5 things every dog needs

According to an ad for dog food, every dog needs five things. It was a little surprising to us how spot-on the ad was. Not that it convinced us to buy their food without further investigation, but it seems the person in charge of advertising understands dogs.

First up – every dog needs nourishment

Kind of obvious, especially considering the source. And so very personal for every family, situation, and dog. We’ll just assume that everyone here does the best they can with the resources and knowledge they have. It’s also a topic that people can discuss forever. Get three dog people together, talking about food. You’ll get at least twice the number of opinions as there are people.  

Comfort is next 

This one’s kind of fun. There are varying levels of comfort. Some would describe it as shelter from the weather, clean water, and enough room to move. Then there are those of us whose dogs have their own pillow on the bed. During the winter our feed fills up with adorable pictures of dogs enjoying the fireplace warmth. With a row of dog beds lined up along the hearth. 

Dogs need companionship

Picture of a Yorkshire Terrier on a chair with head tilted to illustrate 5 things every dog needs

While “pack” theory of dogs has been debunked, dogs are social animals. That’s why most of us don’t remember a time we went to the bathroom by ourselves. Companionship is as simple as being in the same room together, watching tv. It’s going about your life and letting your dog be there. It’s working from home and having a bed just for them next to your work area. And, when you talk to yourself, saying your dog’s name so they look at you and you can pretend it’s a conversation.

Companionship isn’t about having dog friends. If your dog likes other dogs and enjoys playing with them, that’s fine. But you don’t have to feel guilty if that’s not the case. Most dogs only need their people for companionship. You don’t have to look outside the family circle, even if that circle is just you and your dog.

Play is necessary

Dogs are perpetual toddlers. That’s not a bad thing. It just means that they will always be dependent on their people for basic necessities. They’re never going to go to college, get a job, and function independently. As a result, dogs are always youngsters at heart, always ready to play. Even senior dogs have favorite toys, games, and treats

The best thing about having to play with your dog is that you get to play, too. Spending a while just enjoying a game of “Fetch!” is a welcome break from the realities and responsibilities of everyday life. Dogs need to play. Make time to play. You’ll both wind up smiling.

Last but not least: Dogs need a purpose

 A dog’s’ most important purpose is to be your companion. But most dogs love having a “job,” other than just being good all the time. Although we know that’s harder for some dogs than others. 

Having a purpose means that you expect something from your dog. Dogs are incredibly adaptable, educable beings. Stretching their minds, as well as their bodies, lets both of you enjoy a stronger bond and better relationship. Challenging them to achieve enriches their lives. We got involved in training years ago because we saw our dogs being lazy and bored. When you expect more from them, you’ll be amazed what your best friend can do.

Play to your dog’s strengths. Terriers love to sniff. Pointers find stuff. Retrievers fetch. Herding dogs herd. All kinds of dogs originally had a job. When you let them follow their natural instinct for their purpose, they’re happier dogs.

If you have a dog that loves to go sniffing, play scent games. You can challenge problem-solving dogs by playing “find it!” games. Purpose and play go hand in hand. Because everyone, including dogs, learns more and does better when they’re having fun. 

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Dogs and other pets – so happy together

When you love animals, you tend to love all animals. Dogs and other pets just seem to go together.

While we consider ourselves to be dog people, we’ve had lots of different pets. For 17 years we had a cat who lived in the family bookstore. And found out we’re really not cat people. We’ve also shared a home with fish and lizards. A brief pet-sitting stint for neighbors let us know Guinea Pigs weren’t possible – the sneezing didn’t stop the whole time we were in the house. Not mentioning that rodents are…rodents.

Get along fine

Dogs are incredibly adaptable creatures. When raised with other animals, given appropriate time and training, they get along just fine. Our cat didn’t live in the bookstore because the dogs wouldn’t adjust. Merlyn lived in the bookstore because he hated dogs. Cats are not incredibly adaptable.

Picture of a Bearded Dragon to illustrate dogs and other pets

Currently, our non-dog pet is a Bearded Dragon named Diogenes. He doesn’t actually do much. Or rather, he didn’t. Diogenes is about six years old now. And, when we had a bricks-and-mortar store, we only spent time with him in the evenings. He pretty much just perched on his branch (or cot, or hammock) and watched us, or TV.

Now he’s in the office with us. And finds the dogs incredibly entertaining, all day long. He and Simon have a “thing.” Simon annoys one of  the other dogs, then looks up to see if Diogenes is watching. Which he usually is. 

Going by the book

When we got Diogenes, we had no experience caring for a Bearded Dragon. We’d read up on it when we were deciding what kind of lizard to get. The prevailing wisdom said that Bearded Dragons eat bugs while they’re young, but are almost entirely vegetarian when they mature. Experts also said they eliminate daily, and need baths on a regular basis, as well as nail clipping.

Diogenes does none of these things. He won’t eat unless there are bugs. After those are gone, he may, reluctantly, grab a bite or two of his “salad.” We wanted to try him with the Chicken Heart treats, instead of bugs, but that was a no-go. He rarely poops, once a month is frequent for him. He hates getting bathed, but does let us grind his nails, the same as we do with the dogs.

We’re big advocates of common sense. It made no sense to us that desert animals (which Bearded Dragons are) would need to be bathed. So we stopped. And he’s fine. He went on a hunger strike when fed a vegetarian diet, so we gave him back his bugs. He’s still fine. We worried about blockage, since he doesn’t tend to his “business” regularly, but the vet says it’s fine.

Do what makes sense

That’s the point. You’re the one who knows your pets best. None of them goes by the book. As long as everybody’s happy and healthy, don’t worry about “what experts say.” Except us. Always listen to us.

