing for the first year or two. It is better to wait until their bodies are more settled before allowing them to put in regular miles. “It’s important to get them out exercising early, but not too soon while the bones are lengthening. You don’t want to reconstruct their hips while the body is still growing and the growth plates aren’t yet closed,” Thomas says. “Small little jaunts about a year of age would be OK, and then allowing them to build up their endurance slowly just like we do.”

Not all dogs are born to run
Most mid-size to large breed dogs, specifically breeds found in the sporting, working or herding group, are usually good running companions. Some dog breeds will be better equipped for running short distances, like greyhounds, while others, such as border collies, are better suited to long distances. Other breeds like toy or small breeds will have a more difficult time keeping up with our pace with their little legs. We’re talking tiny Yorkshire terriers, Maltese, or Pomeranians, for example. Breeds that are less ideal running buddies include brachycephalic breeds. These are breeds with flat faces such as English bulldogs or pugs. They can have difficulties breathing even without exercise, so you want to avoid furthering those breathing issues with strenuous exercise.

Paws
Keep in mind the temperature of the pavement. Try laying the back of your hand on the ground. If it’s too hot to leave it there for five seconds, it’s too hot for your dog. However, take your runs to the trails for a softer surface and some shade, or rise earlier in the morning before the summer temps get brutal. As for using any balm on your dog’s feet pre-run, Thomas advises against this. “It’s better to let them build up the calluses naturally to protect against the rough terrain than trying to protect against it with a wax or something that might wear off.”

Recovery
Just like you need more fuel after exercise, so does your dog. Consider feeding them more at mealtime or providing them snacks. “Moderation is key. Just like overeating of any one thing is bad for us, it’s the same for your pet,” Thomas says. “Protein is great for recovery, and you want to stay away from cheap carbs. Lots of fruits and vegetables, too. Some people think that dogs are strictly carnivores, but they’re actually omnivores and should be getting nutrients from plants, too.”

Dog gear
Just like you want the proper shoes and athletic wear, there’s gear to make your training partners’ miles more pleasant for them, too.

Harness versus collar
A collar will put more concentrated pressure on the dog’s throat that can cause long-term damage. A harness will fit more comfortably and allow you more control should you need to restrain them for any reason.

Leash with belt
This item is more for you than for your pup because it allows you to have them connected to you without having to hold on to the leash. Some belts even offer storage for your phone, poop bags, or other items you might need on your run.

Courtesy to others
Running with your dog is an excellent way for both of you to start or end your day; just make sure you’re following proper courtesy on the trail so as not to impede other pedestrians trying to get in their exercise. Be in control of your “team” and make sure your dog isn’t approaching other runners.

More than likely, your first run with your four-legged companion is not going to go smoothly. Don’t be discouraged.

August 2019 Cover