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The State of Dog Care

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Map of the United States showing hotspots for dog care with images of dogs sitting on top of the map.

At Embark, our scientists are working hard to improve dog health, with the help of our customers through community science.

Embark conducted a study of over 190,000 Embark customers, plus 1,977 additional pet owners in all 50 states, to find out where pet owners are going the extra mile to care for their dogs in the United States. We also uncovered some surprising insights about types of pet care that are more popular in some US states and less popular in others.

What we did

We compared survey responses in all 50 states across three key dimensions:

  1. Overall dog health (40 points)
  2. How pet owners integrate their dogs into their families (35 points)
  3. Dog behavior and training (25 points)

We evaluated those dimensions using a total of 31 metrics. Each metric was graded on a 100-point scale, with a maximum score of 100. Finally, we determined each state’s weighted average across all the metrics to calculate its overall score. We then ranked those scores from highest to lowest.

Here’s what we found.

Top states for dog care

These states ranked in the top five for overall dog care, including health, family integration, and behavior:

  1. Alaska
  2. New York
  3. New Hampshire
  4. Oregon
  5. Massachusetts

Highest overall dog health

These states had the highest overall score in the dog health category:

  1. Massachusetts
  2. New York
  3. Pennsylvania
  4. New Hampshire
  5. Colorado

A total of 11 factors influenced how states scored in the dog health category, for a total of 40 points toward the overall score. We explore a few of these factors below. We’ve also included some expert tips from a veterinarian on how to keep your dog healthy and make sure they are getting the right preventive care.

Dog health rating

The highest percentages of dogs reported to be in “good” or “excellent” health are in:

  1. Idaho
  2. Louisiana
  3. Maine
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Mississippi

Weekly exercise

States where dogs receive the most exercise:

  1. Massachusetts
  2. Vermont
  3. Maine
  4. New Hampshire
  5. New York

Annual vet visits

States with the highest percentage of dogs who receive an annual checkup:

  1. Massachusetts
  2. Rhode Island
  3. Connecticut
  4. Illinois
  5. South Dakota

Dental hygiene

Pet owners in these states brush their dogs’ teeth regularly (daily or weekly):

  1. New York
  2. California
  3. Hawaii
  4. Colorado
  5. Florida

Veterinarian tip: At-home dental care is an important addition to regular dental cleanings and X-rays by a veterinarian. Be sure the toothpaste is an enzymatic toothpaste made for dogs as they should not swallow the fluoride in human toothpaste. Daily brushing is ideal. Dental chews, sprays, and water additives can be a supplemental part of your dog’s oral care. Look for the Veterinary Oral Health Council seal of approval, and be sure not to leave your dog unattended with a dental chew.

Learn more about how to maintain your dog’s dental health with regular teeth cleaning.

Flea or tick prevention

These states had the highest percentage of pet owners who gave their dogs preventive medication in the past year:

  1. Louisiana
  2. Kentucky
  3. Missouri
  4. Georgia
  5. Indiana

Veterinarian tip: The parasite risk for your dog is dependent on where in the world, and even which part of the country, you live. Common and easily acquired parasites including roundworms, hookworms, whipworms, tapeworms, fleas, ticks, scabies, and heartworm disease can impact your dog’s health. Some of these parasites will drain nutrients needed for energy and growth. Others can cause anemia by consuming blood, cause chronic vomiting or diarrhea, or even transmit other deadly parasites and bacterial infections. Many parasites can be transmitted from dogs to other dogs or humans, and some can even cause blindness in children. It is important to discuss proper parasite prevention with your veterinarian.

Health supplements

Pet owners feed their dogs health supplements in:

  1. Colorado
  2. New Mexico
  3. Washington
  4. Oregon
  5. Nevada

Pet insurance

These states have the highest rates of pet insurance:

  1. Massachusetts
  2. New Jersey
  3. New York
  4. California
  5. Rhode Island

Veterinarian tip: The decision about whether or not to get pet insurance is dependent on your individual family situation and country of residence. Review policies carefully so you are familiar with what is and what is not covered. Some policies have breed-specific exclusions, while others do not cover genetic diseases. Some have a per-year deductible, per-condition deductible, or per-lifetime deductible. Please visit each company’s website for more information. A dog that eats a toxin or foreign object can cost thousands of dollars to treat properly. Treatment for broken bones, kidney failure, and cancer can be in the thousands as well.

Infections

These states had the highest rates of canine infections in the past year (due to bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites): 

  1. North Dakota
  2. Utah
  3. Nevada
  4. Alabama
  5. Idaho

Part of the family

The second category in the study measured how people care for their dogs at home, spend time with them, and make their pets a part of the family.

A total of 15 factors influenced how states scored in the family category, for a total of 35 points toward the final score. We explore a few of these factors below.

Daily hours with humans

Dogs spend the most time with humans per day in:

  1. Maine
  2. Washington
  3. Wisconsin
  4. North Carolina
  5. Utah

Dog proofing

These states had the highest rates of pet owners who took steps to dog-proof their home environments:

  1. Colorado
  2. Georgia
  3. Arkansas
  4. Washington
  5. Montana

Learn more about how to protect your dog with our guide to puppy-proofing your home.

Veterinarian tip: Dogs of all ages can eat things they are not supposed to. Be sure all human and animal medications are kept out of reach in a closed high cabinet. Limit access to plants, chemicals, pesticides, rodent traps, and toxic human foods. Monitor blankets, towels, and toys for missing parts such as buttons and stuffing which can cause intestinal obstruction. For further information, please contact the Animal Poison Control at 1-888-426-4435 or visit the ASPCA website.

