Your Dog: The Owner's Manual

Hundreds of Secrets, Surprises, and Solutions for Raising a Happy, Healthy Dog


By Dr. Marty Becker

With Gina Spadafori

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Through surprising facts, moving stories and tested solutions, the veterinary expert from Good Morning America and The Dr. Oz Show will give every dog owner the secrets to raising a healthy, well-behaved dog.

For anyone who owns a dog or is thinking about getting one, Dr. Marty Becker’s manual is a must-have guide to anything and everything canine. In Your Dog: The Owner’s Manual, the “best-loved family doctor for pets” shares insider secrets on how to keep puppy problems from becoming doggy disasters and how to best bond with your dog through helpful, easily accessible tips and tricks on how to:

Find the right dog for your family’s lifestyle
Solve the most annoying behavioral problems
Make sure your dog gets the exercise he needs
Use food puzzles to prevent weight gain
Prevent dog health problems
Save money on medication, both traditional and alternative

For seasoned dog owners as well as those looking to adopt a new friend, Dr. Becker provides all the insight that makes for both happy owners and happy dogs.


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Table of Contents

Copyright Page

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You'd think after so many thousands of years together, we humans would have dogs all figured out by now. How to choose one. How to raise and train one. How to get (or better yet, prevent) one from humping a visitor's leg. Feeding, getting a veterinarian's help on the health front, training, choosing cool gear and toys, how to manage basic home care, and how to recognize a veterinary emergency. And so important in these get-thrifty times, how to spend well and wisely, but not unnecessarily.

Yeah, we ought to all know all that by now. Really, we should. But we don't.

As a practicing veterinarian, I can tell you this from my side of the exam-room table: many dog lovers really don't know everything they need to about their dogs, except for the one thing we all know—we love our dogs, and our dogs love us.

In my book—which this is, of course—that's a great place to start.

After thirty years as a veterinarian, and half of that as an "I play a veterinarian on TV—and I am one, too!" for Good Morning America and, recently, The Dr. Oz Show, I still get many of the same questions I did my first day of practice. I'm still answering those questions every day, not only from people who see me in practice (yes, I still practice, because I love it), but also from people who recognize me in an airport (I travel about half my life) and even from my own mother, eighty-six-plus years young with a newly adopted shelter dog she has taken to obedience class to train as a therapy dog.

Part of the problem is that while dogs haven't changed that much, our relationship with them has changed a great deal in a short amount of time. I grew up on a dairy farm in Idaho, one of those storybook places where we had a little bit of everything growing and needing care. Even as a young boy, I was involved in caring for animals—and my dad meant it when he said to treat them right. One of my first farm jobs was collecting eggs from our chickens, and I figured out I could get all those hens out of the nest if I just walked into the coop and yelled, "Boo!" They'd run and collecting those eggs would be easy—or so I thought until my dad caught me at this and let me know what I was doing would not fly.

That was an early lesson. Next up: my youthful amazement at watching a veterinarian come out to our farm and bring back a downed cow from what seemed near death with a simple infusion of what he called sugar water. A miracle!

Is it any wonder I do what I do and love it? Animals, the people who love them, and the profession that cares for and about them both: these are the reasons I was put on this earth, I know.

But back to dogs: In my farm-boy days, our dogs lived outside. A lot of dogs in town did, too. This was just how it was then. Oh sure, our farm dogs had warm places to sleep on cold nights and cool places to relax on hot ones. The food was good, the water was clean, and there were kids to hang out with and nasty things to roll in. It was a dog's life, and it was a good one. The town dogs didn't have barns, but they each had a doghouse knocked together by the family's dad as a Sunday project, with the dog's name painted over the entrance.

Maybe in the Big City (for me, that would have been Spokane, or Boise, back in the those days before TV studios in Manhattan and Southern California became my "other" homes), rich ladies had little dogs they doted on—remember Tricky Woo, you Dr. Herriot fans?—but the rest of the dogs? They spent their lives in the doghouse. Often on a chain attached to an eyebolt.

Flash-forward to now, and let me tell you I'm more likely to end up in the doghouse than any of the dogs at our Almost Heaven Ranch are. My wife of thirty-plus years, "Glam-ma" Teresa (yes, I'm a grand-farter—I mean, grandfather), wouldn't hear of our little dogs Quixote or Quora out in the elements. Heck, we make room for them on the bed! (Or is it the other way around?)

Think about it: we humans have had dogs in our lives for thousands of years, and in a single generation (mine) they've gone from the doghouse (comfy enough) to the kitchen (but only on really cold nights) to the house (but never on the furniture) to the bedroom (with a dog bed) to the bed. (Yes, we bought the biggest bed we could. We needed room for the dogs.)

