10 Tips For A Happy, Healthy Dog

Active Dog Area - Scottsdale Dog Park
Image by Dru Bloomfield via Flickr

I came across an article tonight that was full of tips for ensuring your new dog is happy and healthy. Always being concerned about my dog's health and happiness, I clicked through the article and read it. Of course, I had to cringe at some of the tips, not because they weren't good, but because I was guilty of either not following them or doing just the opposite. I think all of us break some of these “rules” at one time or another because we're busy or our dogs are just so darn cute, they're hard not to spoil rotten.

Beginning with the very first tip, we'd gone a little astray. We never set a strict feeding schedule for our dog. We feed our dog when we get up and that time changes from day to day. We feed him again about 8 hours later. At least that's consistent. I asked myself what we could do to ensure a strict feeding schedule for our dog when our own schedule was anything but strict. Of course, there was a solution for that, a programmable automatic pet feeder. It can deliver up to 5 meals a day on a schedule you set, providing anywhere from 2 tablespoons to 6 cups of food.

The second tip? Guilty of breaking that one too, sharing food. It's very hard when your dog is very food motivated and so incredibly cute. All of our dogs have been serious mooch pooches and tested our resolve on this issue. We've gotten better with our current dog, probably more due to the fact that he doesn't whine like our last dog did. Of course, when we did share human food with our dogs, we were careful to make sure it wasn't food toxic to dogs. All treats should be given in moderation to avoid the common problem of obesity.

The third tip was one that we follow, always walk your dog on a leash. We've always had hound/lab mixes and anybody who's ever had a hound knows that they can be very stubborn when given the “come” command, especially if there's an interesting scent to follow. From day one, we were very careful not to put our dog in a situation where they could get off-leash and escape. Even while on a leash, one of our dogs had been attacked by a dog a neighbor had just shoved out their front door to use the neighborhood as their toilet. This attack had long-term psychological affects on our dog and could have been avoided if our neighbor had kept their dog on-leash while outside.

Our dog gets walked at least once and usually twice a day, so although his walks are at different times of the day, he does have a regular walking routine which he thoroughly enjoys. It's also great exercise for us. Don't have time to walk your dog? There are actually treadmills for dogs now. Of course, you should always make time to get your dog outdoors, as all the sights and smells helps keep their brain stimulated and makes them happy, but if you can't do that as often as you'd like, you might want to hire a dog walker.

The fifth tip was to teach your dog basic commands. This is one we've always followed, not only to make sure our dog would obey us, but to keep our dog safe should they want to wander someplace they could get into trouble, like a busy street. If your dog is food motivated, training your dog can be relatively easy, especially for breeds that aim to please, like Labradors. There are all sorts of programs like Doggy Dan's Online Dog Trainer (complete with videos) or Karen Pryor's Clicker Training For Dogs. Our dogs were always eager for a training session. They liked having something to do and enjoyed getting rewarded with “training treats” for pleasing us. They were easy to teach tricks and whenever they wanted a treat, they had to work for it, a trick for a treat. They thoroughly enjoyed that and sometimes went through their entire repertoire on their own before they got a treat. Of course, if your dog has a weight problem, you may want to opt for the clicker training or other positive reinforcement techniques.

Starting routine health maintenance right away was the sixth tip in the article and another one we adhere to. As soon as we got both our dogs, we made sure their nails were trimmed, they were bathed, their ears clean, and had then checked out by the vet. We regularly check our dogs for needed care and clip and clean as the situation warrants.

Any owner of an intelligent dog knows you have to work your dog's mind or else it is likely to find its own ways to amuse itself, not all of them good. Our labrador/beagle mix was extremely intelligent and if we didn't find ways to challenge her, she'd find trouble. We gave her challenging dog toys that made her figure out a puzzle for a treat or toy. She enjoyed them and it was fun to watch her work things out. We also played games with her where she had to guess which hand held the treat. She was a master at it.

Making sure your dog is active is another health tip that may be difficult to follow if you have a busy lifestyle yourself that leaves little time for exercise. We had no problem with it when our dogs were younger, but as they aged and it was harder for them to move around, it wasn't always possible to keep them as active as they should have been. Certain breeds, like basset hounds, are not as active as others, so the amount of activity your dog will feel comfortable with will vary according to their breed. Our current dog, a basset/lab mix, loves to play fetch, but only for ten minutes or so. Our previous dog, a beagle/lab mix, could play fetch for a half hour or more. The article also mentioned taking your dog hiking, biking, or for a walk in the park. That tip can actually be lumped in with this one of making sure your dog is active. We have dog-friendly hiking trails near our home and love to take our dogs there for a little exercise and exploration.

The last tip for having a happy, healthy new dog is to take time to relax with your new friend. That one has always been easy for us. Our current dog is a world class cuddler. He will cuddle with you for as long as you'll let him. Our previous dog was no slouch in that department either. Spending relaxing time with your dog has health benefits as well, lowering blood pressure and providing a sense of calm.

To recap, here are the 10 tips for having a healthy, happy dog:

  1. Set a strict feeding schedule.
  2. Don't share human food with your dog.
  3. Always walk your dog on a leash.
  4. Have a regular walking routine.
  5. Teach your dog basic commands.
  6. Start routine health maintenance right away.
  7. Work your dog's mind.
  8. Make sure your dog is active.
  9. Take your dog hiking, biking, or for a walk in the park.
  10. Take time to relax with your dog.

We hope you enjoy your new dog and he or she has a happy, healthy life in their new forever home.

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