As Iditarod mushers and vets, we understand that all responsible dog owners know the basics behind good dog care. Providing your dog with the right food and a healthy balanced diet is an important aspect of keeping him healthy. So is regular vet care, clean and dry living quarters, plenty of fresh water, lots of exercise, and an abundance of love. The basics behind dog care are important, but at the Iditarod, our love for dogs goes above and beyond the basics. Mushers and vets are in tune with their dogs, and understand them inside and out. You can follow our tips for dog care and insure that your relationship with your dog goes above and beyond just providing for your dog’s basic needs. Not only will you be rewarded with a healthy and happy dog who is loyal and loving to you, but more importantly, your dog will be rewarded with each and every aspect of a healthy and happy life.
Understand the personality of your dog. When you come home for the day, how does your dog act? Is he excited to see you and happy you’re home? Does he jump up and down in excitement and laugh when you walk through the door? Or, is he more mellow; loving, but quiet? When you know your dog’s personality, you can tell in an instant whether or not your dog is feeling well. And imagine what you, as a dog owner, would do the moment you sense your dog isn’t acting as he normally does. Iditarod vets and mushers are the same way. They understand exactly how a sled dog’s personality should be, and how those dogs should act. And, as good dog owners and dog lovers, they take immediate action as soon as they have a hunch something might not be right. Proper vet care is extremely important, but as a dog owner, you are your dog’s number one advocate, and you will be able to tell in an instant if something is wrong. Follow your instincts and listen to your heart to keep your dog happy and healthy.
Know your dog’s instincts. Some dogs are born to chase things, others have an innate prey drive that makes them hunt and seek out other animals. As a responsible dog owner, one of the best ways that you can keep your dog healthy and happy is to know what it is that makes your dog tick, and then provide him with safe ways to quench his thirst for whatever it is. If your dog has a herding gene, he’ll be happiest if he has a big family with lots of other pets and kids to keep track of. Your retriever needs ample running time and time to chase things like balls and sticks and toys, so that he doesn’t need to put himself in harm’s way chasing cars down the street. If your dog is a runner – like the sled dogs and Alaskan Huskies, honor what he loves most by making sure he has a chance to run in a ways that are constructive and safe. Iditarod vets and mushers know their dogs love to run, beyond everything else. In fact, just like you on a cold morning, mushers sometimes need to be pulled from their beds by wet noses and wagging tails, and dragged outside to go for a nice long, relaxing run. A sled dog’s heart and soul are wound up in the desire to run, run, RUN, and a musher knows that to keep their dogs healthy and happy, they must find a way to help them do what they love. As a dog owner and lover, figure out what it is that makes YOUR dog tick, and provide him with those things to encourage his mind and body and soul. Understand that a dog will seek out what his instincts tell him to do, and no amount of training will quell whatever it is that he loves. No matter what his instincts are though, you can provide things for him to keep him occupied and happy, safely and responsibly. It might take a little research and creative thought on your part, but part of being a good dog owner is being ready and able to do whatever it takes to provide your dog with the happiness he craves.
Remember that your dog thrives on companionship. A healthy and happy dog is one that is surrounded by love. Dogs, just like people, have different personalities and need different types of love and family and living situations to make them happy. Some dogs thrive alone in a house with just one or two people to love. Some enjoy apartment living, and can even get enough exercise barking out the window and trotting to the kitchen for a snack, simply because of their size and individual needs. Others thrive running around a farm, or in a pack, or with a cat buddy to play with, or with small children to take care of. When looking for a new companion to your home, first figure out what type of pack and home you have, so you can make sure you find a breed of dog that does well with you. Sled dogs and Alaskan Huskies enjoy the large pack mentality. They are most at home in a large yard, with many other voices to sing with during the moon rise. They are also incredibly loyal and show their loyalty the moment their musher comes in site of the dog yard. A pack dog belongs with a pack, and Iditarod vets and mushers understand how their dog can be the most happy. As a responsible dog owner, you can provide best for your dog by understanding what type of living situation would make him the happiest, and giving it to him.
Know that dogs have different personalities and needs, depending on their breed and depending on who they are as dogs. Each dog is different, and each needs something different from you as an owner. Knowing your dog makes all the difference. While you as a person might be the most comfortable bundled up inside next to a fire on a cold winter’s night, some dogs would be miserable in a hot and humid environment. Your small toy show dog or tiny breed dog is most definitely going to be the happiest piled in comforters on your bed, warm and toasty. But if you have a northern breed, with big thick fur and an almost unquenchable thirst for the great outdoors, they simply won’t be happy unless they have ample time to drink in the colors of the night sky and feel the fresh breeze. Iditarod vets and mushers understand this about their dogs. Safe outdoor practices, like perfectly-sized, insulated dog houses, plenty of outdoor exploring room, and lots of fluffy, warm and dry straw mean that Alaskan huskies can stay warm and safe in the place they are the happiest.
Lastly, and most importantly, remember that dogs and humans once existed separately in the harsh and difficult ancient world. As most researchers remind us today, the reason that we survived and were able to become the civilization we were today is we learned to trust and love our dog companions. The reason that domesticated dogs survived in ancient times and became our loyal and loving pets today is that they learned to trust and love us. Loving and trusting your dog is the most important aspect to providing him with the best care possible. At Iditarod, we firmly believe that if you love and trust your dog first and foremost, you can listen to your hearts and make the best decisions for his life and care. That’s what we do, and it’s why we have the happiest dogs on Earth.