Like most of you, I've had dogs my whole life. Growing up on a cattle ranch in South Texas, I have fond memories of my childhood dogs but I also cringe a little when I think back about them. I loved them of course, but I sure didn't know much about taking care of them. They were ranch dogs, who spent their lives outdoors and rarely went to the vet for check-ups. Sweet, loving, and tough - they also didn't have very long lives.

Over the years, I've had many dogs come into my life. Some stayed with us for years, while others were only with us for a short time. But every dog that I've had in my life has taught me valuable lessons on canine health and dare I say, happiness. With each new dog that gets added to my household (currently I have four!) I rely on my past experiences to help me help them live their best (and longest) lives possible. I hope that all of my previous dogs who are waiting for me at the Rainbow Bridge know how much I learned from them and also understand how much my current dogs are benefitting.

The right nutrition is important.

This lesson in particular I learned from my dachshund Wynnie (RIP). She had severe allergies and seemed to be allergic to everything including dust (!!). It was finally after months and months of trying various foods and treats that I found a protein combination that worked for her and helped to relieve her constant itchiness.

Over the years since, I have researched and learned a lot about dog food. Canine nutrition is as nuanced and complicated as human nutrition is and it is absolutely worth the effort to out different things in order to find right food for your dog. I won't go into recommending certain brands of food or start a debate over raw vs processed - but taking the time be mindful about dog food ingredients is extremely important and can do wonders for helping your dog live his best life.

Early detection is key

This lesson I've learned from several dogs. Dogs are amazingly expressive creatures but they can also be stoic and hide symptoms that something is wrong — sometimes even for a very long time. I try to be observant of my dogs at all time - keeping track of their normal patterns, their breathing, coat and skin condition, paws, teeth, and movement.

I once had a beautiful blue heeler named Blue. One day, I came to find that he ate a hole in our wall. This was completely out of character from his usual happy self, he had never so much as ripped the squeaker out of a stuffed toy He acted normal otherwise, so I soon forgot about the incident. Months later we discovered, much too late, that he had a brain tumor. I'm still haunted by the fact that I didn't pay more attention to the wall incident, as that was probably a warning sign of something seriously wrong.

Another biggie for me is checking my dogs monthly for any changes to their body condition - I look for lumps and bumps, once a month on the same day I give them their heart worm medication. My dogs think they are getting a nice massage! If you do find something, it's best to be on the safe side and get it checked out by a veterinarian.

Stop and smell the flowers, grass, mailbox, patch of dirt....

My dogs are masters at sleeping and taking 21429843732984 naps a day. However, it's still important for them to get not only exercise but also be challenged mentally to keep them at their best. Enrichment toys like puzzle feeders and backyard games are a daily occurrence in our house now. But the thing that I find they love the most is long walks and sniffing! There's been lots of scientific research out lately about how beneficial it is to let dogs sniff as much as they want during a walk. It may make your walks twice as long, but that is beneficial for you too! Being outside in nature has been proven to be a positive mood-enhancer!

Time goes by fast

As we are all well aware, dogs are not with us long enough. If you've been thinking about a pet photography session for your heart dog, then now is the time! Let's capture those memories, of that quirky ear, the clear, bright eyes, and jaunty trot. To get started, just contact me here.

My blog is a part of a blog circle with pet photographers from around the world - next up is Syracuse NY photographer Nancy Kieffer shares her affinity for legacy photo sessions and her next steps to ensuring a caring experience with her clients.