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Dog names and stories

Most people we know put a lot of thought into their dog names. Some have themes. We know someone who realized her Ohio State fandom by giving all her dogs Buckeye-themed names. Lots of breeders will give their litters a theme or a letter to start with. Our own Teddy was one of three puppies – the others were Alvin and Simon. 

Some people wait until they know the dog’s personality. Others just go with the names they’ve always used. Our mother’s best friend always had a Boxer and a Chihuahua. The Boxer was always Mitzie. The Chihuahua was always Caesar. Regardless of gender. 

Ever use it?

The funny thing about dog names is that despite all the careful consideration – most people rarely use them. Dogs have nicknames, theme songs, and respond to “good girl,” or “good boy” regularly.

And, just like with people, we use nicknames as a mark of affection. Back in high school, Hope had a habit of nicknaming just about everybody. She’s never been good at remembering people’s names. It wasn’t particularly conscious, and she had no idea the impact it would have on those people. But a couple years ago she connected with a friendly acquaintance from school, who told her how much it meant that Hope gave her her very first nickname. It wasn’t particularly creative, but it meant something. 

That’s the point. Nicknames are a sign of affection – a way of connecting that strangers don’t have. It means “I know you.” Dogs also suffer the indignity of middle names. These are only aired when they’ve been naughty. Just like your mother used to do with you.

How many nicknames?

A black, rough Brussels Griffon dog with a gray beardlying down to illustrate dog names

And the longer you have a dog, the more nicknames they get. Tango, Fran’s Brussels Griffon, is the oldest dog here at 13, breaks the rule. But his personality is such that he doesn’t have many nicknames. He’s also always had “selective” hearing – so calling him by name, repeatedly, is usually the only way to get his attention. 

Torque, Hope’s French Bulldog, has the most nicknames – probably because Hope just can’t stop. He’s Tor-Q-Bear, Torklet, Tork-a-licious, etc. Fran usually just shortens it to Q-bear. The “bear” bits stuck because his feet look, to us, like little bear paws. And that’s how a nicknames gets started.

This, despite the fact that our dogs’ names were carefully chosen to be used in dog training and dog sports. Where your dog has to hear you across a large space, so no “soft” names. And the name has to be short, so you can yell it when you’re running agility. So they don’t forget them, every once in a while, we call them by their actual names.

What are some of your dogs’ nicknames?

One of the problems with naming, or nicknaming your dog creatively is that most people, even dog friends, will never know about it. The cleverest dog name here was Hope’s French Bulldog girl, Dax. And for the Star Trek fans out there – her registered name was “What A Trill.” If you groaned, thank you.

So we’re asking – what’s your dog’s name? And nicknames? We want to hear the stories, the themes. And the really bad puns!

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Making the best dog decision

One of the most profound responsibilities we take on as dog owners is, literally, life and death. How do you know you’re making the best dog decision? 

We’re not talking about euthanasia today. Instead, it’s the incredible uncertainty of making treatment decisions that not only impact your dog’s longevity, but quality of life as well.

Faced with choices

A friend of ours is going through it right now with her dog. The dog is nine years old, and just had surgery to remove a lump that, unfortunately, turned out to be her third mast cell cancer. Now our friend is facing some tough choices.

The veterinarian who’s a surgical specialist wants to do another surgery to make sure all the cancerous tissue is removed. A general veterinarian did the initial surgery and did get “clean margins.” 

Another veterinarian who’s an oncologist wants to use both radiation and chemotherapy to treat the dog.

To make matters more confusing, my friend’s daughter is a veterinarian. She told her mom that radiation is often very hard on dogs and affects their quality of life.

Of course none of them can predict a positive – or negative – outcome of their recommended treatment. 

Even more complex

Added onto all this, our friend is also into natural health and wellness. She’s a yoga instructor and conscientious in her diet and lifestyle. 

Not to mention that with the resources available today, she’s been researching all the possibilities of treatment, including dietary supplements, additions, and possible triggers for this type of cancer.

It can get overwhelming. What’s the right thing to do for her dog? All of the professionals she’s consulted are making recommendations based on their expertise and interest in helping her dog. All are acting in good faith. And all of them want to cure her dog. But all of them advocate for what they know best. 

Step back and breathe

Picture of two French bulldogs in the sun to illustrate dog decision.
Our dogs enjoying the sunshine at our shop.

Our friend really just needed an opportunity to talk things out, think about her choices, and her sweet dog. We’ve been friends a long time through our mutual interest in dogs and dog training. There is no “right” answer that will guarantee her dog’s longevity or health. When we first started to chat, she sounded pessimistic, as if she was expecting her dog to die any time. And then she looked over and saw her dog happily snoozing in a ray of sunshine, and realized there’s still time.

We talked over lots of options and our friend has pretty much decided what’s right for her and her dog. She’s decided to do everything that will do no harm. The supplements she’s trying may not help, but won’t hurt. For now, she’s ruled out additional surgery and radiation. Her dog has had one chemotherapy treatment and dealt with it well, so she’ll stay the course as long as that holds true.

Results not guaranteed

With our dogs unable to tell us how they feel, all dog owners take their cues from the dog’s attitude and behavior. It’s up to us to read the signals and figure out what’s going on with them. It’s not easy, especially since we never know if we’re making the “right” decision. It boils down to choosing the best you can. And living with the consequences. 

When faced with difficult choices, step back and breathe. Talk to friends and family as well as the experts. Do some poking around reliable online sources – but make sure those sources are reliable. And then make the best dog decision you’re able. 

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