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Keeping Your Pet Dog Happy and Healthy

A pet dog becomes part of your family, and keeping that furry family member as healthy and happy as possible is important. Dogs can’t tell us when they’re sick, so we have to watch closely and do as much preventive care as we can.

MomsLA spoke with experts from the Wallis Annenberg PetSpace to create this resource guide. Both Dr. J.J. Rawlinson, Senior Manager, Community Partnerships and Welfare Initiatives, and Katie McGuire, CPDT-KA, Animal Behavior & Training Coordinator contributed their expertise. See below for their bios.

dog wearing a lab coat and stethoscope text keeping your dog happy and healthy

Keeping Your Dog Healthy and Happy

Get Regular Check-ups

Just like we need to have regular well visits with our doctor, dogs need to see the Veterinarian regularly, too. Puppies need to have several check-ups and vaccines in their first year of life, just like human babies.

Dogs not only can’t tell us when they’re in pain, but they may actually try to hide their pain, so the Vet will run tests and check vitals to stay on top of your dog’s health.

The Vet will be checking for parasites, noting the dog’s growth and development, and even checking their teeth.

dog at the veterinarian's office

Parasite Control is Imperative

No dog likes to have fleas biting them, and no owners want fleas in their home, and there are effective treatments.

Dogs should have shots to prevent rabies, distemper and Parvo. And Heartworm has become a big problem here in the Southwest over the past decade. It’s spread by mosquitos, with a population growth that has been unchecked, and dogs need to be tested for it annually.

happy dog running

Training for Happiness

Training your dog helps them to be happier. Dogs get anxiety just like people do, and knowing their boundaries help keep them calmer. Training also helps dogs be better family members – and neighbors.

Have you heard of the Canine Good Citizen test from the American Kennel Club? It’s a training program with a test and certificate that helps both you and your dog learn good behavior, to help be better neighbors.

Whoever said “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” got it wrong; dogs of any age can be trained. So even if you’ve adopted an adult dog, sign up for training classes.

Kids can help with training, too. In fact, it’s good for the whole family to be involved with training your dog, so that everyone is on the same page and reinforcing the right lessons.


Keep Calm and Keep Your Dog Calm, too

Dogs can have anxiety, and that’s something to try and avoid as much as possible. Anxious dogs can display bad behavior, and no one wants that. But once you know what makes your dog anxious, you can work to keep them calm.

A common source of anxiety for dogs is when their owners leave them, even if it’s for a short trip to the grocery store. One great way to help your dog is to give them an enrichment toy when you’re about to go out.

Enrichment toys are like delicious doggie puzzles to solve, with a dog treat surprise inside. You can make up several ahead of time and have them ready for whenever you get ready to leave the house. Soon your dog will start to associate you leaving with a special treat, and their anxiety will be less and less of a problem.

happy dog on the beach
happy dog on the beach

Prevent Dog Bites

No one wants to be bitten by a dog, least of all by your own pet, which is why training is important. But you can do more to prevent bites, like learning to read your dog’s behavior to know when they’re feeling anxious or stressed.

If a dog gets up and moves away from you or your child, it’s best not to follow them; it means they need some space. Yawning, flicking their tongues, turning their head away – these are all signs of possible stress in your dog, and could escalate to growling.

After growling, a bite might not be far off, so don’t let it get to that point if you can help it. No one wants that. Try not to leave young children alone, unsupervised, with your dog.

dog looking up into camera

Fun Times for You and Your Pet

It’s not all Vet visits and training, though! Playing with your dog is part of the way your pet will stay healthy – and you’ll all be happier. And there are lots of ways to have fun besides playing catch, which is already pretty fun.

Taking your dog to the beach is fun, although you’ll need to become accustomed to cleaning up sand, and you’ll need to learn the rules about which beaches allow dogs to play legally. Our article about Dog Beaches in Los Angeles spells it out clearly: it’s not OK in LA County, but nearby Orange County will allow it.

What about some out-of-the-box fun? How about letting your City dog try Sheep Herding? Drummond Ranch will teach your dog how to chase sheep around – and we bet it’s seriously fun.

