Tips for new pet owners

SETH DUKES

Newsroom Coordinator


 Getting a new pet is one of the best feelings on earth. That doesn’t mean it’s all sunshine and daisies, though. Maybe your new kitty won’t stop clawing your favorite chair. Housebreaking your new puppy is proving difficult. I grew up raising critters. In addition to the Miniature Schnauzers my mom bred, we had all sorts of animals come and go through the years, and I’ve been on that same trajectory to this day! I am hopeful that, having tried basically every “tip” that is out there, I can provide you some practical advice to make sure both you and your new furry friend don’t get so stressed.

Let’s start with some tips for new cat owners. Research what common household items and plants are toxic to cats. Make sure these items aren’t in a place the cat can get to. When you bring your cat home, they’ll do one of two things. They’ll either want to explore every inch of their new home, or they’ll go hide behind or under something. I adopted a really sick kitten in college once, and when I brought it home, it stayed behind my refrigerator for 2 days. Once he did come out, though, he was very affectionate. Try to be patient because they’re likely pretty shell shocked. Speaking of sick kitties, you’ll likely want to get your cat or kitten to the vet for a checkup as soon as possible. It will give you peace of mind and also make sure your cat doesn’t have any issues that hadn’t been noticed before. While you’re there, be sure to ask the vet for a recommended food. I feed all my cats Purina, but I do have one cat that refuses to eat anything but Meow Mix. Try to get your pet high-quality food. You’d want something nice if you were in their shoes!

One of the biggest worries or complaints about cats is that they will claw up furniture. Cats are definitely going to claw; it’s their natural instinct. Please don’t have your cat declawed. Instead, set up things that they can scratch that are appropriate. My cats love those cardboard cat scratchers. We also have some carpet textures they can scratch on. Occasionally, they do go for the furniture, even still, but I always have a squirt bottle handy. I have found that to be a pain-free way that almost always makes them stop what they’re doing. I rarely even have to use it these days because they run as soon as I pick it up.

Playing with your cat (and your dog, for that matter), is really important. It helps build bonds between you and helps them release a lot of energy. A laser pointer is a great toy for cats because you don’t even have to move, and they love it! Just be very careful not to point it into their eyes. The toys that imitate birds flying, like the sticks with strings and feathers attached to them, are also really great. They tap into the cat’s natural instinct, and they’ll get tired really quickly! I have a cat now whose favorite toys are those Nerf bullets. He loves playing fetch with them.

Make sure to keep the litter box clean. Your cat may decide not to use it if it’s nasty in there, and believe me, you don’t want the cat to do that sort of business anywhere else in your house! I like to use the super clumping litter because it makes scooping a breeze. Give your cat lots of elevated places to hang out. Cats like to be up high.

Now time for the puppers. I could go on and on with tips for these little squirts since that’s what I’ve dealt with the most, but for the sake of brevity, I will try to boil it down to the essentials. Most of these are for puppies since older dogs are more likely to be trained and better behaved.

A lot of the tips for cats translate to dogs too. Make sure that you take them to the vet, and make sure that there’s nothing in the house they could get into, but this time, make sure it’s nothing you want them to destroy. Puppies don’t know the difference between a chew toy and a chair leg unless you teach them. When (not if) your puppy starts chewing on something you don’t want them chewing on, lead them to chew on a toy instead, then give them a treat. I use a clicker to train dogs. The way this works is you click as soon as the dog is doing something you like, then reward. You don’t have to use a clicker; you can just say “good boy” or “good girl” and then give them a treat. You should also give your new pup a bath when you get it home. A good tip is to smear some peanut butter on the wall of the tub. This will keep them busy so they’re not as focused on escaping from the bath.

There are some really simple, but important, tricks you should teach your dog soon after you bring it home. Probably the most important is the “leave it” command, or “stop.” This is important in case your dog is getting into something they shouldn’t, or something that could harm them. You can teach your dog this by catching them in the act of doing something you don’t want them to do. Try to distract the dog with your voice or a toy while saying “leave it.” The moment they look away from the object or divert their attention, click and reward. Continue this process until your dog begins to look away when you just say, “leave it,” then reinforce that behavior with treats. You can use this same strategy to teach your dog all kinds of tricks like sit, lay down, and even speak if you’re lucky. Some dogs aren’t very vocal, and others are. I have a Husky that loves to talk, so it largely depends on the breed and the attitude.

Housebreaking your dog is a really important part of owning a dog. If you bring home a young puppy, maybe around 8 weeks old, accidents are almost inevitable. Invest in some strong cleaners that are safe on either carpet or hardwood, whichever is applicable in your home. Be sure to clean messes thoroughly because, if a dog can smell that it has been there before, it’s more likely to go there again. Since puppies haven’t learned that they need to go outside to go, much less how to tell you they need to go, you’re going to have to do the thinking for them. Taking them out every so often, especially after mealtime, nap time, or play time, and patiently wait for them to go. Once they do, be really excited, praise them, and give them a treat. Pretend like you’ve just won a million dollars. There’s no shortcut to housebreaking your dog. It’s going to take time and patience.

I crate trained my dog. He’s still too young to roam around the house when we’re not there, especially since we have two cats. This was probably the hardest part of training. He really hated being alone at first. The best tip that I have is to never use the crate as a “time out.” Your dog needs to associate that crate with awesome feelings. It needs to be their safe space. They need to love being there. Make it comfortable for them, put some toys in there for them. Be warned, you may need to keep the crate close to your bed for a while if you’re dog barks through the night. Slowly move it a little further away each night. If your dog is barking in the night, yelling at them is not going to make them stop. Your best bet is to invest into some ear plugs. Bake your neighbors a cake and tell them that you apologize in advance, but you’re crate training the dog, so it might get a little loud. Also, keep your dog on a regular schedule. Buddy, my dog, goes to sleep at 9 p.m. almost every night. Huskies are really big fans of schedules and routines, but this is a good habit for all breeds. I also liked to give him a special “crate only” treat when he was younger and first being trained. This could be a treat-filled Kong or a special bone. Just make sure it’s nothing that can hurt your dog when they’re left alone with it.

Finally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to spay or neuter your pets. Not only is this usually beneficial for their long-term health, but it’s also the best way to avoid too many animals on the street, which means fewer animals will have to be put down. I’d also suggest getting your animal microchipped just in case. Keep a tag on their collar with your name and your current phone number and address. Take lots of pictures because, like humans, they grow up too fast!

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