Part 1 of 5

Your dog makes you happy every day just by being their amazing adorable self. Dog antics are some of the best antics on earth. There are tons of things you do that make your dog happy, too! Human antics aren’t too shabby either. Still, today I’m focusing on the first of five key areas to address to make sure your dog stays happy and healthy throughout his or her life so you can have the longest possible time together.

The 5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Happy are:

  1. Keep your dog Physically Healthy
  2. Keep your Dog Intellectually Engaged
  3. Keep your Dog Emotionally Safe
  4. Keep your Dog Feeling Loved
  5. Keep your Dog Well Trained

Each area will have its own article as there are a variety of topics to cover and strategies for success within each of these five key areas. Today we’ll start with Part One: Keep your dog Physically Healthy. Over the next four weeks I’ll share an article about keeping your dog intellectually engaged, emotionally safe, feeling loved and well trained.

Part One: 5 Ways to Keep Your Dog Happy

Keep your dog Physically Healthy.

You know it’s important to keep your dog healthy but let’s talk a bit about why that’s also important to your and your dog’s happiness. You know yourself from being a living creature that feeling well is important to life satisfaction. When we don’t feel well or are in pain everything feels harder, we miss out on fun activities and, at least for me, I have less patience than when I feel strong and healthy. Well, the same is true for your dog except it’s a lot harder for your dog to be open about how he feels. A human child will tell you they are in pain, but your dog, mostly for instinctual reasons, won’t. You may see a limp but by that time your dog has likely been in pain for a while. If your pup has a belly ache you may not know until you see vomit (or what comes out the other end!). Now, sometimes your dog will get sick and you would have had no way of knowing just like illness seems to hit humans out of the blue sometimes. I know there have been days when I’ve gone to bed feeling great and woken up with a terrible head cold. Yuk!

The better overall health your dog is in, the less likely illness and injury will sideline them. Another benefit of having a priority of maintaining your dog’s physical health is that you will get to know your dog’s body so well, you are much more likely to see the early signs than you would be otherwise. You know why keeping your dog fit and healthy is important but what’s the best way to make it happen?

This sounds like a no-brainer at first but you can really go down the rabbit hole of dog health when you start thinking about:

  • How do I provide enough exercise for my dog while avoiding injury?
  • Should I feed my dog a grain free diet, high protein diet, raw, homemade or commercially produced dog food?
  • Should I bathe my dog weekly or not at all?
  • What about teeth brushing? Should it be after each meal or never?
  • Should I use a harness on my dog or just a collar and leash?

You see where I’m going with this. The worst part is there is so much conflicting information out there about what is best for your dog that it is impossible to find one definitive answer to any of these questions. What’s a dog parent to do?

First, let me say that I am not a canine nutrition expert (or even a human nutrition expert) so if your dog has food related illness, allergies, etc. addressing those and feeding your dog appropriately under those restrictions is paramount. The points I make in the next few paragraphs are more about considering what’s the best option for you and your dog than exactly what you should feed your dog. Consult your vet or a veterinary nutritionist for help. The American College of Veterinary Nutritionists has some great resources for pet owners.

My advice to people when speaking with clients, talking to groups or just chatting in the check-out line at Trader Joe’s is to do your research and trust your gut. Take a look around you at the available information then ask yourself: What works best for me, my dog and our family?

There are just a few must-do’s when it comes to keeping your dog healthy:

You MUST feed your dog as healthy a diet as you can in portions that won’t cause a weight problem in either direction.

If you are a busy family who eats a lot of semi-homemade meals (like me) then you do the same for your dog. You want good healthy food that’s manageable and affordable for your family. That usually means lots of veggies supplemented by proteins and starches with occasional treats.

You can do the same for your dog by giving them the best quality “kibble” you can afford and supplementing it with some cooked chicken and cooked or raw veggies. Or you can give your dog canned food. Or a raw diet if it’s important to you. The point is that just like humans vary in their dietary needs and preferences, create a meal plan for your pup that is sufficiently nutritious while also being sufficiently affordable and doable.