In the same time veterinary medicine has changed, in many ways for the better. We can prevent diseases that once killed dogs the way polio ruined lives for people before Drs. Salk and Sabin changed that. We have even changed the ways we give vaccines so their risk is less (fewer vaccines less often, and tailored to an individual dog's lifestyle). We have available almost all the offerings of human medicine, from chemotherapy to hip replacements and more, and we also have pet health insurance to help with the costs of such lifesaving treatments.

Every year I attend and speak at veterinary conferences, and I'm also a regular at the massive trade show put on for buyers in the pet-supply industry. I see everything new, and I share the best with my readers and viewers. You wouldn't think there'd be that much new, but there always is, even when you're looking at something as basic as a leash. And while everyone with a pet may know how much veterinary medicine has changed, advances in dog training and dog gear have tracked right along even if you haven't noticed.

I see it every day. That's why I wrote this book; my life is helping pets and the people who love them, and some people could really use a hand.

We have leashes that help train dogs to walk nicely and dogs who help people to walk, period. Pet bowls that fill themselves, and so many different kinds of food to fill them that listing every brand would fill this book. (And even that isn't good enough for everyone. A lot of people prepare homemade meals for the dogs—and do a pretty good job of it, for the most part.) When you get beyond the basics, things can really amaze some old-timers. Did you know that there are hotels that have a room-service menu for dogs? Before you make tracks for such a sweet spot, be sure you buckle up—your dog, that is.

What you need to get the most out of a relationship with your dog is a manual.

Yes, I know a lot of people pride themselves on never reading the manual. But life is so complicated these days that if you don't read the manual, you're missing out. With a new smartphone, you may be missing that tip that's going to save you lots of time. With a new dog, you may be missing out on a great way to spend that time you saved: with your dog. You're going to have me, "America's Veterinarian," with you on every page, answering every question old and new with the latest information drawn from the best veterinarians in the world.

You and your dog are worth it, and I'm happy to help.

Dr. Marty Becker, "America's Veterinarian"



Everyone has a unique idea of the perfect dog, and how they arrive at that vision seems to have a lot to do with logic and a lot to do with love. Think about it: the world knows about five hundred kinds of dogs loosely or definitely defined as breeds, and that doesn't begin to count the "canine cocktails," the one-of-a kind dogs that are a complete mix-up, or a recent addition of "designer dogs" bred on purpose, such as the Labradoodle or the Puggle.

When you ask a dog lover what kind of dog is his or her favorite, you never get an answer such as "Well, I evaluated my family's available free time, the size of my house and yard, my tolerance for shedding, and my need for increased security since that break-in at the neighbors'."

What they tell you is this: "The first time I saw that dog, I fell in love."

I'm going to tell you love will get you a long way, sometimes. After all, I've been married for more than three decades to a woman I adored from the day I met her. And she and I have both been known to take home pets on impulse, although that last thing is pretty typical among us veterinarians. We tend to collect hard-luck cases. (My very funny friend, Dr. Tony Johnson, an emergency and critical care specialist at the Purdue University College of Veterinary Medicine, has an entire family of pets, all named for what they were suffering with when he met them in the ER. There's Arrow, the cat who'd been shot by one, and Crispy, the burn victim cat, and I'm sure I don't have to explain about his dog, Tripod.)

That tugging of heartstrings is another of those motivations. While some wonderful pets never seem to catch a break in their shelters, a littermate who's "lucky" enough to be found a victim of abuse or be plucked out of a raging canal by a firefighter on national TV will have more homes lined up for him than you can count. In human matchmaking, "hard-luck cases" don't get the time of day, but a pet with "baggage" will get the attention of people who want to help.

This is the generous side of human nature, and it is all good. But as much as I love a good "how we met" story and celebrate when a hard-luck dog finds a forever home, I'm also aware that adoption decisions made on impulse and emotion can turn out to be disasters. And that's why it's important that even as you listen to your heart, you use your brain as well.

Now, let's get choosing. Look at you: you need a dog. And just as importantly: there's a dog out there who needs you.

Start your search for the perfect dog by putting aside the cuteness factor as much as you can. While no dog will be cuter than this West Highland White Terrier puppy I had the pleasure of meeting, such an active, noisy breed, with more than its share of genetic disease, is not the right dog for everyone. The dog who's perfect for you may be one like this purebred pup—or it may be a different breed or mix, or an older dog instead of a puppy.

Chapter 1


All dogs started pretty much the same, as wolves who hung out around humans for scraps. Eventually, the relationship grew closer; the animals best suited to hanging around were the ones who bred, and they started to change to suit the environment they were in. In time the dogs evolved into something like what's called a pariah dog—a medium-sized, brown, agile, short-haired dog with a long snout and erect ears. You can still find dogs like these all over the world, hanging out on the edges of human society. If dogs are left to breed as randomly as possible, the pariah dog is what they look like.

