fiveIt never ceases to amaze me how little someone can know about dogs and still wind up with a decent dog. Really, think about it. What other animal, wild or domesticated, can so readily adapt to our crazy, inconsistent, often self-centered ways?

I can hear some of you suggest that cats fit in with us just as well.  I would argue that cats are willing to put up with far less before they’ll try to avoid or escape us. Dogs hang in there through thick and thin.

To help you and your dog hang in there together in better health and happiness, here are five facts everyone living with a dog should know.

1. Dogs actually have fairly delicate digestive systems — at least when it comes to processed dog food.  If you change their dog food too quickly, they will experience gastrointestinal difficulties (including diarrhea). If you want to switch dog food brands, do so gradually, over the course of a week, by mixing small amounts of the new brand in with the old each day, until you’ve fully switched out the old brand with the new. (Click to learn which dog food brands get the highest ratings.) Bottom line: If you’re traveling with or kenneling your dog, make sure you bring along his dog food.

2. Dogs, like people, build up tartar on their teeth when not cleaned regularly. Few people bother to brush their dogs’ teeth every day. So it’s only a matter of time until the vet recommends an expensive dental cleaning that always involves anesthesia.  This procedure may often  be avoided altogether by simply giving your dog a marrow bone (found in the meats section of your grocery store where they sell soup bones) no more than once a week  Stay away from Greenies and other manufactured teeth cleaning chews, because these items can break off in large chunks and cause intestinal blockages.

3. Dogs, like people, have preferences. Not all dogs like each other, and yet many people don’t think twice about throwing different dogs together (whether in their own home or at the dog park), without testing the waters. Yes, dogs are pack animals, but most people are misinformed as to what that means. (Please read this excellent article for the most current understanding of Canine Pack Behavior.)  While being a pack animal makes them social to a point, it doesn’t make them nondiscriminatory.  Be watchful when you introduce your dog to another for any stress signs, such as yawning, licking, hackles raising (often with a wagging tail), etc.  If your dog is letting you know it has a problem with another dog, don’t force the issue or “let them work it out.”

4. ALL dogs will bite. I can’t tell you how many letters I get from sweet people in shock over their sweet dog who’s bitten someone. The question is not if your dog will bite, but what will cause it to bite. To avoid this happening to you, know your dog’s provocation limits and protect it from situations and people that could be triggers. For instance, just because my Graidy is a gentle soul and so far has bitten no one, that doesn’t mean that I’d let a little kid pull his ears or chase him, or allow another dog to bully him.

5. Not all dogs are created equal. Different breeds are bred for specific purposes. And while I know no one who reads here regularly would do this, I find it shocking how many people pick their dogs based on looks without bothering to do the breed research beforehand. Statistically, people will spend more time researching their next computer than they will researching their next dog. One only needs to see the number of dogs in rescue and shelters to know the end result of these often ill-thought out purchases. The best step you can take for you and your family when selecting a new puppy or dog is to understand the differences between breeds.  And then select a breed that fits within your family’s energy levels, property size, and interests. For example, if you’re a couch potato, your life would be made miserable by adding a herding dog, whereas it would be enriched by certain toy breeds.  If you like to keep beautiful laws and gardens, your life will be challenged by adding a terrier and enhanced by a working dog. And so on.

What all these points have in common is that they ask us to educate ourselves, to be better observers of our dogs, and to learn how to respect our dogs’ communication. If we do, we get to be rewarded with our dogs’ lifetime of unconditional love and joyful companionship. It doesn’t get any better than that!