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‘Oh My Dog’: Caring for your buddy

Owning a dog is one of life’s great joys — but sometimes the challenges it brings can make even the most devoted dog lovers panic. Before you get to the end of your leash, though, take heart: “Oh My Dog,” a new book by Beth Ostrosky Stern, is here to help. Here is an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY books

Owning a dog is one of life’s great joys, but sometimes the challenges it brings can make even the most devoted dog lovers panic. Before you get to the end of your leash, though, take heart: The book “Oh My Dog: How to Choose, Train, Groom, Nurture, Feed, and Care for Your New Best Friend" is here to help. Written by Beth Ostrosky Stern — an actress, model, animal-rights activist and the wife of radio personality Howard Stern — “Oh My Dog” is a guide for every step of dog ownership. Here is an excerpt.

The best kind of pet projectSomething tells me you’re about to become a dog person, if you’re not one already. Maybe it’s the way your face lights up when you hear the word “puppies!” — or the fact that you’re two sentences into a lengthy canine compendium. Either way, you’re in good company, because I’m passionate about dogs, too. After all, the only thing a dog owner adores more than her pet is an audience who will listen to her seasoned insights and animated stories about raising him. And as you’ll soon learn by being the new kid in the dog park, the act of gathering friendly guidance from those in the know is a sensible rite of passage for both you and your dog.

And do I have a world of advice to pass on.

When a dog becomes part of your life, you automatically become part of a community that knows how to spot-clean carpets and neutralize puppy breath. We’ve spent time vetting our vets and begging trainers to “stay” — and most of us don’t realize how much we have to share until you ask. Curious about barking? We’ll talk your ear off. Interested in holistic diets? Let’s swap recipes. It may sound a bit overwhelming now, but when your dog’s eyes are bloodshot and the vet’s in Hawaii, you’ll be grateful someone’s done the homework for you.

Adjusting to a dog owner’s lifestyle can be hard in the beginning, and I know from personal experience that you can ask a pro only so many questions before you start to feel like an incompetent mess. That’s part of the reason why I wanted to write “Oh My Dog”:to share my own dog experiences, and most important, to relay guidance from talented experts you may not already have on speed dial. Raising a new canine family member isn’t a task that should make you feel alone in your confusion (or in any way, really), so consider the words in this book a first resort, a friendly second opinion, a strong support system — or all of the above. Here, you’ll find dog-rearing essentials, according to my own experience and a handful of wonderful experts, to help make your new adventure as simple, fun, and fulfilling as it can be. Long walks and playtime are the stuff of great memories, but growing and learning with your dog can be difficult, and time-consuming as well. If I can help skim the fat from an extensive how-to process to leave more hours for you to smother each other with love, then I’ll have done my part as a fellow dog owner.

Owning a dog is so much more than, well, owning a dog. It’s a series of physical, mental, and emotional exercises: a time-suck one minute and a heart-tug the next. Anyone with a new puppy or full-grown dog will agree that there’s nothing fun or funny about those first loud nights he spends crying in a crate near your bed or those little needle-teeth snags he makes in your new tights. But treat and train your dog well, and he’s bound to become the embodiment of the best friend you’ve always hoped for. As you and your dog get to know each other better, it’s comforting to realize that so many others have been in the same boat — many of them with fewer resources than you have in your hands right now. As my pregnant friend used to tell herself to keep from freaking out about motherhood: “Dumber people have done this.” The mantra isn’t so different when raising a dog, and the more time you devote to learning the basics, the more intuitive the process will become.

Falling in love with BiancaI’ll never forget the moment Howard and I decided to get a dog together.

Early in our relationship, we spent Sunday afternoons at the neighborhood dog park, just watching people interact with their pets. After a year of this, Howard suggested we get one of our own. We’d both been dog owners in the past, so we knew what a life-changing event it would be. I was panicked at first: I knew those 4:30 a.m. walks would be my duty in the middle of frigid New York City winters, since Howard had to rush to be on the air by 6 a.m. My family always rescued our pets from local shelters, but Howard and I were determined to find an English Bulldog. We were drawn to every one we saw! It became an obsession. In fact, we were known to chase English Bulldogs (and their owners) down city blocks just to look at them. We spent an entire year researching breeders in our vicinity, since at the time I didn’t realize that there was such a thing as a breed rescue. When we finally met with our breeder, Shelly, we were excited to meet the mommy Bulldog who had our puppy in her belly.

But something happened when we arrived at Shelly’s house that afternoon. She had eight grown Bulldogs running around her home, including the one about to give birth. There was one dog in particular, Reba, who just adored Howard. She immediately sat in his lap and then sauntered over to me to give me kisses. After that, I only wanted my baby Bulldog to have Reba’s personality. So I asked Shelly what the story was with this particular dog, and she told me that Reba was about 10 months old and was a former top show puppy until she developed a wiggle in her walk. Reba was of no use to her anymore, because she wasn’t perfect and couldn’t be shown. Needless to say, Reba came home with us that day, and we renamed her Bianca Romijn-Stamos-Ostrosky-Stern. It’s a mouthful, I know, but it suits her. In case you’re wondering: the Romijn-Stamos part came from our friends Rebecca and John, whom we consider two of the most beautiful people in the world. When Rebecca married Jerry O’Connell, lucky Bianca took on the addition of O’Connell to her name, too!

“Oh My Dog”is the guide I wish I’d had when we brought our baby girl home. Howard and I think she’s just about perfect, but Bianca has been very needy from the start. She follows me to the bathroom, watches me put on makeup, and when I make dinner, there’s always a 54-pound lump at my feet. She also farts! A lot. Very stinky ones. And during her first year with us, her gas was just rancid. I now know this isn’t so strange for her breed, but it was still pretty vulgar. If friends came over for dinner, Bianca would pass gas after appetizers and before the first course. When Howard and I watched “American Idol,” Bianca would stink up the apartment before Ryan and Simon could pick their first fight. She’s not much of a lady, our Bianca, but she does have a gorgeous face, a sloppy tongue, and a piglike waddle; and though she couldn’t help her flatulence issues, they threw me nonetheless. I remember looking for answers online and in my own dog guides, but none ever gave me the solutions I sought. It took me a good year before I finally broke down and asked our vet about the embarrassing situation — which was helped enormously by simply tweaking her diet. If I’d had a quick and unintimidating reference to let me know how normal her gas was, and why it happened, I wouldn’t have felt so mortified on her behalf.

It takes a villageAs a longtime dog owner, shelter volunteer, and spokesperson for the North Shore Animal League America (NSALA), I can’t tell you how many people ask me the most random questions about owning a dog — with topics ranging from breed-specific behaviors to socialization techniques. Bringing home a dog is full of so many “now what?” moments, and if I can address some of your questions before you even have them, all the better. That said, in no way do I intend to replace or undermine the roles of vets, trainers, and other schooled experts. I’d actually feel relieved if you’d consider this book an informed starting point for continued conversation with someone who holds a degree in animal care. It often takes a village, as you’ll soon learn.

More than anything, I’ve always loved dogs and the community they promote. From puppies to adult dogs, purebreds to mutts and rescues:

Each one brings its own special charm into our lives, especially when we keep an open mind and realistic perspective. So determine what you need from this book, ignore what you wish, and most important, enjoy the process. In no time, you’ll be doling out advice to clueless owners, too.

Excerpted with permission from “Oh My Dog: How to Choose, Train, Groom, Nurture, Feed, and Care for Your New Best Friend" by Beth Ostrosky Stern (Gallery Books, 2010).