New Years Resolutions for Dogs (and Their Owners)
Have you decided on a New Years resolution for yourself yet or do you know yourself too well to know that by February you will have forgotten about it? How about sharing a resolution with your dog? Helping your dog with a resolution may be easier than sticking to one for yourself.
Go for a Walk Every Day
As the cold dark evenings of Winter draw in, the last thing many of us want to do is head out into the dark and horrible weather. However, going for a daily walk, even just 10 minutes, can be beneficial for both you and your dog's physical and mental health. Walking keeps your dog mobile and the change of scenery will break up their day. Going for a walk can also be very enriching as they take in all the sights, sounds and smells.
If your dog is not a fan of walking in rubbish weather, try doing some exercises in the house instead of dragging them out in to the rain, snow or freezing cold. Getting them to walk around toys or over objects can get them up and moving without having to go out. You could also go out and collect some leaves or branches for your dog to sniff.
Spend More Time Sniffing
Sometimes when your dog wants to stop and sniff everything on their walk, it can be frustrating. However, we should remember our dog's walk is for their benefit and not ours. Sniffing enables dogs to pick up information about their environment and other dogs and allows them to stretch their neck muscles (a common area for muscle stiffness). The action of sniffing also leads to a release of dopamine, which can boost your dog's mood.
If you don’t have the time to let your dog sniff everything, reduce the distance that you walk to allow for sniffing time. Sniffing can be just as tiring as walking and it can provide much needed mental stimulation.
Lose Some Pounds
A recent study by the Royal Veterinary College (2021), has reported that 7.1% of dogs in the UK, that's 1 in 14, are overweight. Obesity is a major welfare concern, leading to the development of many health conditions, a poor quality of life and a shortened lifespan.
Body condition scoring can help identify weight issues, which you can discuss with your vet, who will also be able to give you safe advice on how to help your dog lose weight. There are two key ways to reduce your dog's weight; decrease food intake and increase exercise. Gradual and incremental steps should be taken for both methods.
Weekly Health Check
Regular health checking can often be forgotten about. However, it is one of the best ways to monitor your dog's health and spot early signs of many medical conditions. Discovering changes and seeking veterinary advice as soon as possible can ensure early treatment or pain relief is provided, which is far better than discovering that your dog has been suffering for months or finding out too late to make any impact.
A weekly health check should involve checking the whole body; eyes, ears, nose, mouth, nails, bottom, ribs, limbs, skin and joints. Part of your health check could also include cleaning of:
Eyes - Some black/brown discharge from the eyes is normal and should be wiped away to prevent build up and infection. Also keeping fur trimmed around the eyes can prevent irritation.
Teeth & Gums - There are various products; toothpastes, supplements, water additives, bones (uncooked) and various other chews (not rawhide!) available that you can utilize on a regular basis to promote healthy teeth.
Ears - Keeping ears clean can reduce build up of wax and debris that can cause infections and damage to the ear canals.
Nails - Ideally your dog's nails should wear down from walking on flat solid surfaces, however, sometimes they may need to be trimmed, particularly any dew claws.
Keep Fur Silky Soft
Brushing your dog on a daily basis for 5-10 minutes (or longer) keeps fur clean and prevents matting, as well as giving you one on one time with your dog. If your dog is not used to being groomed they may be worried initially, so having some treats to hand can help make the experience more positive. On the other hand, if they are fidgeting or reluctant to let you brush certain areas, there may be pain in that region, which may require a vet check.
You should also trim fur around your dog's bum to keep the area clean and in between their toes/feet pads to prevent dirt accumulating underneath and to give your dog a better grip on any slippery flooring in the house.
Learn A New Cue Every Month
You will have probably taught your dog the basics commands, such as sit, lie down, paw, wait and come here. But how many cues have you taught beyond this? A study by Reeve, C. and Jacques, S. (2001) showed that dogs can learn and respond to an average of 89 words, with command words being most commonly responded to. So it is likely that your dog has a lot more capability for learning new skills.
Teaching them a new cue every month gets their brains working and increases their happiness. Like humans, dogs need entertainment as well as physical exercise and training is a great way of fulfilling both these requirements. Also by spending time with your dog to teach them new things and rewarding them, your relationship will become stronger. If you are unsure where to begin, there are multiple resources that can provide ideas and how to instructions.
Work on a Bad Habit
If your dog has a behaviour that is causing you or your family problems, gain knowledge about the behaviour. Gaining an understanding of why your dog may be displaying this behaviour and how to manage or replace the behaviour can make your life so much easier and your experience as a dog owner a much more enjoyable one.
If your dog has been displaying the behaviour for a long time, seek advice from a dog behaviourist who uses positive training methods. You may also want to seek veterinary advice as some behavioural issues can be related to pain. Green Dog Therapy offers a free online comfort assessment that can be helpful in identifying any chronic pain issues.
Learn a New Sport or Activity
There are many sports and activities that you and your dog can become involved with, either for fun or to compete. If your dog is physically able to, sports can be a good way to vary your exercise routine. Examples of sports and activities include agility, canicross, flyball, herding trials, dancing and scent tracking. Adding a new activity to your dog's routine can add value to their life, giving them a sense of purpose and it could reduce excess energy and any associated destructive or problem behaviours.
Share Quiet Time Together
A lot of dog ownership can seem fast paced, but often slowing things down can be great for dogs for a variety of reasons. Learning to appreciate your dog's presence and just being with them can be very calming for both of you. It also gives your dog some much needed down time, which is especially needed for dog's that are always on the go.
Visit Somewhere New
Take your dog on trip to the seaside, to a forest or into the city to change up their normal routine. Or if you usually only walk your dog on certain route, switch it up and take a different route in your local area. New places provide different sights, sounds, smells and new walking surfaces, all of which can be very enriching for your dog.
Spending short amounts of time in new places can be exhausting, so when you get home allow them to have some quiet time. Visiting new places can be exciting for some dogs, however, some may be anxious so giving them time to adjust to the new environment and rewarding them is essential.
Learn First Aid
You can learn first aid for dogs from various sources; books, in-person workshops, online courses or by using reliable online sources, such as Blue Cross for learning about common situations that can affect dogs.
You should also make or buy a dog-specific first aid kit and keep it somewhere easily accessible in case of emergency. Also, remember to take it with you on any day-trips or holidays with your dog, or have a second kit in the car or dog walking/holiday bag.
Update Microchip Details
In 2016, it became compulsory for all dogs (and soon for cats) in England to be microchipped. You may have had your dog since before 2016 and may have never got round to getting them microchipped, but microchipping is essential for their safe return if they ever escaped, became lost or stolen. There are too many cases of dogs that have escaped and never been reunited with their owners because their microchip details are not up to date.
I hope these suggestions have been helpful and I look forward to hearing about your dog's New Years Resolution in the comments section below.