, Newburyport, MA

January 10, 2014

Paw Prints: New year, new habits

Paw Prints, Heidi Bassler

---- — January is the month for fresh starts and new beginnings. You have already made your New Year’s resolution, and you’re determined to stick with it. Having a buddy play along can make the habit easier.

Fido is perfect for this task. He already adores you, and he’s happy to be your partner in any way he can. But Fido needs new habits to work on, too.

The goal is to be consistent so that Fido understands what is expected of him. All too often, we decide on new boundaries for our dogs but don’t follow through later. We may be distracted or tired, and just let it go. Sometimes, one person sets boundaries, but other family members are not on board. This is confusing for Fido and teaches him he can do whatever he pleases.

So start the year off right, and you and Fido will have an even closer bond with one another. Here are some ideas to get there.

Only feed your dog from his bowl. Even if you decide to share your dinner with him, never feed him from your plate or at the table. Otherwise, you are teaching your pal to become a food thief. These dogs beg and drool endlessly while you are eating, and help themselves to extras on counters or tables. They are prone to obesity and other health issues. And your own food plans may be prone to periodic disarray.

Teach your dog to walk nicely on a leash. This simple training technique can make your daily exercise with Fido much more enjoyable, especially if you have a large dog. Unruly dogs are also more likely to cause you injury, such as slipping on ice. If you have a puppy, it’s easy to teach him to “Heel!” on command. But older dogs can learn, too. A choke collar, if used properly, may be helpful during training sessions.

Consulting with an experienced dog trainer can get you off to the right start. Remember to be consistent, so that Fido understands this is the way he has to walk when he is on the leash.

Teach your dog to greet you — and others — on all fours. Your pooch may be delighted to greet people, but jumping on them is bad manners. Bend down to give him love, hugs and kisses. Just make sure he knows you’re unhappy when he jumps up. Dogs recognize dozens of human facial expressions. So a frown with a clear “Off!” followed by praise when he’s on the floor is all it takes. Be consistent, and he’ll get the idea.

A common mistake is for people to use the word “Down!” to discourage jumping, and then to use the same command when the dog is standing but is supposed to lie on his tummy. This is very confusing for Fido, as dogs do not understand duplicate meanings for words.

Some families like their dog on the furniture, and others do not. There is no right or wrong, just personal preference. Be consistent, so that Fido understands what is expected of him.

Fido should let you trim his nails. Ask your groomer or veterinary team to show you how to do this. Like us, some dogs have ticklish feet, and he may need to be desensitized. If he makes a ruckus, then start with baby steps and teach him one nail at a time.

Start by handling his feet — very briefly at first. Do this before mealtimes, then give him lots of praise and feed him. Go slowly, and he should learn that having his feet and toes handled is nothing to worry about.

Likewise, it’s important that your dog let you handle his ears. Ear infections are common in canines, and regular cleanings and inspections by you are important for his health. If Fido resists, try the same technique as described above for the feet.

Everyone with teeth needs home dental care. We don’t question this for us or for our children. It’s no different for your pooch. Pets have teeth, too. Because dogs age seven times faster than humans, gingivitis, periodontal disease and tooth abscesses occur at a much faster rate, too.

By age 3, almost 80 percent of dogs have periodontal disease. That’s a scary statistic. Getting Fido on a daily tooth-brushing routine is inexpensive and easy. If you’re not sure how to brush your dog’s teeth, ask your veterinary team to show you.

Relaxation with Fido is calming and bonding for both of you. Start a routine of patting and massaging him all over. He will surely roll over for belly rubs, too. This is the perfect time to inspect for lumps or skin sores. Anything new that doesn’t seem to improve in a few days warrants further investigation.

Happy New Year to you and your pooch.


Dr. Heidi Bassler practices at Bassler Veterinary Hospital ( at Crossroads Plaza in Salisbury. She hosts a radio show, “Your Pet’s Health,” every Sunday morning at 8:30 on WNBP 106.1 FM and 1450 AM. Do you have questions for Dr. Bassler? Send them to