As proud dog owners, it’s our responsibility to make our pups’ lives as happy and healthy as possible. Dogs rely on their human parents for virtually everything, from food and shelter to companionship and unconditional love.
Whether you’re a new pet parent intent on giving your canine an exceptional life, or you’ve owned dogs for years, the following list is chock-full of ways to boost your pet’s happiness and health. So, settle in, give your pup a pat and a treat, and let’s dig into some tried-and-true (and maybe new-to-you) tips that will enrich the life of your four-legged companion.
1. Go for Daily Walks Together
If you’re able to walk your dog on a regular basis, do it! A scheduled stroll will soon become a habit, as well as a daily highlight for both you and your pup. Your dog’s breed, age, and fitness level are important considerations when deciding how often, how far, and how fast to walk. Don’t push it, and take frequent breaks to allow for plenty of sniffing time, which stimulates canines’ minds and actually makes them more optimistic. Regular walks also tend to make dogs less restless and prone to destructive behaviors at home.
In addition to promoting a more positive spirit, there are many physical health benefits associated with regular dog walks, both for pups and their humans. Frequent walks have been linked to improved cardiovascular health, lower blood pressure, and decreased stress levels in men and women. Canines who walk on a regular basis have a decreased risk of developing cardiovascular disease, liver disease, and insulin resistance.
2. Change Up Your Route
If you never deviate from your usual route, daily walks may become monotonous for you and your pet. Switch up your routine from time to time to keep the activity enjoyable and stimulating. It can also be fun to let your dog take the lead on occasion.
If your pooch gets along with other canines, consider venturing out to a dog park. The stimuli will always be different, and exposure to other pups will help with socialization.
3. Follow Your Dog’s Lead When It Comes to Affection
Dogs snuggle up to their humans for a number of reasons, including warmth, stress relief, an instinct to protect, and a desire to bond and show affection. Studies show that cuddling with canines can actually boost the “love hormone,” oxytocin, in both dogs and their owners.
It’s important to note that some pups are perpetually cuddly, while others value their independence and are less likely to snuggle. This is perfectly natural, and dog owners shouldn’t take it personally if their dogs prefer plenty of personal space. Respecting your pet’s wishes will make him much happier than forcing unwanted cuddle time.
4. Make Time for Water Play
When weather permits, treat your pooch to a swim in a nearby lake or pond, or even a prance in a puddle.. Many dog breeds can’t contain their excitement when they spot a body of water. The American Kennel Club (AKC) has published a list of 16 breeds that become downright delighted when given the chance to swim.
If you’re unsure whether your pet likes water play, start with a baby pool filled with just a few inches of H2O. See how your pup reacts before diving into deeper waters.
5. Give Your Dog a New Toy Every Few Days
Don’t worry… we’re not suggesting that you buy an endless supply of toys to occupy your dog’s time, but it’s a good idea to have a few types of toys on hand, and rotate them every few days.
Toys stave off boredom and behavioral problems, and they can even provide comfort when your pet is feeling stressed. Be sure to choose toys that are appropriate for your particular dog, There are many types to choose from in various shapes and sizes. Soft toys may provide comfort, while feeder toys serve as an excellent distraction. Regularly changing up the selection will ensure your pup never gets bored.
6. Plan Puppy Playdates
The importance of socialization for puppies is vastly underrated. Having the skills to get along with other canines could open up a world of possibilities for your four-legged family member. Think playtime at the dog park and dog-friendly visits with friends.
An active social life is excellent for a pup’s mental health. Socializing with other dogs could boost your pet’s self-esteem and overall well-being. If you happen to have a family member or friend with a pooch, suggest a playdate to test the waters.
7. Opt for Shorter Training Sessions
Your dog will likely burn out if you force prolonged training sessions. Keep sessions short, as your pup’s attention span will begin to waver around the 15-minute mark. You and your dog won’t dread training if the sessions are short and sweet. Oh, and don’t forget the treats!
8. Take Your Pup for Regular Checkups
Sure, your dog needs annual vet visits to monitor his physical health, but regular checkups are just as important for his happiness and mental health. Underlying medical conditions can lead to behavioral issues, so if your dog starts exhibiting odd behavior, you may want to schedule an appointment with the vet sooner rather than later.
It’s also important to address any mental health problems your pup may be experiencing, such as separation anxiety, social anxiety, depression, and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), all of which have been known to negatively affect a dog’s quality of life.
9. Give Your Dog a Purpose
Dogs were initially bred to carry out jobs, and many breeds thrive from helping their humans. By asking your pup to complete an important task, you’ll give him a sense of purpose. Dog-friendly jobs include picking up toys, fetching the newspaper, and picking up sticks. Be sure to offer lots of praise and a reward for your pup’s hard work!
10. Go on a Dog-Friendly Road Trip
Plan regular day trips for you and your beloved pup. Many restaurants offer dog-friendly entrees and snacks, and don’t forget to stop at Starbucks for coffee and a complimentary Puppucino.
After stopping for chow, visit a park, a dog-friendly beach, or a walking trail. The change of scenery will be a fun and stress-relieving experience for you and your furry companion.
11. Play Indoor Games with Your Dog
There are so many fun ways to engage your dog indoors, from hide-and-seek to tug-of-war, or a homemade obstacle course. Get creative, and check out this list of indoor games to play with your pup from the AKC.
12. Give Your Dog a Massage
Learning to give your pet a massage could boost his physical and mental well-being. Massage has been linked to stress and anxiety relief, improved circulation, and decreased pain. Check out this step-by-step guide to dog massage—another excellent resource from the AKC.
13. Get Your Dog Spayed or Neutered
Getting your pup spayed or neutered could lead to a longer, happier life. According to an article published by the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), “spayed and neutered pets live longer, healthier, happier lives because they have fewer behavioral issues and they are less susceptible to infections, degenerative diseases, and traumatic/violent causes of death.”
Aside from the above-mentioned benefits, spaying and neutering come with a few risks. Check with a veterinarian to see if your pup is a good candidate for surgery.
14. Feed Your Dog a Balanced Diet
To ensure your dog has the energy to live a happy, healthy life, he needs proper nutrition on an ongoing basis. Rather than sneaking your pet table scraps, stick to foods specially formulated for canines. Nutritious treats are fine, too, but these extras should make up no more than 10% of a dog’s diet, according to the AKC.
In addition to feeding your pup well-balanced foods and treats, be sure to offer the correct amount of food for his size and energy level. Check with your pet’s veterinarian for recommended serving sizes specific to your particular pet.
15. Make Your Dog a Priority
Perhaps the most important tip for raising your dog’s level of happiness is simply paying attention to him on a daily basis. Make time for all of the above-mentioned activities, and take him along on outings as often as possible. Encourage everyone in your household to make your pup feel like he’s an important member of the family.
As musician, author, and pet advocate, Kinky Friedman, once said, “Money can buy you a fine dog, but only love can make him wag his tail.”
Becky Simmonds is a professional dog walker and part-time rescue worker. In her local community she's known as the 'dog whisperer'! Her innate ability to understand and communicate with dogs (even if they're not hers) is quite incredible! Becky's loyal companion Chip, a German Shorthaired Pointer accompanies the group on their daily adventures!