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20 Dec 2023

I’ll Have A Home For Christmas: A special needs foster finds her forever home.

I’ll Have A Home For Christmas: Raya A special needs foster finds her forever home.

The story of Raya, a special needs foster pup, finding her forever home is truly a heartwarming holiday miracle. You can’t help but be moved by the compassion and dedication shown by pet sitters Brian and Wanda, who played a crucial role in making this possible. This story reminds us of the importance of family, connection, and empathy, especially during this special time of year.

Raya with puppies


Raya was found living behind a dumpster with her five puppies before she was dropped off at a Texas SPCA shelter in the Spring of 2021. All odds were stacked against her. She was emaciated, terrified, nursing five puppies, and still a puppy herself at an estimated ~8 months old. While Raya was a gentle and nurturing mother and sweet with humans, she was labeled as “aggressive” and “reactive” with other dogs. She had zero social skills, and it was apparent she came from a backyard breeder.

Within a month of arriving at the shelter, Raya collapsed at the shelter due to a serious heart condition that required costly surgery.
While the shelter was able to raise the funds for Raya’s surgery, they knew she’d need a calm, understanding foster home to provide an environment for Raya to heal.

Mistie, a former ASPCA professional, was instantly drawn to Raya. Mistie’s family had recently lost their dog but weren’t ready to adopt. Mistie offered to foster Raya for 2-3 months so Raya could undergo and heal from life-saving heart surgery. Mistie, her husband, and their son were planning to move to South Africa for 6 months to work for her nonprofit and were happy to foster Raya in the meantime since their travel plans prevented them from adopting a dog.

Change of Plans

Things didn’t exactly go to plan. During the surgery, Raya’s cardiologist discovered three additional heart issues that would require daily medication and special care. Raya also still needed to be spayed, so Mistie and her family agreed to continue fostering Raya to get her healthy and ready for adoption.

Mistie, a lifelong animal lover, was determined to get Raya to a place where she could be adopted.

When Mistie’s HVAC technician expressed interest in adopting Raya, they decided to take her to meet his male German Shepherd. Raya reacted with fear and aggression, but the families vowed to keep trying. They made some progress, but ultimately, the other family backed out.

The next several months were filled with more setbacks as they worked with different animal specialists, from professional behaviorists to renowned “boarding schools” for aggressive dogs, but nothing was working, and time was running out.

What began as a 3-month foster commitment had turned into two years after several health and behavioral setbacks. Mistie and her family were exhausted and beginning to lose hope. Even her own vet said, “Raya is a people dog. She cannot be around other dogs.”

The Turning Point

In March of this year, after nearly two years of fostering Raya, Mistie was sitting at her kitchen table about to leave for a trip when Brian, Pet Gal sitter, and animal whisperer, came for his visit with Raya. Mistie expressed her frustration that nothing they did was working, and time was running out. Mistie knew Raya was a “sweet little girl that had a lot of hard knocks, one after the other,” but something had to give.

“Let me help you,” Brian told her. “Let me start working with her three times a week.”

Brian’s confidence and calm demeanor put Mistie at ease.

“When Brian said ‘let me help you,’ a sense of calm washed over me. I hadn’t felt that calm in the last two years,” Mistie said. “He became her angel.”

Brian and his wife, Wanda, had been Raya’s go-to pet sitters at The Pet Gal.

“Brian was the only person who wasn’t scared of Raya and how she was perceived,” Mistie said. “He took her leash with confidence. He believed in her, and she felt that. Sometimes, you need to see something to believe it’s possible, and working with Brian and Wanda made us believe it was possible again. He let his intuition guide him, and he showed me the way.”

Brian, a retired army vet, has always had a special connection to animals. It wasn’t until he had a near-death experience after being attacked by his own dog, Ranger, three years prior that his animal communication skills really amplified. Brian compared the traumatic experience to a “Dr. Doolittle moment” and attributes it to enhancing his ability to communicate with animals, especially difficult ones.

Brian had quietly watched as Raya worked with other animal professionals and behaviorists and questioned their approach. “They didn’t take the time to understand her history and that she had zero social skills.”