I’m making a comparison to human food in terms of lifestyle here because you don’t actually want to mirror your food needs for your dog who has different nutritional needs. Dogs don’t benefit from a grain-free diet the way many humans do for example so rather than give your dog what’s best for you right away or jump on any fad (like a high-protein diet), ask your vet for recommendations, ask your friends whose dogs are healthy and fit about their food and feeding routine, do some research and trust your gut. It’s OK to experiment a little but be careful and go slow as dogs can get a belly ache from dietary changes that happen too quickly (as in going from all dry kibble to all home cooked overnight).

There are also human safe foods that are poisonous to your canine so make sure you know what those are if you are making food for your dog. As next week is National Poison Prevention Week I would be remiss if I didn’t include poison safety in this article. According to the Pet Poison Hotline, awareness is the key to preventing poisoning emergencies and most of the calls they receive are about dogs eating things they shouldn’t (as dogs like to do). Calling the hotline in an emergency to speak with an expert only costs $59 and the website has some great educational resources for pet parents.

Speaking of feeding routines. There’s been a trend lately to give up bowl feeding and have dogs scavenge for all their meals to engage their seeking instinct and provide enrichment. Even some renowned trainers are on board with this trend. This is all well and good if your dog enjoys doing this. My Jake would hit the roof if I expected him to search around the house for his kibble every day! If your dog loves it and you enjoy feeding them that way, awesome, if not, it’s OK to feed meals out of a bowl if you are providing mental stimulation and enrichment in other ways. As the saying goes: “all things in moderation.” Maybe breakfast is a fun scavenger hunt so pup doesn’t notice you leave for work and dinner is a more bowl-based affair while you and other human family members eat off plates.

You MUST provide exercise that is appropriate for your dog’s age, breed and general health level.

Exercise AND walks I should say because no matter how much you and your dog play in the yard, you still need to walk your dog. Why? Because your dog needs to see more of their environment than just their own backyard. Imagine if you had to stay in your house and yard for the next ten years? You couldn’t amble around the neighborhood and check out people’s seasonal decorations (which Jake and I love doing). You’d have tons of exercise equipment but you couldn’t leave the property (imagine an average city or suburb property here not some sprawling A-lister commune). It would get super boring and you would pay good money just to get a walk around the block! Your dog feels the same. You can walk for shorter or fewer times but your dog needs at least one walk a day (preferably 2-3). Bonus for you is that walking together is one of the best ways to strengthen your relationship so there are multiple benefits for both of you.

That said, there are tons of fun ways to exercise your dog (and with your dog) that you will enjoy doing together. Based on your dog’s (any maybe your) abilities you can try an agility or rally class together, go swimming, learn freestyle (which I would love to try but Jake isn’t into it at all), hike in the woods (Jake’s all time favorite), run marathons, surf, etc. There are so many fun possibilities. Do what you enjoy – or try something totally new – and bring your dog along! Remember: you don’t have to actually be good at any of this stuff! You just have to have fun with your dog.

Or, stick with the tried and true and take several peaceful walks a day at a slow and enjoyable pace.

Over the next four weeks I’ll share articles on numbers 3-5 of How to Make Your Dog Happy which are:

Part 2: Keep your Dog Intellectually Engaged

Part 3: Keep your Dog Emotionally Safe

Part 4: Keep your Dog Feeling Loved

Part 5: Keep your Dog Trained

In the meantime, take a look at your current food and exercise patterns with your dog and look for ways to make small (or large) improvements. Remember to have fun with this!

I’ll be putting all of these articles into a nicely formatted ebook that you can use for reference. To be sure to receive that when it’s ready, subscribe to my mailing list. You will also receive weekly emails (on Fridays) with tips and resources for you and your dog PLUS access to our online resource library and current free ebook on teaching your dog not to pull on leash.