But we like a lot of different things in dogs, don't we? We like dogs in all sizes, shapes, and colors, with all kinds of ears and tails, long-haired, curly-haired, short-haired… the list goes on. It wasn't just for reasons of appearance, of course. For many years we counted on dogs to help us by herding our livestock, protecting our homes, pulling wagons or sleds, or helping us to hunt our dinners.

While a few kinds of dogs, mostly small, were developed solely as companions—and even they had some purpose as heating pads in the days long before central heating was invented—all the rest had jobs. Our ancestors no doubt liked their dogs, told them they were good dogs, and were even proud of the work they did and how well they did it. But few could afford to keep a dog who didn't earn his own way.

Today, it's the reverse, and very few dogs earn their own way. Our dogs, as I always say, are "born retired." Despite all that work ethic and all those differences we've bred into them, they're all doing pretty much the same "work," these days—hanging around with us when we're home, and sleeping on the couch when we're not.

But the dogs they once were are still in there, and that means you have to figure out if you can live with who they are and find things for them to do if they aren't the couch-potato type. If you don't, neither you nor your dog will be happy—and speaking as a veterinarian, I can tell you that what happens when a dog is bored and unhappy is going to be a bad thing for the dog. He'll either be fat and sick before his time (if he's the kind of dog who can stand just being on the couch) or, if he can't stand snoozing while you're at work and does an Unwanted Extreme Home Makeover, he'll soon be looking for a new home.

Yes, love can and does conquer all, but it doesn't do so easily. I'm suggesting some introspection before you get a dog so you have fewer problems and more love.


Who are you now, and who will you be in ten years? You might be surprised at how different those answers can be. While nothing in life's a sure thing, if you're going to spend the next ten years building a business empire, raising kids or retiring to a life of active leisure, you need to think about how this is going to affect your choice of a dog. Because in fact, there really is a dog for almost everyone who wants one, but dogs can be so different—even siblings—that you really need to put some effort into getting a dog to have any hope of keeping a dog.

Take me, for example. I'm farm kid, born and raised on an Idaho dairy. I grew up with big dogs, farm dogs and hunting dogs who worked as hard as we did with all the hard physical labor of country life. I'm still a country boy, and home is our ranch in northern Idaho. My wife and I have been around large animals—cattle and horses—all our lives, and we still get up at dawn every day and do ranch chores. We love the outdoors, and I don't even mind putting on my overalls and barn coat on bitter, cold days to go out and care for the horses.

Bet you have me pegged as a guy who'd have a big, strong dog, right? For much of my life, you'd have been right, and our family still has a beloved Golden Retriever, Shakira, otherwise known as She-Crazy for her boundless enthusiasm and her ability to play fetch until long after my arm wants to call it quits. But chances are she may be the last of the big dogs at our Almost Heaven Ranch. We've gone crazy for little dogs, starting with Quixote, the little canine cocktail you see on the cover of this book. Sure, I tell my poker buddies that he's my wife's dog, but that's as big a bluff as the aces I want them to think I'm holding. Quixote and the more recent addition, Quora, another little pooch pastiche—along with my dog-trainer daughter's little dogs, Willy and Bruce—I call them the GrandPugs—are where we are now. We're older, we love to travel, and we like having smaller, more portable dogs. Ones that fit in the seat between us or under the seat on the airplane.

That's not to say I don't love all dogs—I'm a veterinarian, after all—but my own perfect match in a family dog has been downsized, and I was smart enough to know it. Or my wife was, really.

Just don't anyone tell my poker buddies that my little dogs not only wear coats in the winter, but that I'll actually put the coats on them. Repeat that, and I'll deny it to the end of my farm-boy days.

But enough about me. Who are you? Are you a runner looking for a trail companion? A busy parent looking for a little help with babysitting and teaching kids responsibility? A young city hipster looking to impress others at the dog-friendly café? A person looking for a new hobby to go with a new dog? Are you slowing down—or do you want to? Are you living in an apartment, on an acre in suburbia, or on a hobby farm?

If you want a dog who needs more than you can give him in terms of time or exercise, do you have or can you afford to pay for a support system? Do you hate dog hair or are you good with picking the occasional strand off the butter or business suit without a flinch? Are you, personally, ready to take on the care of another living being, or is getting your own self fed and dressed about as much as you can handle? (I throw that one in for those Paris Hilton wannabes who forget that dogs aren't fashion statements or canine accoutrements, and they do need to get out of those designer handbags to do their business.)

In other words, figure out who you are, and you'll be better able to make a good match. Owning a dog is a lot like finding a mate, after all—except that odds are for many people that their dogs will live longer than their marriages last. Take your time and know yourself. (Not bad advice for that marriage thing, too.)


Once you've figured out the kind of person you are and will be in the lifetime of your prospective dog, it's time to look at the life you lead. After all, the fact that you love to run, and would love running even more if you had a dog with you, doesn't mean a thing if you can't fit running into your schedule. And while there are lots of ways to save money on caring for your dog while not scrimping on the necessities, if you're really struggling to make ends meet you might need to put off owning a pet until things are going better for you.