Brian was able to read Raya and understood she needed to burn off her pent-up energy (with special attention due to her heart conditions) and that she desperately needed social skills.

Brian began bringing Raya to his own house to work with his non-reactive dog, Hana.

Mistie recalls the early visits to Brian’s, saying, “You could see the change in Raya’s face after going to Brian’s. She was calmer and more confident. Brian helped me see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Before long, Raya and Brian’s dog, Hana, were eating treats side by side, and Raya was learning to socialize and be a dog.

“Raya was labeled as aggressive, no kids, no dogs, and we proved all of that wrong. She’s a beautiful dog and her story touched me. I wanted to help. I knew her so well by the end,” said Brian.

Mistie and her family were also becoming more attached to Raya. Mistie’s husband had a bedtime routine with her every night after going outside; he’d give her a “frosty pup” ice cream treat. Then he’d brush Raya’s teeth, and afterward, she’d carry an empty cup over and make him chase her around the kitchen. When she was satisfied, she’d wait for him to put a chicken treat in her cup and head to bed.

Home Coming

When it came time for Raya to go back to the shelter, Mistie and her family were heartbroken, and they could see the heartache on Raya’s face, too, as they packed her things and brought her back to the shelter.

The next 36 hours were agonizing as Mistie and her family suddenly weren’t as excited to travel to South Africa for 6 months. “We realized we loved Raya more than South Africa, and that’s saying a lot.”.

Mistie went to tell Brian and Wanda that her family wanted to adopt Raya, stay in Texas, and eventually find a companion dog for her. She asked Brian and Wanda if they’d continue working with Raya.

Brian and Wanda were thrilled, and the three of them hugged and cried in their kitchen.

Mistie says if it weren’t for Brian and the Pet Gal, she wouldn’t have adopted Raya.

“I wasn’t finding the quality of care I needed until I found The Pet Gal. The Pet Gal hires a certain level of animal expert and is very good at vetting. Brian and Wanda were instrumental in getting us to adopt. After working with dozens of brilliant and credentialed professionals, Brian did more than anyone else,” Mistie said.

Happy Ever After

Mistie and her family officially finalized the adoption for Raya on November 30th, and while the shelter offered to bring Raya home a week later, Brian drove to pick up Raya and her giant crate so she could come home the next day, on December 1st, 2023.

While Raya came to the shelter with a broken heart, it was mended by two families who came together, looked a little deeper, trusted their intuition, and persevered in the name of love, family, and living with heart. Raya was originally named Annie, but Mistie’s son, inspired by Raya and the Last Dragon, decided to name her Raya, Princess of Heart, and it stuck.

“Raya is love, and we love Raya, Princess of heart. She gets more loving at the end of each challenge,” said Mistie.

Raya’s family has decided to take turns traveling to South Africa on shorter trips in order to care for Raya. They continue to work with Brian and Wanda and hope to adopt a younger dog for Raya to bring out her mothering instincts.

article by Pet Gal Sarah.

06 May 2020

COVID-19: How To Help Your Quarantine Pup Transition To A Regular Schedule

COVID-19: How To Help Your Quarantine Pup Transition To A Regular Schedule

As the COVID-19 pandemic rocks the globe, people are finding themselves quarantined in their homes for months on end. With minimal social contact and many being furloughed from their day jobs, countless people have chosen to adopt a pet including many puppies to be their quarantine companions. In fact, many animal shelters across America have seen empty cages due to the uptick of adoptions since the pandemic began.

The heartening increase in adoptions gives light and hope to what has been a dark situation for many across the country. However, just as shelters urge people to understand that there are always going to be more animals in need going forward, The Pet Gal team hopes to educate new pet owners on how to prioritize at-home training to help dogs and puppies adjust to life post-quarantine.

Quarantine Routines Don’t Accurately Reflect Everyday Life to New Pets

Currently, many newly adopted dogs and puppies find themselves sheltering in place with their forever families. This is a wonderful time for bonding, training, and acclimating to their new environment, however, it can set the tone of a routine that does not accurately reflect what their everyday life will look like once quarantine ends.

