Caring for your dog

Pets

The health of your dog is important so here are a few tips to help keep them happy.

Woman gets licked on face by brown dog.

Dogs need a considerable amount of ongoing care and companionship to stay happy and healthy.

Daily exercise

A steady flow of mental and physical stimulation is essential to a dog's wellbeing. If they don't get it through regular play, walks and exercise, they may vent their frustration through bad behaviour.

Some breeds need much more exercise than others, which is why research is so important. Making an informed choice can set you and your newest family member up for a happy and rewarding life together.

Find an off-leash dog park

As a dog owner, dog parks offer a great chance to socialise and meet other dog owners, and to get some exercise with your best mate.

Off-leash dog parks allow your dog the freedom to run, play, sniff and chase without restraint. Regular visits are great exercise for your dog, and can also help to reduce behavioural problems.

While you're at work

With Queensland's hot and unpredictable weather, you need to have certain protections in place for your pet. Access to cool, clean water and plenty of shade is an absolute must throughout the year.

If you're leaving your dog outside, make sure your fencing is secure and high enough so they can't get out of your yard. You might also want to consider a doggy door so they can let themselves in and out of your house when you're not there.

If your dog is digging or chewing things around the house, boredom is the likely cause. Toys and raw bones are a great way to help keep your dog occupied and also helps maintain their dental health.

Feeding

Dogs need a balanced diet of age-appropriate food to stay healthy and happy. We recommend you ask your vet for advice on what to feed your dog as different breeds can have different needs.

Dogs tend to respond well to routine. Try to keep their meal times consistent and avoid giving them regular snacks, especially human food. If you do feed them your food, you may find they never leave you alone when you're eating!

Grooming

It's important to research the needs of your pet as some breeds need extensive grooming, while others need very little. Some general guidelines are:

  • Nails. Dogs' nails may require regular trimming, depending on how much outdoor activity they're getting. Your vet can help you with this, or show you how to cut their nails yourself. Do not attempt to cut your dog's nails without instruction as you can cause them pain or cause an infection.
  • Coat. Most dogs (particular those with longer hair) will need regular brushing, and it's usually recommended to give your dog a bath around once a month. Shampooing too often can strip natural oils out of their coat.
  • Teeth. Keeping your dog's teeth clean can help prevent expensive dental work. You can use a canine toothbrush/toothpaste to brush their teeth yourself, or give them raw meaty bones which help clean their teeth naturally.

Worming, fleas and ticks

Queensland's tropical environment is perfect for fleas and ticks, so it's essential that you check your dog regularly if they are outside. Ticks are especially prevalent in spring (September-November).

Tick collars and some liquid medications can help defend your dog against ticks. You can also help prevent fleas and/or ticks from making a home in your yard by keeping it free from excessive bushes and long grass.

Learn how to identify ticks and call your vet immediately if you suspect your dog has a paralysis tick. Find out more about Ticks.

Vet checks

Taking your dog to the vet once a year (or more regularly for senior dogs) helps to keep your dog's vaccinations up to date and identify any potential, developing issues.

If you suspect something might be wrong with your dog, visiting the vet early could help prevent a much bigger issue later.

Dog vaccinations

The best way to protect and shield your puppy or dog from potentially serious diseases and illness is to have them vaccinated. Contact a vet near you to check the vaccination schedule for your dog—it depends on your dog’s age or health, and where you live.

Dog vaccination schedule

6-8 weeks

  • Kennel Cough
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Canine Hepatitis
  • Canine Distemper

10-12 weeks

  • Kennel Cough
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Canine Hepatitis
  • Canine Distemper
  • Leptospirosis—only for north Queensland dogs

14-16 weeks

  • Kennel Cough
  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Canine Hepatitis
  • Canine Distemper
  • Leptospirosis—only for north Queensland dogs

Did you know: you can take your puppy out in public areas 10 days after the 14 week vaccination.

Annualy

  • Heartworm
  • Kennel Cough

Annual or every 3 years

  • Canine Parvovirus
  • Canine Hepatitis
  • Canine Distemper

To maintain immunity, adult dogs require some booster vaccinations annually, while some vaccines are only needed every three years. Your vet will often send you a reminder when your dogs’ vaccinations are due.

