We all want the best for our canine companions. Here are ten simple ways to help your dog achieve optimum health and improve behavior.
1. Double your exercise. Whatever the amount of exercise your dog is currently getting – double it! Exercise is one of the best ways to improve behavioral issues and keep your dog healthy and active. Go for a long hike, play a game of frisbee or take a run, just get ’em moving!
2. Improve nutrition. I highly encourage my clients to read pet food labels carefully, and choose a food that will supply your dog with high-quality nutrition. Just as what we eat influences our mood, energy and behavior as humans, your dog’s food is equally influential. Avoid foods that are packed with fillers such as meat by-products, wheat, corn, gluten, sugar (in all of its elusive forms) and chemicals. Believe it or not, a poor canine diet can lead not only to health problems, but behavioral issues as well.
3. Incorporate constructive play into your daily routine. Play is a vital part of any dog’s life, and it serves many purposes. Constructive play is a great form of exercise for the body and mind, and it serves as an outlet for many canine instincts. It also teaches your dog patience, self-control and attentiveness and can be a great supplement for obedience training. Constructive play is anything that is fun and engages a dog’s instinct to track, trail, hunt, chase, retrieve, jump or run.
4. Get out there and socialize! Proper socialization is what makes for a well-adjusted, confident dog. Make it a point to introduce your dog to 10 new people and 10 new dogs every week, even if she is well beyond her puppy years. The more adventures you can have with your dog, the better! Just be sure to stay tuned to her body language and excitement level – if she is uncomfortable or overly stimulated when meeting other dogs or humans, she made need work in this area. Talk with a professional to decide on the best way to handle social situations.
5. Rest up. Adequate rest is very important in the life of a dog – on average they sleep 12-14 hours per day! Dogs can become cranky and irritable when they aren’t getting enough sleep, and this can contribute to bad behavior and poor health. Make sure that your dog has a comfortable, quiet place to retreat to when she is in the mood to get her zzzz’s on.
6. Give her a home within her home. It is important that your dog feel like she has her own space, or den, within your home – a place that is just hers where she can go when she is nervous, uncomfortable, tired or just wants to be undisturbed. It is her retreat, her safe space. Provide a comfy crate, or dog bed, and teach her that this is her spot. Once she is comfortable and happy to be in her den, you can teach her to go to her place on cue.
7. Give her a job. People are often surprised to learn that dogs like to work, but it is an essential component in your dog’s sense of belonging and purpose. Providing a form of adequate employment is especially crucial for working and herding breeds – it is ingrained in their genetics to perform a function. Without sufficient work to do, these dogs are likely to exhibit behavioral issues due to lack of stimulation and boredom. Giving your dog a job can be as simple as strapping on a doggy backpack during your walks or hiding stinky treats around the house so she can do some scent work. Agility work and advanced training exercises (teaching complex tricks and cues) are also excellent ways to send her to work.
8. Keep up your training. Obedience and manners training isn’t just for puppies. In fact, if you want a well-behaved, obedient dog for life, you’ll need to keep up training for the life of the dog. Furthermore, advanced cues, such as a long-distance down stay in a high distraction environment, will typically require at least a year of training and a certain degree of maturity in the dog. Ongoing training (even just 5 minutes a day) will result in a patient, responsive and highly self-controlled dog. Not to mention it provides an awesome mental (and often physical) workout, and enhances the bond between human and dog.
9. Proper grooming/hygiene. While over-washing your dog is definitely not encouraged, regular bathing and grooming is important. Poor hygiene and lack of grooming can result in skin irritations and infections. Overgrown nails can make walking painful and difficult. Dog’s experiencing discomfort and pain are more likely to exhibit behavioral issues, and are more prone to biting.
10. Give ’em some love! Dogs crave human companionship and affection, and we should certainly be providing plenty of it. Make a point every day to have a nice, calm cuddle session. It is important to remember, however, that attention/affection is a form of reward, and will reinforce the behavior that it proceeds. For example, if your dog is highly excited and you give affection, you are inadvertently rewarding the high excitement and corresponding behavior. Be sure to give affection responsibly at the appropriate times.