As it stands, newly adopted animals are spending nearly every second of the day with their family while their new pet parents work from home or stay sheltered in place. As a result, puppies and dogs will create intense bonds that will inevitably lay the groundwork for severe separation anxiety when quarantine is over. If not properly trained and acclimated to alone time, it will be very difficult for new pets when they are left alone for the first time.

Promote Alone Time Even While Sheltering in Place

To ensure your new puppy or dog does not act out with potty training regression, barking, destructive chewing, or dangerous separation anxiety-induced behavior like self-harm, take the time now to implement routines in which the dog spends some time by itself or with someone else, such as a pet sitter or dog walker, every day.

It is paramount to the pet’s post-quarantine transition that they get used to being alone now. The best way to do this while sheltering in place is to ensure your pet spends a little time away from you every single day. This could mean them taking a nap in a different room, spending some time in a safe, fenced-in yard on their own, or being left in their kennel or playpen alone while you go for a walk. It could also mean hiring a local dog walker to take your pet on a walk every once and while. By acclimating your new puppy or dog to time on their own, they’re less likely to have separation anxiety when life gets back to normal.

At-Home Training Sessions Keep Dogs Engaged

Another step pet parents can take to alleviate post-quarantine pet stress is to do at-home training courses to keep their pets occupied and busy. Dogs, especially puppies, thrive on mentally-stimulating activity and being given “jobs”, which are tasks to do that earn things of value, such as food, treats, pets, and experiences. Dogs who regularly have tricks to learn, toys to play with and jobs to do are less likely to experience separation anxiety in the long run. Plus, there’s the added bonus of behavior and obedience training, which is always valuable!

Tara Stermer, Owner & Head Trainer at K9 Workingmind is offering online training courses via Zoom as well as informative webinars to help pet parents keep their dogs and puppies occupied with enrichment and training. Her online training programs such as basic obedience and her webinars on topics such as separation anxiety, Tara and her team offer pet parents invaluable resources for getting their dogs through quarantine and beyond.

Dog Walking or Pet Sitting During Quarantine Helps Dogs Socialize

Throughout quarantine, pet parents can help their dogs socialize and become used to being without their parents by hiring local pet sitters or dog walkers to spend time with them outdoors. This is especially important for people who will return to work soon and will need the services of a sitter or walker once things get back to normal. Hiring dog walkers or sitters now allows pets to get to know their sitter and also helps support local businesses during these uncertain times.

The Pet Gal has been extremely fortunate to have been able to continue to provide dog walking and pet sitting services to our client base of essential workers throughout Austin during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our sitters follow CDC guidelines by wearing PPE, sanitizing regularly, and limiting human contact. We are more than happy to help newly adopted pets adjust by taking them on walks or having backyard playtime even while pet parents are at home.

Contact The Pet Gal or K9 Workingmind today to help your new member of the family begin their transition to life post-quarantine with professional dog walking, pet sitting, and training services.

article by Pet Gal Kirstie.

27 Mar 2020

COVID-19 Readiness

Covid-19 Readiness

The health and wellness of our clients, their pets, and our sitters are our top priority. Our sitter will follow the latest COVID-19 CDC recommendations unless otherwise requested.

Community health remains everyone’s responsibility, and we kindly ask that you notify us immediately if you or someone in your home is sick, we are taking these extra precautions out of concern for our clients, their families, and our sitters.

article by Pet Gal Susan.

05 Dec 2019

What you need to know before feeding a raw dog food diet

What is a raw dog food diet?

A raw dog food diet consists of meals that are freshly prepared at home and contain a variety of fresh ingredients such as uncooked meat like muscle and organ tissue, bones that are either whole or crushed, fruit, vegetables, and occasionally dairy, including eggs.

Primarily, there are two popular schools of thought regarding raw feeding.

The first, known as the “Prey” model, is said to represent the type of diet a dog would have if they lived in the wild and hunted for their food. This method typically consists of 80% muscle meat, 10% bone, and 10% organs (half of which is liver.)