Close sleeping environment

States with the highest percentages of dogs who sleep in their owner’s bed or bedroom:

  1. Indiana
  2. Oregon
  3. Florida
  4. Maine
  5. Michigan

Car rides

Dogs accompany their humans on car rides “often” or “always” in:

  1. New Hampshire
  2. Georgia
  3. Maine
  4. Idaho
  5. Alaska

Planning a road trip? Check out our seven tips for car rides with your dog.

Grooming frequency

Pet owners groom their dogs regularly (at least once a week) in:

  1. Mississippi
  2. Oregon
  3. Arkansas
  4. Georgia
  5. Minnesota

Veterinarian tip: Most dogs do not need regular bathing. If you choose to bathe your dog, please use a gentle shampoo (oatmeal, aloe, or fatty acid based) for dogs. Be sure to clean your dog’s ears with a self-drying cleaner, made for dogs, after all baths or swimming and for normal ear cleanings. Dogs exposed to water or those with long floppy ears and allergies are more prone to ear infections and should have their ears cleaned regularly. Frequent nail trimming will reduce the incidence of broken nails, ingrown nails, and avulsed nails. Getting a dog used to a grooming routine early and with positive reinforcement will help desensitize them to this needed care.

TV time

Dogs watch TV “often” or “always” in:

  1. California 
  2. Missouri
  3. Illinois
  4. Massachusetts
  5. New York

Birthday celebrations

Pet owners celebrate their dog’s birthday every year in:

  1. Connecticut
  2. Minnesota
  3. Missouri
  4. South Dakota
  5. Michigan

Dog playdates

Pet owners take their dogs out to socialize with other dogs weekly or multiple times a week in:

  1. California
  2. West Virginia
  3. Texas
  4. Nevada 
  5. Colorado

Veterinarian tip: Early socialization and training is highly advised as puppyhood is the prime time for dogs to learn proper behavior interactions with other dogs and humans. If you adopt an older dog, don’t worry, you can teach an old dog new tricks! Older dogs may have already been sensitized to certain stimuli or learned that behaviors now viewed as undesirable were once OK. 

Housing accommodation

Pet owners in these states have changed their housing plans (for example, renting or purchasing a home with a yard) to benefit their canine family member:

  1. Washington
  2. New Mexico
  3. Alaska
  4. Arkansas
  5. Vermont

Dog behavior and training

A dog’s behavior is just one of the things that makes them unique. Some behaviors are dependent on training, while others might naturally differ depending on the environment the dog lives in. 

Five factors influenced how states scored in the dog behavior category, for a total of 25 points toward the total score. We explore a few of these behaviors below, as well as some training tips and advice from experts.

Inappropriate barking

The states where dogs frequently bark in inappropriate situations include:

  1. Alaska
  2. Idaho
  3. Arkansas
  4. Rhode Island
  5. Connecticut

Veterinarian tip: For your safety and theirs, dogs should be exposed to potty training, crate training, riding in the car, greeting people appropriately, having their feet/ears/muzzle touched, and be comfortable with being left alone at home for short periods. Some dogs may need special care regarding loud noises such as thunderstorms and fireworks or introduction to children and other animals.

Honoring the legacy of Dr. Sophia Yin, this website offers resources on proper training methods focusing on positive reinforcement, low stress handling, and reducing your dog’s anxiety and fear responses. Board Certified Veterinary Behaviorists are also a great resource, and they may even come to your home to help you with training and behavior modification.

Keep in mind that certain behaviors can indicate more serious issues. If your dog is barking out of fear or protection, consider talking to a veterinarian, a veterinary behaviorist, or professional dog trainer to learn more about the possible causes of these behaviors and how to address them.

Barking on walks

These states have the highest percentage of dogs who frequently bark at other dogs or people while they’re out in a yard or on a walk:

  1. Idaho
  2. Arkansas
  3. Oregon
  4. Wyoming
  5. Alabama 

Small animal chasing

The highest rates of dogs who chase small animals—even when told not to—occur in:

  1. Alaska
  2. Utah
  3. Nevada
  4. Idaho
  5. Arizona

Chasing is a natural instinct in dogs. This behavior comes from their ancestry as predators in the wild. Dogs’ eyes are designed to be sensitive to movement. If a small critter runs by, they’re hardwired to notice.

It’s difficult to train dogs to ignore small animals, but you can redirect their attention with the “leave it” cue, or channel that desire to chase into games like fetch. Learn more about managing your dog’s prey drive and find training tips to help curb an obsession with the chase.

Good behavior rewards

We’re not surprised to hear that pet owners across the country reward their dogs for good behavior. 98% of pet owners across all 50 states reported that they reinforce good behavior with treats or verbal praise, with 100% of respondents in 24 states answering “yes” to this question.

Positive reinforcement is a crucial part of training your dog to get acclimated to their new home or respond to visual or verbal cues. Our comprehensive guides can help you learn how to train your shelter dog or new puppy. Check out these top dog training tips with advice from Carrie Weber of Good Dog Training.

Contribute to research at Embark

This study was made possible by Embark customers and pet owners in the US. Want to help us advance canine health? By filling out the Annual Health Survey and participating in other Embark studies, you can help dog-loving scientists and pet owners make discoveries that can benefit the health of all dogs.

Mimi Padmabandu Contributor

Mimi Padmabandu is a scientific writer and Senior Content Strategist at Embark Veterinary. Her career includes a decade of experience writing about science and genomics for leading biotechnology companies, including Illumina, Thermo Fisher Scientific, and more. She holds a bachelor's degree in Molecular, Cell, and Developmental Biology from UCLA and a master’s degree from King’s College London.

Read more about Mimi Padmabandu

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