By Susan Peck
Originally printed in NeighborhoodSEEN, May 2015

Shop for organic food, schedule a manners class, book a doctor’s appointment for shots, and pick out a new daycare … so much to do as a new parent – a pet parent, that is.

For most of us, our new pet will become another important addition to our family and we treat them like we would any other member.

A lot is involved in raising a healthy, well-adjusted pet, and the chances of having a long-lasting wonderful relationship with it increase dramatically if you follow some important guidelines for successful pet parenting.

Pet Parenting 101

Dr. Kristin Fox from DePorre Veterinary Hospital in Bloomfield Hills explains that of everything we spend on our pets – which has reached nearly $60 billion a year in this country – good healthcare is the most important thing you can give them. She has three musts for new pet parents.

“The most essential thing is to provide preventative healthcare that includes a yearly exam and complete blood work that allows us to diagnose and treat problems in the early stages,” she said. “Diagnostic tools like MRIs, CAT scans and digital and dental X-rays allow us to give better care than ever before and a chance for a long and healthy life.

“Next, keeping your pet at a healthy weight is very important for their organs and mobility,” Fox said. “If a pet is overweight, it negatively affects their whole body.

“And there’s a tie for the third thing – registering your pet with a micro-chip to identify it if it gets lost and providing early socialization that includes behavior classes and training.”

James Lessenberry, a clinical animal behaviorist for more than 25 years, provides the early socialization dogs need in training courses offered in Birmingham, Royal Oak and Rochester.

“We call our class a family training course because a large part of dog training is really people training,” Lessenberry said. “The people in the family need to be a part of the teaching process with their pet. Some pet parents want a progressional to fix a problem, but it doesn’t get fixed without the owner’s follow through.”

His company, Animal Learning Systems, is based around a training concept that incorporates a combination of psychological, environmental and biomedical considerations. Level 1 classes for puppies 8 weeks and older teach them how to socialize or interact with other dogs, basic manners, leash etiquette, housetraining and destruction prevention.

At one of Lessenberry’s recent family training classes in Birmingham, pet parents of 5-year-old Siberian husky Diesel have come as a family to try to change his dominating and aggressive behavior. Pet dad Craig Schmehl of Royal Oak sees improvement in Diesel after six weeks in the class.

“(Jim) Lessenberry explained that it’s never too late to correct a behavior problem, so we wanted to give it a try,” Schmehl said. “We learned that we needed to be part of the solution because Diesel learned from us what he could get away with. H needed to have more limits set by us, and since we’ve started to do that he’s been calmer and better with other dogs.”

Animal Learning Systems also offers a turnkey program that takes dogs over 4 months old to its Rochester training campus for six weeks of intensive training. Once completed, the dog and family are reintroduced to integrate all aspects of the training into everyday life.

“This program is designed for the family that doesn’t have the aptitude for training their pet or the luxury of time it can take to do it properly,” Lessenberry said.

And for problems too big to handle alone there is his “Behavior Therapy for Challenging Companion Animals.” This program works with pets that have excessive aggression, depression, anxiety, geriatric issues, and learning and physical impairments.