The second popular raw feeding method is referred to as “BARF: Biologically Appropriate Raw Food.” First coined by Australian veterinarian Ian Billinghurst in 1993, the “BARF” method of raw feeding similarly reflects the way a dog would eat if they were not domesticated. The diet is slightly different from the “Prey” method in that it leaves room for additional ingredients such as vegetables, fruit, and seeds. The ratio for “BARF” raw feeding is 70% muscle meat, 10% raw edible bone, 5% liver, 5% other secreting organs, 7% vegetables, 2% seeds or nuts, and 1% fruit.

According to Billy Hoekman, the Natural Science Coordinator for Answers Pet Food, dogs are facilitative carnivores. This means they eat mostly meat and some fruits and vegetables. Hoekman recommends a diet of mostly meat, with less than 10% of caloric intake being provided by plants. He also suggests adding unprocessed foods such as raw milk and eggs.

Jake Love Raw Dog Food

Why are pet parents turning to raw food?

The theory regarding raw feeding for pets is that dogs have been eating raw food far longer than then they have been eating mass-produced, processed food such as canned meals and dry kibble. The processed food industry didn’t start mass-producing dog food until the 1950s-1960s, but dogs have been eating raw food for thousands of years throughout their evolution from wolves.

Pet parents also claim that after their transition into raw feeding, their pets have benefitted dramatically in terms of their health, quality of life, and more.

In Dr. Billinghurst’s book Give Your Dog a Bone, he states that after experimenting with a raw diet on his own dogs, he immediately noticed that their skin problems cleared up, there was a decrease in dental and eye problems, the dogs experienced better growth and reproductive success, and more.

We spoke with The Pet Gal’s resident raw feeding experts about their experiences with raw food and asked how their pets’ lives were improved. Here’s what they had to say:

Every time my dog, Ditka, went off antibiotics she would pick up another bacterial infection and get another case of diarrhea. We washed her, wiped her, and kept her away from high bacteria environments, but she still kept getting sick. We were spending close to $250 a month on veterinarian bills, stool samples, and antibiotics. We needed a veterinarian who would look at this problem a whole new way. We consulted a holistic veterinarian, and she started us on the process of slowly changing our dog to a raw diet and adding vegetables and supplements to boost her immune system. Within a month, Ditka slimmed down, had a shinier coat, increased energy, and she hasn’t had an infection in almost one and a half years. The transformation from a very sick to a healthy dog in a short period of time was astounding. Changing our dog Ditka from kibble to a raw food diet saved her life by boosting her immune system and giving her the healthy nutrients she needs. Pet Gal Laura

Raw feeding not only opened up a world of health for my dogs, past and present, but it also opened up a whole new interest in pet nutrition on my part.

When I first began feeding raw, I thought giving my dogs raw chicken legs was enough. After researching the topic and joining a raw feeding coop, however, I became much more aware of my dogs’ nutritional needs. We humans like to say, ‘You are what you eat,’ and, ‘Food is medicine,’ but this is true of our animal friends, too!

I am now taking coursework in pet nutrition, which I hope will benefit not only my pets but those of our clients.

I had a geriatric pack of three, and they all lived long healthy lives. I attribute this to proper raw feeding, as well as the implementation of other holistic practices. I have high expectations for my current pack, raised on raw food since puppyhood! Pet Gal Debbie

What are the benefits of raw food?

Stories like the ones above have led more owners to change their dogs from kibble to a raw diet. Pet parents claim that the benefits of raw feeding run the gamut from digestion and dental health to disease prevention. Listed below are some research-backed benefits of a canine raw diet.

Easier Digestion
Dr. Richard Patton, an animal nutritionist for over 40 years, has found that raw food is often easier to digest than processed kibble. When dog food kibble is created, many of the nutrients are taken away during the processing and cooking of the food, making it more difficult for your dog to digest. In Dog’s Naturally Magazine, Dr. Patton calls this process “protein denaturation” and says during this time the proteins, and many of the good bacteria for our gut are killed. In comparison, he points out that “natural enzymes and numerous beneficial bacteria are found in raw pet foods.”

Weight Management
Dr. Patton explains that additives that are introduced to processed pet food have led to a higher carbohydrate and sugar content in the kibble, which can lead to weight gain. In addition, processed dog food has had its important nutrients stripped.

