Tips to Help Your Canine Feel Divine

By Eileen Mitchell

It's often pointed out that dog is "God" spelled backward and with good reason: both dogs and God are loving and benevolent forces that enrich our lives beyond measure. When we give a little, both provide tenfold in return.

Follow these simple and practical steps to keep your dog happy and healthy.

Eileen Mitchell is a freelance writer from Northern California. Her column, 'Dog's Life' appears every third Saturday in the Home & Garden section of the San Francisco Chronicle. It can be read online at www.sfgate.com.

Make Your Home Harmless

Avoid a trip to Animal Emergency by pet-proofing your surroundings. Remove harmful materials such as pesticides, antifreeze (which dogs find tasty), low electrical cords, and small objects that can easily cause choking. Identify and prevent access to poisonous house plants and outdoor shrubs which include lilies, mistletoe, tulips, oleanders, and rhododendrons. Keep cleaning supplies and medications well out of reach and above all else... Never underestimate the ability of a determined dog.

Exercise On-the-Go

Daily exercise helps prevent obesity and health problems. Exercise also provides benefits such as mental stimulation, toned muscles, improved circulation, and strong bones. Go for walks together. Jog. Swim. Hike. Register for canine classes like Bow Wow Boot Camp, doggie yoga, flyball, and agility courses. There are even dance classes for dogs.

Join in on a daily workout and enjoy the benefits of exercise together.

Avoid the Burning Heat

During hot weather, dogs can suffer from dehydration, heat stroke, and even sunburn. Keep exercise to a minimum and take walks during mornings or evenings. Steer clear of hot asphalt, which can burn tender paws. Never leave your dog in a parked vehicle, even for a few minutes. On a balmy 78-degree day, car temperatures can quickly exceed 90 degree--and that's in the shade with the windows open!

Provide easy access to shade and water, and help keep your canine comfortable, cool, and content.

Teach New Tricks

From fleecy playthings and frisbees to rubber balls and ropey toys, there are dozens of ways to entertain your dog. Select toys that are appropriate for your dog's age and size to keep him interested. Play with your dog. Stimulate his mind. Teach him to shake hands, take a bow, play dead, speak, roll over, high-five, fetch, and jump.

Indulge that canine zest for play and have fun.

Visit the Vet

Annual check-ups help screen your dog for disease and can curtail future illnesses. Your veterinarian will look for signs of changing health, ensure vaccinations are current, do a dental check-up, and identify any abnormalities that may require further investigation. This is also an ideal opportunity for you to garner pet care tips, discuss dietary changes or needs, and learn about simple signs that might warrant attention.

Visit the vet while your dog is healthy to help keep him this way.

Feed Healthy Meals

Have you been down the dog food aisle at your local pet store lately? The choices are overwhelming! Ask your veterinarian for recommendations regarding high-quality brands that are appropriate for your dog's age, weight, and current health. Feed measured amounts twice daily. Avoid people food since many, like chocolate, grapes, avocados, and Macadamia nuts, can be fatal; others can wreck havoc on your dog's digestive system.

Stick with dog food to ensure a balanced, nutritious diet.

Slim and Trim the Weight

You may love your portly pooch as is, but studies indicate that trim dogs live an average of 15 percent (or two years) longer than their chubby counterparts. Extra weight places your dog at greater risk for disorders, disease, and other health problems. Ask your veterinarian about switching to a low-calorie food and offer it only at mealtime. Reduce treats. Take long walks. Play active games like fetch and hide-and-seek.

Help add an extra two years to your best friend's life.

Brush and Groom Daily

Daily brushing promotes good dental hygiene and helps your dog avoid problems such as tartar, gum disease, tooth loss, infection, and bad breath. The good news is, dog toothpastes come in tasty flavors like beef and chicken, and most dogs learn to enjoy having their teeth brushed.

Be sure to use a toothpaste and toothbrush made specifically for dogs--and say goodbye to doggie breath.

Debug Any Small Pests

From fleas and ticks to heartworm and mites, your dog's body can be a paradise for parasites. Use easy-to-apply once-a-month topical products like flea combs, sprays, dips, shampoos, powders, and collars to help prevent fleas and ticks. Regular monthly doses of heartworm medication are effective in preventing heartworm disease, a potentially fatal condition spread by mosquitoes.

Take these preventative measures and help keep your dog bug-free.

Love and Be Loved

Last but not least, the most important tip costs nothing, is readily available, and is easiest of all: Love. Dogs are forgiving, affectionate creatures that care nothing about money, looks, prestige, or fame. All they want is to be near their human, feel their human's touch, and hear their human's voice. Spend time with your dog. Talk to him, play with him, touch him, take him places, and include him in activities.

Make your dog a part of your life and enjoy a place in his heart.

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