Puppy training

Every dog is different, so their puppy training needs and learning speed will vary. To make sure your puppy has "manners" will take time and, above all, your patience.

House training your dog

House training your puppy or dog, also known as toilet training, is one of the first things you should do once they arrive home.

It generally takes a couple of months to successfully complete this type of training, but the benefits are well worth it—for both you and your dog.

Reward-based puppy training

Your dog's house training should generally be reward-based, with positive reinforcement used.

You can teach your puppy to go to the toilet in the right place by rewarding them immediately in a positive way. Reinforcement might include:

  • softly praising, petting, or comforting your dog
  • giving them a food treat or a favourite toy
  • ignoring failed toileting attempts.

Outside time for puppies

Your dog will need lots of outside time to avoid 'accidents' in your home. Puppies will need to wee every 1-2 hours, and especially:

  • after they wake up in the morning, and before bedtime
  • within 15 minutes of drinking.

Watching your pet

Try to watch your pup as much as possible to avoid accidents inside—if you can't watch, make sure it's in a safe place that can be easily cleaned (like a tiled bathroom/laundry, or outside if fenced).

You should never leave your puppy or new dog unsupervised in your home.

Obedience and behaviour training

The Animal Welfare League of Queensland (AWLQ) provides easy to understand guides on how to best manage your dog's behaviour, including how to:

  • stop destructive behaviour
  • manage aggressive dogs
  • deal with separation anxiety

Dogs around children

Kids and babies should not be left alone with dogs, or even puppies.

How to stop your dog barking

Why do dogs bark?

Dogs usually bark for one or several of the following:

  • Boredom
  • Habit
  • Protection
  • Communication

If you've got one dog at home and you're at work all day, your dog may bark out of boredom and to protect the home. If you've got two dogs, one could be barking to entice the other one to play.

Look at your dog's situation; are they alone all day? are they protective of your home? If we find out the reason why they're behaving this way, then we can work at fixing it. Different breeds of dogs are also more prone to barking than others, so while you may be able to limit it, some are just more talkative than others.

Barking out of boredom

If your dog's barking because they're bored, consider ways you can keep their mind active:

  • Limit your time away from the house by working days at home
  • Ask someone to visit the dog during the day
  • Consider getting another dog for company

Habitual barking

While more difficult to stop, you can use similar techniques to stop your dog barking out of habit:

  • Consider getting another dog for company
  • Ignore your dog when it's barking so you're not reinforcing the behaviour
  • Speak with your vet about cruelty-free barking collars or sprays

Protecting the house

Dogs often bark when they anticipate a threat near their house. They're usually barking to either warn off the threat or to let their owners know.

The following steps can help calm your dog.

When you're at home:
  • Stay calm
  • Take your dog with you and go and investigate (even if nothing is there)
  • Place your dog on their bed or somewhere else they feel safe
  • Go back to what you were doing

Showing your dog there is nothing to fear will calm them down. It's important not to show any affection or aggression to your dog when they're protective barking. Both patting and yelling at your dog is reinforcing this behaviour.

If you're away from home:
  • Limit their freedom. Give them access to one part of the yard, preferably the back yard so they won't bark at passers-by or cars
  • Give them plenty of toys
  • Leave items with your scent on their bed and consider leaving a soft radio playing
  • Speak with your vet if you're concerned about separation anxiety or stress

Barking to communicate

One of the main ways dogs communicate is through barking. If your dog is barking to say hello, this is normal. This type of barking usually isn't bothersome, it's short lived and it's coming from a happy dog.

If you're concerned they're overly enthusiastic when they say hello, ignore your dog until he/she stops barking. Once they have calmed down, then you can pat them. Your dog will quickly learn they get rewarded when they're calm and content.

How to stop a dog from barking

You can reduce most types of barking by:

  • Exercising your dog early in the morning
  • Keeping your dog active with games. Try hiding their breakfast in Kong toys or give them toys to chew, for example.
  • Drop your dog off at doggy day care if you'll be gone all day

Using these techniques and knowing why they're barking can help your dog feel more content in their home.