Personally, I have seen dogs who wouldn’t touch their kibble gobble down their raw food when they made the switch. Even though they were eating more food, they were slimming down because they were eating more proteins and fewer carbohydrates and sugars.Pet Gal Laura

Better Stools
Dr. Patton says that when the food is more digestible, dogs will have healthier and smaller stools. This claim was also backed by Dr. Billinghurst (Give Your Dog a Bone), who added that his dogs’ stools were less smelly after they began eating raw.

Increased Energy
Dr. Billinghurst also noted in his book that his dogs experienced an energy increase after changing to a raw diet. Other pet parents have said the same. The theory regarding this is that carbohydrates and sugars in kibble give your dog an energy spike, which is followed by a plunge into tiredness. Raw food advocates say that raw food reduces energy spikes, giving dogs more consistent energy levels.

Preventing Diseases
Dr. Jean Hofve, a Holistic Veterinarian and Dr. Peter Dobias, has found that changing a dog’s diet can help prevent some of the risk factors associated with canine diabetes and other related conditions. Dr. Dobias says that since he started recommending raw diets to his clients, the incidence of pancreatitis cases has decreased drastically in his veterinary practice.

Dog food kibble is heat processed and tends to be high in sugar and carbohydrates, which are all risk factors for canine diabetes, pancreatitis, and weight gain. Raw diets tend to have lower carbohydrates, lower sugars, and higher proteins, meaning dogs are less likely to be overweight. Similar to humans, obesity in animals can predispose them to more diseases.

Other benefits that pet owners have attributed to raw feeding include better teeth and dental hygiene, shinier coat, healthier skin, fewer food allergies, and a boosted immune system.

Texas Tripe Raw Dog Food

What is the correct way to feed raw?

When changing your dog to a raw food diet, you must do it the right way.

As with any dietary change, the transition to raw should be done slowly. It is recommended that a Certified Animal Dietician or Holistic/Integrative Veterinarian help you design a raw diet plan and transition schedule that is individualized to your dog.

In addition, it’s crucial to ensure your dog’s raw food has adequate nutritional balance. Raw food manufacturers offer pre-made mixes that contain all the essential nutrients, but many people prefer to make their own raw food for their pets. Whether you purchase your raw food or make it yourself, it’s crucial to have the correct mix of proteins, vegetables, and other nutrients. Consulting with an expert and making sure you purchase high-quality food are very important steps.

Veterinarian Dr. Katie Grzyb states there are a few common mistakes people tend to make when switching their dog to raw food. The biggest of which is that they don’t understand the basics of pet nutrition. Some people fail to realize that raw food is more than just meat. Raw food should also include many other ingredients, such as eggs, fruits, vegetables, and supplements such as Omega 3 oils. These ingredients together can provide all the nutrients that dogs need.
Consult with a professional who can help you understand your pet’s nutritional needs.

The most important part of doing a fresh or raw diet is balance. A lot of people have a misconception about raw diets. They think if you feed meat, bone, and organs, it’s a complete diet. It’s not. If a dog were to catch an animal, they would also be eating the fur/feathers, and sometimes dogs can be found grazing on fruit. A lot of meat we purchase in the stores are lacking certain macro and micronutrients due to the environment they are raised in and their nutrition. Therefore, it is important to supplement. I love using bioavailable foods such as mussels, oysters, sardines, fermented seeds and nuts, kelp, and veggie blends to fill in the gaps. Meghan Jerolaman, Lava Paws

Another vital factor in raw feeding is protein variety. Dogs and cats should have a variety of 5 proteins (fish not included). Protein rotation helps with boredom and getting a wide range of nutrients (every meat provides different nutrients).

What precautions should pet parents take when considering raw food?

Some of the most widely discussed criticisms of raw feeding are the concern of foodborne illness due to ingesting bacteria from raw food and the potential for cross-contamination to humans when preparing raw meals. However, supporters of the raw food movement point out that many processed pet foods, including kibble and canned food, can also contain salmonella and E.coli bacteria.

Pet owners need to make the decision that is best for their pet based on research and conversations with their vet. It is equally as important that those who choose raw food make sure that the ingredients are from a reputable source that prioritizes safety standards and only sells high-quality meat.

