When it comes to keeping our dogs healthy and happy, we'll do just about anything.
Making just a few minor adjustments here and there can instantly boost your dog's quality of life. Ready to find out what they are?
Here are six easy ways to promote a healthier, happier dog:
1. Focus Solely on Your Dog for 15 Minutes a Day
Quality time with their humans is what dogs live for. Stefanie Strackbein, director of the Scottsdale, Arizona-based Edu-Care for Dogs training center, notes that dogs' inherently social nature is what led us to begin domesticating them in the first place.
"One of the most important things that would make dogs instantly happier and healthier is if their people spent more time with them."
Giving your dog just 15 minutes a day of your undivided attention will instantly enhance his general wellbeing. Put down your phone, turn off the TV, and focus solely on your dog. When it comes to quality time, a little effort goes a long way.
2. Learn Your Dog's Body Language
For dog owners who are willing to learn and pay attention, dogs have plenty of ways to communicate with us about how they're feeling.
Spend some time learning to speak "dog." Watch for nonverbal cues that indicate discomfort, such as yawning, lip licking, rapid blinking, and turning the head away. When your dog sends you these signals, he's stressed, and that's a clear sign you need to back up and explore what's driving the stress, says Strackbein.
Wouldn't you be miserable if, despite your best efforts to communicate, no one would listen? The same holds true for dogs. By learning your dog's body language, you can improve his quality of life.
3. Spend Time in the Great Outdoors
Outside is where your dog can let his natural instincts take over. Whether he's a chaser, herder, hunter, or digger, your dog will greatly appreciate the chance to sew his wild oats and soak in all the sights, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.
Playing outside is a great remedy for boredom and way to burn calories, both of which contribute to a healthier, happier dog, says Dr. Camille DeClementi, vice president of the ASPCA Animal Hospital in New York.
When you head outside, don't rush. Let your dog explore at his own pace. "Let her 'stop and smell the roses,'" says Dana Ebbecke, behavior counselor at the ASPCA Adoption Center in New York. Using his nose is how your dog learns about the world.
4. Stimulate Your Dog's Mind
A happy, healthy dog is one whose body and mind are properly stimulated. Enrichment activities are a great way to keep the mental muscles moving. Don't confuse these activities with training, though.
When you train your dog, you're teaching him what - or what not - to do. Enrichment activities are more about letting your dog think through puzzles and solve problems on his own, says Strackbein.
Enrichment activities serve a number of important purposes: they build confidence, teach patience, and hone impulse control.
According to Strackbein:
"Fifteen minutes of working with them on something mental is like working with them for an hour on something physical in terms of tiring them out."
Need some ideas for enrichment activities? Try a treasure hunt! Hide a treat somewhere in your home or in your yard and then set your dog loose to find it. You can also try the "Which hand?" game. Enclose a treat in one hand and make your dog guess which hand it's in.
5. Get the Right Collar or Harness
The amount of collars, vests, and harnesses available to dog owners is dizzying. It can be quite a task to figure out which option is best for your dog. However, your dog's comfort and safety greatly depends on your willingness to take the time to figure out what the best fit is.
"It's not a one size fits all situation," Strackbein says. Make sure that the collar, harness, or vest you choose fits well, meaning that it's not too loose or too tight. This way, your dog can explore the world comfortably - and safely.
6. Don't Over-Love on Your Dog
Is that even possible?
Actually, it is. Unfortunately, our dogs are often too well-mannered to tell us to back off, says Irith Bloom, certified dog trainer and training director at The Sophisticated Dog in West Los Angeles, California.
Pause from time to time as you're petting your dog. This gives him a chance to take a break from the affection if he needs one. Taking breaks will also allow your dog to tell you that he wants more.
"If the dog nuzzles you, paws at you, or pushes his or her body into your hands, the dog probably wants the petting to continue."
Bloom notes that pausing as you pet your dog gives him a sense of control and might even lead to your dog seeking out your affection more frequently because he knows he "won't be trapped once the petting starts."
What do you do to keep your dog healthy and happy? Tell us in the comments section!
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