Money is an issue with all dogs—small dogs aren't all that much less expensive to care for than large ones, except in the category of food. They still need regular veterinary care, and many have health issues that are related to their size, especially the tiniest of dogs. And lots of smaller dogs need professional grooming that big dogs don't.

How much does it cost to keep a dog? Trade groups that track these things put the start-up cost after adopting a dog (which doesn't account for the cost of purchase or adoption) at an average of about $1,000, with annual upkeep of about $700 a year. Bear in mind two things: first, that costs are often higher in urban areas and on both coasts, and less expensive in rural areas and in the Midwest and South; and second, that "average" includes people who frankly are barely spending enough on their dogs to keep from being hauled in by humane officers and charged with neglect.

If you opt for a high-quality diet (recommended), a solid preventive-care regimen from your veterinarian (also recommended) including parasite control (protecting your dog and your human family, too), along with some fun purchases that can also make your life easier and keep your home cleaner (fun? easy? you bet!), you can easily double those guesstimates—and still be hit with some big expenses that can be financially and emotionally devastating.

Is a dog worth it? That's a question only you can answer, but if you think you want to have a dog in your life, do be prepared to spend some money on your pet. A high-quality diet and good preventive care may seem like one area where you can scrimp, but it's really not. Taking good care of your dog every day is a good long-term strategy, not only for avoiding budget shock down the road but also for keeping your pet happier, healthier, and longer-lived.

Taking good care of your dog is a good investment, and it's a responsibility you owe to your dog. Cut the budget in other places if you must—your pet doesn't need a biker jacket or an expensive collar, and no dog was ever hurt by an owner who buys in bulk—but make sure you can cover the basics.


You have enough money—or at least you're pretty sure you do. Do you have enough time for a dog? Some dogs, like some people, are high maintenance—they need lots and lots of attention. Sometimes that attention is in caring for a complicated coat, but usually the big time suck is in the category most Americans say they don't have time for already—exercise.

All dogs need exercise. Even little ones. Even old ones. Even ones who really don't seem to mind a sedentary lifestyle. They need exercise, just as you do, and for the same reasons. Exercise helps keep their heart healthy, helps keep their joints strong, helps keep their weight down. (Did you know that veterinarians say the majority—yes, more than half—of all dogs they see are overweight or obese? The statistics are even worse for some breeds that just seem to be born to blimp—Flabadors, er, I mean Labradors, Beagles, and Pugs, to name just three.)

Exercise—or more specifically, the lack of it—is also one of the main reasons why dogs misbehave. They need to burn energy. If you don't find something for them to do, they'll find something to do on their own, and chances are you won't like their choices in activities.

Now, while it's true you can get a doggy treadmill (some look like human treadmills; the ones for small dogs look more like hamster wheels), or get someone else to exercise your pet, the fact is that getting out with your dog is good for you both. That's not just me talking, by the way: studies have shown that people who walk their dogs benefit from the activity as much as their dogs do. So much so that I wrote a book on the subject, Fitness Unleashed: A Dog and Owner's Guide to Losing Weight and Gaining Health Together, with Robert Kushner, MD, an internist and nutritionist who's an expert on human weight loss.

The least amount of time you can get away with is probably an hour a day, all total, for feeding, cleaning up after, and a little play and exercise. For larger dogs—or high-energy small ones, such as most of the terriers—there simply isn't a high end on the amount of time you could spend with them. They'll happily jump up and be ready to go every time you pick up the leash or the car keys.

There are always imaginative ways to get your dog exercised without you exhausting yourself, of course. Fetch is always great for this, and swimming is another energy burner, especially when combined with fetch. Toys that require dogs to work for small food rewards also count, and are really well suited to those times when you simply can't keep your dog busy, such as when you're out earning the kibble.

If you can't carve some time out of your schedule for a dog of your own, you might consider volunteering at a shelter, fostering now and then for a rescue group, or walking a neighbor's dog. If you can make time for your own dog, though, you'll be healthier for the time you spend.


On Sale
Apr 15, 2011
Page Count
320 pages

Dr. Marty Becker

About the Author

Dr. Marty Becker, “America’s Veterinarian” has been the popular contributor to ABC-TV’s Good Morning America for 10 years,and is the resident veterinarian on The Dr. Oz Show. He writes a Universal Uclick Syndicated column with Gina Spadafori, Pet Connection; is a contributor to Parade Magazine, and was voted “companion animal Veterinarian of the year.” He is also co-author of the fastest-selling pet book in history, Chicken Soup for the Pet Lover’s Soul. Dr. Becker still enjoys his work as a practicing veterinarian, at the North Idaho Animal Hospital.

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