The final thing to remember is to follow the same guidelines as handling raw meat you consume. Raw meats contain bacteria, so it’s also important to keep both you and your animals safe. Here are some helpful safety guidelines:

Store raw food in sealed containers in the freezer.

keep raw food separate from other food by using different containers.

When placing the food in the refrigerator, keep the temperature below 40°F and only store 2-3 days’ worth of food. Like meat that would be used for human dinners, if raw food is in the refrigerator too long, it can get harmful bacteria and should be thrown out.

If taking raw food out of refrigerator to let it come to room temperature before feeding, limit the time the food is out of the fridge.

If your dog hasn’t eaten the raw food in a couple of hours, throw it out.

When handling raw food, wash your hands thoroughly afterward.

Clean all cutting boards, utensils, and countertop surfaces thoroughly after handling raw food.

Dr. Richard Patton states that if pet owners don’t want to feed straight raw, they should consider freeze drying food, a process that helps preserves nutrients and good bacteria much better than cooking.

Local Raw Feeding Resources

Whether you’re just starting to feed your pet raw food or are looking to find a community of like-minded raw feeders, getting educated and connecting with others are great ways to integrate raw feeding into your life further.

To learn more about raw feeding, consider reading Give Your Dog a Bone by Dr. Ian Billinghurst or Dr. Becker’s Real Food For Healthy Dogs & Cats: Simple Homemade Food by Karen Becker, DVM.

Austin, Texas
For those who live in Austin and the surrounding areas, check out the Austin Raw Feeders Co-op (ARF), a purchasing cooperative for people in the Austin area. The group is an excellent way to connect with other pet parents who choose to feed raw and can be helpful toward lowering the costs of raw food, as the co-op makes bulk food purchases from a variety of suppliers.

If you’re looking to make the switch to raw food but don’t have the time to make it yourself, consider finding a local raw food supplier or check with your local specialty pet store for frozen, ready-to-use products. Texas Tripe is a Texas-based company that supplies affordable, “Prey” model food and Tomlinson’s carries “BARF” model food from Steve’s Real Food.

Kona, Hawaii
We spoke with Meghan Jerolaman at Lava Paws in Kona about her upcoming raw food products.

Lava Paws is a developing business whose goal is to be a one-stop-shop for all raw feeding needs. Currently, they offer dehydrated meat treats for dogs and cats (muscle meat or cartilage), but eventually, they hope to provide meat, bones, organs, veggies, ferments, vitamin supplements, and much more.

Until then, Meghan does consultation diet plans for pet parents who feed raw. If you are interested in a consult with Meghan, visit the Lava Paws website and submit a contact form or email

Pawniolo Pets is a new pet food company run by husband and wife team Nick and Miki. Based in Waimea, all of their pet food products are produced and processed on their family cattle ranch using only grass-fed beef. They make a meat blend consisting of 90% lean ground beef, and 10% ofal meat (liver, kidney, spleen, lung), as well as, several other products. You can get more information by calling them at 808.389.3789 or at the Waimea Midweek Farmers Market (open Wednesdays from 9 am -2 pm) at Pukalani Stables.

Kona Raw Pet Food Co-op is based in Kona and provides members with a wide variety of food products from Hawaii Beef Producers. Unlike, many of the mainland raw food producers all Kona Raw is human grade without antibiotics. Additionally, the product is in whole form requiring the purchaser to butcher it down to the correct weight. For example, you purchase a ten-pound cow heart and butcher it into quarter-pound meals for a 60-pound canine.

Colorado Springs, Colorado
For pet parents in Colorado Springs and nearby areas, Raw Dog Food and Company is a direct-to-consumer raw food provider based out of Colorado. They sell high-quality, small-batch, and handcrafted raw dog food in a variety of blends.

When first beginning with raw food, it can be great to connect with locals in your area who are passionate about raw feeding. We suggest reaching out to find local groups or local pet stores and getting as much information as you can about the raw food scene in your area.

