Try our simple tips for making sure you have a relaxed and contented doggy every day
Making sure your dog is happy and healthy is one of the most important aspects of being a responsible pet owner. Keeping your furry friend feeling paw-sitive is all about spending quality time together and giving them plenty of love, attention and mental stimulation. While different breeds will have different needs, we’ve put together some proven tips for upping your dog’s happiness quotient.
1. Praise your pet for good behaviour
Maintaining a positive relationship with your dog is key to their happiness. Praise – both verbal and physical – is one of the best ways to show how much you appreciate them, and is crucial in positive reinforcement training. Dogs are sociable by nature and enjoy interaction.
A good bond with their owner, backed up with praise and rewards, always leads to better obedience than fear of shouting or punishment. Sometimes, people fall out of the habit of praising their dog after they’ve passed the puppy-training stage but it's important to keep it up so that your bond with your pet stays super-strong.
2. Change up your daily exercise routine
Walks are good for both your dog’s physical health and emotional wellbeing. Not only will it help them meet their natural exercise needs, but it’s also the perfect time for bonding. Visiting new parks, woods or beaches, or going on country walks, will help mix up your routine and provide lots of mental stimulation, as well as giving their paws a rest from concrete pavements.
Remember that as far as your dog is concerned, walks are all about sniffing out new scents – so be patient if they linger. And try to give them some lead-free time to explore (just be sure their recall is reliable first!).
3. Rotate dog toys to keep them exciting
Like humans, dogs respond well to variety. To help stop your pet getting bored with their toys, divide them into sets and put these on a weekly rotation. When you unpack the next set after a week, it will be as if they have a whole new collection of playthings – which won’t hang around long enough to get neglected!
4. Play games together
Games are important to keep your dog physically and mentally stimulated, and stop them getting bored and destructive. Rough and tumble games can overexcite some dogs, but you don’t have to avoid all physical activity. A flirt pole (a length of pole attached to a rope with a toy at the end) makes a fun chasing activity – and a great way to exercise in a small outside space. It can also help with their training, as your dog must practise the commands: sit, look, wait, take it and drop it. Don’t miss our behaviourist-approved ideas for great dog games.
5. Give your dog a job to do
Originally, dogs were often bred to do specific jobs, such as herding, hunting, guarding or finding. Giving them household jobs or chores can help channel their energy. Try asking your dog to fetch the newspaper or your slippers, close doors, put an item in a bin, clear their toys into a basket, wake up a family member, pick up something you’ve dropped or lost, or take a written message upstairs to your kids. They’ll love feeling like a helpful member of the household!
6. Make the indoors fun
When the weather outside turns inclement, playtime and exercise with your dog are likely to be affected. But there are plenty of activities to keep them occupied indoors, too, including the classic hide-and-seek. Your dog could find a treat hidden under plastic cups, play tag with you, chase a ball down the stairs, find a toy or treat hidden somewhere in the house or learn a new trick – and that’s just for starters!
Why not make an agility or obstacle course with brooms, chairs and blankets? Or get your dog to practise their skills in quick succession: sit, down, roll, stay, come, high five, wave. Make the order random, to keep them thinking, and reward generously afterwards.
7. Keep dogs entertained when home alone
Dogs are pack animals, and being left alone can cause them stress or even separation anxiety, so don’t leave your dog alone for long periods of time. If you can’t employ a dog walker and don’t have a friendly neighbour or family member that can pop in while you’re out, try leaving a stimulating toy to keep your dog happy when home alone.
Nowadays there are a huge variety of interactive slow-feeder treat dispensers, in the form of balls, puzzles or chew toys. You can also buy ‘nose work’ blankets or snuffle mats for them to find treats in.
8. Explore new dog treats
Let’s be honest – our dogs are strongly motivated by food, so giving them meals and treats they enjoy will make a big difference to their happiness. You could even try making your own! Just don’t forget that treats count towards their daily food intake. So, if you’ve offered more snacks than usual, don’t forget to decrease the size or calorie count of their regular meals, to stop them overeating.
9. Try a dog massage
A step up from snuggle-time on the sofa, massage is not just an indulgence for humans. It can calm your dog’s anxiety, increase their circulation and strengthen the bond between you both. Start by petting your dog all over and talking softly to relax them. Gently work the flat of your palm from the top of their head down to their neck muscles, massaging them in a circular motion. Work down to the shoulder area (often a favourite spot, as dogs can’t reach this themselves), massaging in a circular motion.
Come to the front to massage the chest and front legs, but be careful of the paw pads, and move on if they don’t like any area being touched. Move back up to the shoulders and make small circular motions along the back on either side of the spine. Progress to the base of the tail and go down the back legs, continuing to their paws if they enjoy it.
10. Balance routine and new experiences
Dogs are creatures of habit, and need the security and reliability of a structured life. Sticking to a routine while working from home or going into your workplace will help keep your dog happy. However, there’s still room for new tricks, treats and places to explore to stop your routine getting stale.