One of the more routine and comparatively mundane tasks that vets face daily is the new puppy check, but it is an excellent break from the horrors that often fill my days. It is a nice change to be faced with a normal animal with 'happy to see you' owners. I can't imagine what being a dentist would be like, faced with the constant barrage of people who don't really want to see you. In this situation, the owners are looking forward to you making sure that their new family member is healthy and fit. I have willing owners who are keen to learn and I try take advantage of this enthusiasm as much as I can. The initial puppy consultation tends to take more time and I take it very seriously, as it is also the start of a long relationship between myself and these owners during the life of their new pet. Introductions and first impressions are as important as in any interview. So it breaks my heart when I see new owners fall so quickly into the pitfalls of new dog ownership. I usually assess the type of owner I have in front of me. Good owners have done their research on their pet and ask intelligent questions. Potentially bad owners have no idea and ask about everything, but worst is the owner who pushes the children forward and tells them to listen to what the vet has to say then turn around to make a phone call. This really happens. There are parents who don't care about their new pet from the start, thinking of it as a toy for the children. This is the attitude I have to change in a 15-minute consultation. It would be an understatement to say this is a challenge. First, I stop talking and patiently wait until I have everyone's attention. The silence usually gets the parent off the phone. Then I gently, but in no uncertain terms, remind them that it is they, not the children, who will be looking after the new dog, now and for the rest of its life. By the time the dog has grown old, the children will have long lost interest. Having become adolescents they usually have other interests, the least of which will be the family pet. This usually gets their undivided attention and it is often amusing to see the regretful look in their eyes. Another common pitfall is when owners spend a small fortune in supplemental products. It amazes me sometimes how much stuff they buy. Even more silly is more than 70 per cent of the stuff is useless or even harmful. This week I saw an owner who had bought HK$4,000 worth of pet-related merchandise, most of which I threw straight in the bin - with their permission, of course. He had spent thousands on mineral and vitamin supplements that is contained in a good, regular puppy food. A good dog food not only meets the minimal nutritional requirements of your new pet, but does not have excess nutrients that could be harmful to your pet. Normally, to further supplement a good pet food is to imbalance the diet. A common myth some pet shops are still touting is that calcium supplements are needed for your puppy, then they sell you a commercial diet that already has all the calcium the puppy needs. The pet ends up getting too much calcium, which can lead to growth and joint problems and, if used long enough, kidney and bladder stones. Why do pet shops sell things that could be harmful to new puppies? Because of poor education and a blind following of old methods that are no longer applicable in the modern pet-owning world. In the old days, when there was no commercial pet food, owners had to cook for their dogs, and this diet of meat and vegetables is usually deficient in the calcium needed by growing pets. A calcium supplement was needed and this outdated need has somehow filtered down through generations. One of the greatest challenges any new pet owner faces is training. Even for an old hand like me, training is the toughest and arguably the most important part of companion-animal husbandry. It is difficult because it requires inordinate amounts of time and patience that many busy Hongkongers lack. It requires research, planning and organisation. A new pet owner who has no experience has been bombarded with copious amounts of information. Responsible owners have read up on the basic needs of their pet, especially their day-to-day requirements and health-related issues. Having worked out all the logistics, they make it to the first appointment with the vet. These happy owners then finally arrive home with their new family member. After a week, they have suddenly found their own daily routine turned upside down to cope with their new pet, be it a dog or a cat. More so if it is a dog. After a month, the pet wears the owners out, and some don't have the steam to follow up with the all-important training, the lack of which could mean a destructive and annoying pet that the owner has to live with for a decade or more. Pet ownership is definitely not something to take lightly.