Patton, Dr. Richard (2017). Why Feed Raw? Dogs Naturally Magazine.
Hoekman, Billy (March-April, 2018). Feeding Carnivores: Dissecting New Moral Landscapes. Dogs Naturally Magazine.
Hoefve, Dr. Jean (March-April, 2018). Link between Canine Nutrition and Diabetes. Dogs Naturally Magazine.
Tobias, Dr. Peter (November, 2014). Understanding Pancreatitis. Dogs Naturally Magazine.
Kerns, Nancy (2002). The Evolution of Raw Dog Food Diet. Whole Dog Journal.
article by Pet Gal Kirstie.

10 Jan 2019

Did You Get A Puppy For Christmas? A Simple Guide To Puppy Parenting

Did You Get A Puppy For Christmas? A Simple Guide To Puppy Parenting

Getting a puppy as a gift during the holiday season can be a tremendous moment, especially if you’ve wanted one for a long time. However, becoming a pet parent is a huge commitment and can be an overwhelming experience once the excitement of the holidays has worn off.

In fact, shelter intakes have been shown to increase during the first few months of the new year. According to monthly reports in 2016, there was an average of 14% more owner-surrenders of puppies and dogs during the months of January to March than the rest of the year. In 2017, this number jumped to 22%.

Luckily, there are many things that owners can do to make the first months with their puppy as stress-free as possible. To ensure that life with your new puppy or dog goes smoothly, the key is to set them up for success by following these important steps.

Set Up Your Puppy’s Healthcare

Preventative veterinary care is the number one thing pet parents can do to avoid costly vet visits in the future. After adopting your puppy, arrange for a preliminary vet visit to establish a primary care doctor for your new family member.

The vet will do a check-up to see where your puppy’s health currently stands and go over important healthcare information such as immunization, de-worming, flea and tick prevention, spaying or neutering, heartworm prevention, and nutrition.

Your dog’s vet will also go over important health considerations for puppies, such as when it is safe for them to be around other dogs and what kind of behaviors pet parents should expect. These types of details are especially important for first-time puppy owners.

By setting up veterinary care early on in your dog’s life, you are protecting them from potentially dangerous (not to mention expensive) health conditions that could arise.

Christmas Puppy, Puppy-Proofing

Puppy-Proof Your Home

In the same way, parents must child-proof their homes to protect their young kids from hurting themselves or destroying valuable things, pet owners should prioritize puppy-proofing before bringing a new pet into the house.

Because puppies are in the early stages of their behavioral training, pet parents cannot expect them to stay out of the trash or know the difference between a favorite pair of shoes and a chew toy. Keeping things out of reach from puppies while working on their training is the best way to set them up for success.

Some helpful puppy-proofing steps include:

Put the trash in an inaccessible location and use a can with a secure lid.

Keep personal items such as purses, backpacks, shoes, clothes, toys, etc. up and out of reach of puppies.

Use cord covers or bitter, no-bite spray to keep puppies from chewing on power cords.

Be cautious about the location of food, medicine, and household cleaner storage to make sure puppies never have access to potentially dangerous materials.

Check that your houseplants are not poisonous to dogs. You can refer to the list of pet-toxic plants from the ASPCA.

Some pet parents may find it easier to simply keep puppies contained to the living space until they are older and more well-trained. While keeping doors closed is helpful, there is always the chance that someone in the home forgets to shut a door, so all rooms should be properly pet-proofed regardless. And, of course, your puppy should always have proper supervision to ensure they are safe.

Begin Potty Training

A top struggle for many pet parents is potty training. While accidents are to be expected, proper potty-training techniques can help new pet owners get their dog housetrained more quickly and easily.

According to the American Kennel Club, there are three primary potty training methods for puppies – crate training, paper training, and frequent trips outdoors. There are varying opinions on which method is best and, ultimately, the choice is up to you.

Crate training involves stimulating a dog’s instinctual nature as a den animal by making a crate their main resting space. Dogs will typically not go to the bathroom where they sleep and eat, so by utilizing a crate, pet parents gain a bit more control over where and when their puppy potties.

Paper training refers to teaching the puppy to go on potty pads in addition to outside. This method can be confusing for dogs as it gives them permission to potty indoors, but it is a helpful tool for people who work long hours or live in places with especially harsh winters.