How much barking is too much?

Excessive barking is usually when a dog barks more than 6 minutes in any hour from 6am and 10pm, or more than 3 minutes in any 30-minute period between 10pm and 6am. Your local council can provide barking diaries to help you identify any dog barking patterns. They can also work with you to approach the owners and find a solution.

Food choices and your dog

Your dog has a very different digestive system to you, so it’s important to realise their reactions to some foods will be different too. If you’re not sure whether a food will be harmful for your dog, the best thing to do is avoid giving it to them at all or to speak with your vet first.

To help you make the right food choices for your dog, we’ve put together a list of common foods that we might love to eat but can be harmful to your pet.

Milk, cheese and dairy

You should minimise the amount of dairy your dog eats, or avoid it altogether if you’re not sure.

The impact of dairy on your dog will vary. Some dogs can include it in their diet without any problems while others might experience acute pain after eating dairy.

Lactase is the enzyme that breaks down the sugar lactose which is found in dairy and can trigger a food allergy or cause an upset stomach for your dog.

Chocolate

Chocolate and other caffeinated food and drinks contain a substance called theobromine which is toxic to dogs. It can cause nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea and become poisonous for your dog.

The amount of theobromine will vary depending on the type and quality of chocolate. In general, darker chocolates have higher doses and will be more toxic for your dog. Be careful in situations that could be a health risk, like licking chocolate icing from a bowl or eating mud cake.

If your dog does eat chocolate, report it to your vet. They’ll need to know the size of your dog, type of chocolate and how much they have eaten. Take a sample of the chocolate if you’re advised to bring your pet in.

Grapes and raisins

You should always avoid feeding these to your dog.

While we may love to eat them, grapes and raisins can be very dangerous for your dog. They are highly toxic and not easily processed by a dog’s digestive system. As a result, your dog may start vomiting soon after eating, resulting in dehydration and in more severe cases, kidney failure.

Garlic and onions

Raw garlic and onions can cause gastrointestinal problems and anaemia if eaten by dogs. Vegetables like garlic, chives, and other members of the onion family, can cause problems for dogs if eaten in excess.

If your dog eats garlic or onions, report it to your vet.

Fatty foods and alcohol

Alcohol and fatty foods are harmful to dogs and should be avoided.

A diet high in fat may lead to long term health problems and weight gain for your dog. A dog’s digestive system is not equipped to handle alcohol and it can damage their kidneys.

Cooked bones

Cooked bones are not good for your dog as they can splinter and cause internal damage.

Feeding your dog raw meat and bones is usually okay as dogs have a largely carnivorous diet. Domesticated dogs should be fed human-grade meat as this minimises their risk of absorbing preservatives or bacteria which can cause stomach upsets.

Artificial sweeteners

Eating artificial sweeteners (like Xylitol) should be avoided.

Xylitol which is found in many baked goods, toothpaste and gum can be very harmful to your dog. It can cause a sudden drop in blood sugar levels and the onset of hyperglycaemia. While these reactions are more severe in cats, artificial sweeteners can cause liver failure and even seizures in dogs.

Macadamia nuts

As little as a few macadamia nuts can make your dog ill. Symptoms include vomiting, muscle tremors, inability to walk and paralysis.

Foods containing macadamia nuts, such as baked goods, should also be avoided.

Immediate action if your dog is sick

Contact a vet if your dog has eaten any of the above foods. Try and gauge how much your dog has eaten as this can assist in providing appropriate treatment.

Treatment and prevention

The easiest way to avoid having to treat your dog is through prevention. Avoidance of these foods eliminates the risk of a reaction.

Sticking to a diet outlined by your vet provides benefits to your dog’s health and gives you peace of mind.

Choose RACQ Pet Insurance for care you can count on

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Things to note

The information in this article has been prepared for general information purposes only and is not intended as legal advice or specific advice to any particular person. Any advice contained in the document is general advice, not intended as legal advice or professional advice and does not take into account any person’s particular circumstances. Before acting on anything based on this advice you should consider its appropriateness to you, having regard to your objectives and needs.