Got a sight hound? Maybe Lure Coursing is the fun of choice for you. This sport is all about letting your dog chase things (lures) and have fun. “Fast Cat” lure coursing is a subset of the sport, and we’re guessing it means exactly what you think it means. Check out Southern California Lure Coursing to find out about getting involved here in SoCal.

If you’re looking for something where both you and your dog will compete together, check out the sport of Rally Obedience. There are places in SoCal that can teach you how to do it right, and help you train, and then you can compete. One place to try is Action Dog Sports.

A Word About Dog Parks

Dog Parks don’t work out well for all dogs. It can seem like it’s doggie playtime heaven, and animated movies would have you believe all the dogs get together and gossip about their owners, but not every dog has the temperament to enjoy being around other dogs.

Dogs don’t need to socialize the way people do. In fact, some dogs are bullies – and you may find out your pet is the one behaving badly! Not to mention that some owners may be the problem, not keeping their dog’s behavior in check.

So give it a try, tentatively at first, and see how your dog likes it. Try going when there are only a few dogs in the park, not when it’s the most crowded. And if your dog is not into it, you don’t have to feel like you’re depriving your dog of something critical by skipping the dog park.

A Happy and Healthy Dog is the Goal

Making sure your pet dog is healthy and stays happy will take some work, but it will be fun, too. Your pet dog is a member of the family, and their love for you will make it all worthwhile.

happy dog with family in the background

About the Experts

Dr. J.J. Rawlinson, Senior Manager, Community Partnerships and Welfare Initiatives Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Dr. JJ Rawlinson, Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Dr. J.J. Rawlinson is originally from Canada where, as a student-athlete playing varsity basketball, she pursued a B.S. in biology from the University of Guelph in Ontario and the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, B.C. During veterinary school, Dr. Rawlinson focused on caring for the stray and unwanted animals in underserved communities of Los Angeles County and participated in many spay and neuter programs. 

Upon completing her doctorate of Veterinary Medicine at Western University of Health Sciences in Pomona, California, she completed an intensive Small Animal Surgery and Medicine Internship at VCA West Los Angeles. She continues to treat a wide variety of emergency and non-emergency cases as a general practitioner, focusing primarily on the care of dogs and cats.

In 2016, she helped launch a new state-of-the-art animal adoption and education facility, Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, in Playa Vista. As the Veterinarian and Animal Care Manager, she oversees medical procedures, behavioral training, and the adoption process of pets looking for their forever homes. 

She currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband and their two young children. In her spare time, she enjoys ocean swimming and triathlon training.

Katie McGuire, CPDT-KA, Animal Behavior & Training Coordinator Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Katie McGuire from Wallis Annenberg PetSpace

Katie McGuire is an accomplished professional dog trainer, with more than 13 years of experience, but her training career and education began long before that. Her childhood consisted of as many animal activities as she could find, including care, training, and competing with horses, as well as volunteering for a local animal rescue. She also spent time training her own dogs in multiple activities such as tricks, agility, and obedience.

Katie receive her BA from the University of California, Santa Barbara. During her studies she worked part time as an On Set Safety Representative with American Humane Association, ensuring that animals were being treated humanely during film and television productions. While at UCSB, she also completed an internship training dogs for the entertainment industry.

Additional professional endeavors of Katie’s included a role as professional dog trainer for a pet supply store, overseeing trainers at additional locations, and advising on the well-received publication, “The Big Book of Tricks for the Best Dog Ever.” Her previous video and in-person demonstrations include ACCESS Live, The Pet Collective, and The California Science Center.

She eventually launched her own training business, giving her the ability to grow and develop her skills, as well as focus on dogs with problem behaviors, and training for competition dogs in different venues. In 2020, Katie officially became the Animal Behavior & Training Coordinator at Wallis Annenberg PetSpace, after serving as the exclusive group class trainer since 2018.

Katie is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA), AKC Canine Good Citizen and Trick Dog Evaluator, a member of The Association of Pet Dog Trainers, the Dog Trainers Alliance of Southern California, the Pyrenean Shepherd Club of America, and the Valley Hills Obedience Club. With her own dogs, she trains and competes in agility, conformation, Rally Obedience, and competition Obedience, garnering many wins, and competing at the national level. She continues her education by reading, attending seminars, and consulting with other trainers as often as possible.

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