The method of frequent trips outside is a top choice for many pet parents and can be used in conjunction with crate and/or paper training. The more a puppy is outside, the more likely they are to potty outdoors. When this happens, a ton of positive praise and training treats can be given to reinforce the habit of going to the bathroom outside.

Regardless of which method you choose to use, puppies should be on a schedule when it comes to feeding, sleeping, and going to the bathroom. Puppies should be taken out after they eat a meal after they wake up from a nap, and after they finish play time. Having a consistent schedule regarding their time spent outdoors will help encourage them to go potty when and where they’re supposed to.
The keys to potty training are to have patience, be diligent, and utilize positive reinforcement.

Christmas Puppy Training

Begin Behavioral Training

When your puppy is small and oh-so-adorable, the temptation to let them do whatever they want can be strong. However, it’s important to remember that puppies do not stay small forever and behaviors such as jumping, nipping, pulling on the leash, and chewing become more troublesome when your small puppy grows into a large dog. Begin training as early as possible to make life with your dog happier and easier.

The Pet Gal’s preferred training method is positive reinforcement. From learning basic commands such as “sit” or “stay” to learning not to chew on household items, positive reinforcement training is extremely effective.

Dogs are people pleasers who are eager for positive reactions from their owners. In positive reinforcement training, owners reward their dog for doing things correctly and as a result cultivate the behavior they want.

As with potty training, behavioral training requires dedication, consistency, and patience. Everyone in the home should be on the same page when it comes to training. All who interact with your puppy should use consistent commands and have the same standard of behavior to avoid confusing your little one.

Behavioral training classes, whether in a group environment or working one-on-one with a trainer, can be very helpful in training you how to train your dog. The Pet Gal often partners with Tara Stermer at K9 Workingmind to educate our pet sitters on dog and cat behavior as well as best practices for training. Tara offers group and individual training options that can be extremely helpful.

Christmas Puppy Socialization

Ensure Your Puppy Gets Plenty of Attention, Socialization, Play, & Exercise

Adopting a puppy is a big commitment – one that requires a lot of time and effort. But it should also be an exciting and fun time for the whole family. One of the best things new pet parents can do for their puppies is to spend as much time with them as possible.

Taking your new dog for walks, making time for play sessions, and allowing it ample opportunity to socialize with other dogs and humans will positively impact the puppy’s behavior.

Since socialization, exercise, and consistency with training are so key, parents should consider hiring a pet sitter or dog walker to step in at times when being with their pet isn’t an option. Whether you work during the day or are traveling, The Pet Gal’s team of experienced, trained sitters can ensure that your puppy stays on schedule, has fun, and learns positive behaviors while you’re away.

Christmas Puppy Owner Surrender

What To Do If Things Are Not Working Out

If for some reason you and your family are hitting roadblocks with your new dog or puppy that are making you reconsider your decision to adopt, contact others for support. Reach out to friends or family members for help. Contact veterinary offices, trainers, rescues, and shelters in your community. All are good resources for advice and most will always be happy to provide alternatives to rehoming, such as training and behavioral resources, low-cost healthcare options, support, and more.

The Pet Gal has aided many in puppy parents make the transition to keeping a happy puppy by offering puppy pet sitting and walking visits. Our sitters follow the same instructions given by your behavioralist so that we reinforce everything your puppy is learning while you are away. We can provide daily visits so your puppy is not left home alone for too long or help out if you need to leave town for a few days.

If the moment comes where you decide that giving the puppy up is the best option, be sure to surrender them to a reputable, no-kill shelter or rescue group. Luckily for Austin residents, the city has been no-kill since 2010, making it the largest no-kill city in the United States.

Organizations like the Austin Animal Center, Humane Society of the Pikes Peak Region, and Hawaii Island Humane Society serve as shelters for lost or stray animals and owner-surrendered pets. All these groups are committed to rescuing, rehabilitating, and rehoming pets regardless of age, breed, or health status.

While, of course, the preference is for you to have a long, happy relationship with your puppy, these organizations are great options.

article by Pet Gal Kirstie and infographics by Pet Guy Dan.