Updated: Aug 23, 2019
Chances are if you have a dog, you truly want to give your dog what they need to live a happy and fulfilled life. Contrary to what some believe or think, just giving your dog food, love, and attention doesn't cut it. Dogs need more, especially working, sporting, and energetic breeds. However, ALL dogs can and will live better, longer lives when these fundamentals are incorporated into your daily rituals with them..
I'm sure you're not surprised that this is first on my list. But, for most people with a dog, it's probably last on their list. Leadership is the sum total of rules, boundaries, and crystal clear communication. Dogs actually crave leadership and there are very few dogs that actively attempt to gain or take control and challenge their human counterparts. But if you don't take the lead, your dog certainly will, and you wont like it. Leadership can be attained through the consistent and persistent application of rules and boundaries - you tell your dog what to do, instead of them telling you. A few examples of this are; not giving your dog attention as soon as you come home and waiting for calm, quiet behavior before petting. Making them sit at the door and wait for a release to go outside for walks or to the bathroom. Making them wait patiently in their crate without shoving the door open before allowing them to exit. Doing these things consistently is setting rules, creating boundaries, communicating clearly and taking the leadership role. Another way to look at it is controlling their movements, actions, and access to spaces or areas. Just like in school, teachers require students to; raise their hands and be called upon before they can ask a question, request permission to use the restroom, or, complete their school work before given access to the playground for recess. It's not about being mean or authoritative. It's about creating a structure that promotes good behavior, teaches self control and teaches patience while seamlessly putting you in a leadership position.
2. Physical Stimulation
Let's face it, it's very unlikely that you could wear your dog out with just a 30 min walk. I mean, that's pretty much a light stretch for a natural born athlete. You wouldn't expect LeBron James to be ready for a nap after a 30 min walk, would you? So why even pretend to think that kind of exercise would put a scuff in the overall energy of your dog. You've got to get your dog to push their limits especially if you have a working breed or a generally high energy dog (assuming they're physically capable and healthy enough to do so - and not a pup who's breed is prone to hip dysplasia) and run. Get them to fetch a ball or frisbee, have them run alongside you as you run or ride a bike. If running isn't an option, I'm a huge fan of tug. TUG? I know, I know you may have read somewhere on some dog training site never to play tug with your dog and it scared you so much you burned all the tug toys and ropes and said 10 Hail Mary's. Okay well I'm telling you tug is a great game to play but only if your dog isn't aggressive, possessive over toys and you have a good relationship. If your dog runs the house, tug is not the game for you and your dog. But if all is well with your relationship, playing tug is an excellent way to tire your dog physically.
3. Mental Stimulation
Solve this math equation... \-x+sqrt1−x2\-=sqrt2(2x2−1). Does your head hurt yet? Imagine doing 10 or 20 of these in a row and how tired you would be mentally. Well, this is the equivalent to making your dog think through games and training. The more your dog has to make decisions, the faster they become mentally exhausted. Remember what I said earlier, they're natural born athletes, not natural born thinkers or decision makers. With that said, the easiest way to stimulate your dog's mind and get them thinking while simultaneously providing structure and leadership is through training. Teaching them to stay in a sit while their favorite ball is tossed across the room is forcing them to make a decision - chase the ball or wait for permission. Likewise, creating a chain of behaviors like come, sit, down, stay....... come, can work wonders for both you and your dog. Applying mental stimulation through the use of games together with you can be just as fun for you as it is for your dog. Consider hide and seek for example; when your dog finds you, you can reward them with a quick play session or their favorite food reward then repeat. Another effortless way to provide mental stimulation is through the use of interactive toys such as puzzle games and feeders. Why let feeding time go to waste, make them work for it!
4. A Solid Routine
This is a subtle attribute that many people overlook when it comes to their four-legged loved ones. Trust me when I tell you your dog is not happy that you randomly decide to walk them throughout the week or even month. They want a consistent routine because dogs follow patterns and are without a doubt, creatures of habit. Why else do you think little Biscuit pees on the same damn spot on the carpet? Seriously. Routine lets your dog know what to expect which makes them much more relaxed and happy. Not knowing creates frustration that can be displayed in many different ways, none of which will make your day or life any better. Have you ever noticed that if you tend to take your dog to the bathroom at 7 am every morning your dog will become more and more pushy to get outside and do their business at that time? Or maybe you feed your dog at 5 pm every night and notice they become really antsy and restless very quickly if not fed on time. Use these as an example of how playing into their natural tendency to seek patterns can benefit them, make them happy which will, in turn, make you happy. My advice... give your dog a solid routine.
5. Fresh Air and Sunlight
If you would enjoy a nice cool breeze through your hair and some sun in your face, why wouldn't your dog? Getting them outside is so incredibly important to their well being. Even if you have the smallest tea-cup Yorkie on the planet that fits in your pocket, they would much rather be outside sniffing, running, and exploring than cooped up in the house all day. After adding dog walking to our services last May, I was surprised to see the sheer joy that came over all of the dogs when we came to pick them up. Of course, I expected them to be happy but "happy" is an understatement. Some of the dogs are waiting at the door before we even get there, some of them run straight from their front door directly into the van without skipping a step. For me, it's a true testament to the importance of getting your dog outside in the Sun.
6. A Healthy Diet and Quality Nutrition
Both the quality and quantity of your dog's diet are critical to their health and happiness. This is another aspect that greatly affects the quality of your dog's life. Because of their short lifespans and sensitivity to the slightest extra weight, keeping your dog at a lean, healthy weight is essential to their well being and long term happiness. Have you ever felt heavy, bogged down, lethargic or even depressed after eating some poor quality food? Your dog may be experiencing the same things. Processed food is no better for your dog than it is for you or your children. Although I do feed my dogs raw food, I am not here to convince you to feed your dog a raw diet. However, I am here to remind or inform you of the constant recalls on processed, bagged and canned dog food, which begs the question, what EXACTLY are we feeding our dogs? One easy way to know what is in your dogs food is to prepare it yourself. This may take more time but will save you money and heartache later on, in addition to prolonging your dog's life. Clearly, I am not a veterinarian nor claim to be one, but I would be a fool not to include diet and nutrition when discussing the building blocks to giving your dog a happy and fulfilled life. I encourage you to do your own research on this subject.
Leadership, mental & physical stimulation, diet & nutrition and some good old fashioned sunlight put in place through a solid routine. Seems simple enough, and it is. In life, you get out what you put in. Make a conscious effort to put in the work to give your dog what is on this list, then get from them what is on your list, whatever that may be. By focusing on giving them what they actually need and not what you want, you will be setting your dog up for a happy and fulfilled life and I promise you this comes full circle back to you. Your relationship with your dog will improve, you'll both be happy and you can thank me later.
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