Friday, 16 February 2018
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Resolutions for Making This a True Year of the Dog (or Dogs)

Two Dalmatian dogs playing on a black sand beach at low tide during a colourful sunrise

If you're a regular visitor to our blog and/or social media, you know our dogs are very loved and well-cared for but we can always do better! Since it's 2018, I've broken my reflections down into 18 ways to give your dog a happier and healthier life and I'm sharing some of my own shortcomings, learnings, and resolutions at the end of the post.  Let's invest time and energy to make this and every year that follows a better year for our dogs!

  1. Healthy Diet. Just like with people, a quality diet and moderation are key to good health and maintaining a target weight.  I'm a huge fan of treats (as you know), but they can be part of a healthy diet. Research, learn about options, and make informed choices on food, treats, and supplements. Seek help from a trusted vet or veterinary nutrition specialist if needed.  The right answer is different for every dog and owner.  (See our Pinterest Dog Food and Nutrition board)
  2. Clean Water. There's more to clean fresh drinking water than just filling the bowl. The water bowl (and food dishes) should be washed thoroughly daily either by hand or in the dishwasher and water refreshed. Stainless steel or glass bowls are best, especially if your dog(s) have outdoor drinking water as plastic can start to break down and leech into the water especially with high UV exposure and the surface can scratch up making it easier to harbour bacteria.  
  3. Safety and Security. Make sure that your yard is secure and pet safe, with fencing and gates high/sturdy enough and secure latches. Check your home with a mindset similar to child-proofing to ensure that there are no fall, topple, toxin (food, cleaners, chemicals, plants, etc.), or other lurking hazards.  Check their collars and leads regularly to ensure they aren't worn-out and are still secure and well-fitted to your pet.
  4. Comfort.  In addition to the obvious shelter from the elements, provide your dog with a comfy haven (or several) where they can relax and rest. Everybody loves a nice squishy bed, but it's especially important for seniors to reduce aches and pains. 
  5. Identification. Make sure that your registration and microchip contact information (if applicable) is kept up to date.  If you pet is not already micro-chipped, consider micro-chipping for a greater chance of being reunited if you are ever separated or the dog is lost/stolen.  Keep a copy of this information accessible for quick access away from home, such as in your mobile phone or email, in case it is needed in an emergency. 
  6. Emergency Preparedness.  In addition to identification, be prepared for possible medical issues with a pet first aid kit and at minimum basic first aid knowledge. Include you pet in planning for home emergencies (including if you are absent), natural disasters, and emergency evacuations. Check out our emergency planning with pets post for helpful ideas, links, and a free worksheet.   
  7. Direction and Core Training. Establishing accepted behaviours (such as curtailing barking, jumping, etc.) and core obedience training is more than just good manners and tricks. Maintaining control is an essential part of  being able to safely navigate the world together and avoid incidents or complaints.
  8. Exercise. Regular exercise is important for weight control and general health, but just like in humans it also releases good endorphins and lowers stress hormones. It also gives dogs a great opportunity for socialisation (location depending) and mental stimulation, so stop and sniff the world along the way. Exercise levels may need to be moderated for young pups who are still developing their bones and joints, seniors who need to move at a slower pace, or other health factors so make sure that your exercise program is well suited to your pet and seek advice from you vet if needed.
  9. Mental Stimulation. Dogs need to exercise their brains as well as their bodies, and different dogs prefer different types and degrees of brainwork. Continuing training with reinforcement of learned commands and fun new tricks is great for mental stimulation but so is problem-solving oriented enrichment such as scent games, treasure hunts, puzzles, etc. 
  10. Patience and Consistency.  Try to be the model of cool, calm, controlled leader you dog needs. Be consistent with routine, behaviours, commands, consequence, and praise.  If you are a multi-owner household, try to ensure that everyone applies the same rules.  
  11. Be Present. It's easy to get busy, rush, be distracted, and only give partial attention. Spend some time each day completely focused on your dog and what you are doing together. Engage, have fun, build and strengthen the bond, and make your dog feel valued. Slowing down to take time when you are adventuring together to allow your dog to stop for plenty of sniffing along the way is also an easy way to add more mental stimulation to you dog's daily outings.
  12. Play.  Have fun together!  Whether it's playing with toys or other playful activities, having fun together helps to strengthen your relationship. Playtime is great for engaging the brain too. Remember to play safe, ensure toys are well-suited to your pet, in good condition, and keep them clean on a regular basis.  If you dog has a toy box, mixing thing up also keeps it more interesting for your dog - old toys are suddenly new again!
  13. Socialisation.  If your dog is a social animal, have fun with furfriends on a regular basis. If your dog isn't good in social settings, don't put them in situations of social stress or risk. Always put the safety of other people/pets and your dog first.  Be responsible and don't take a fearful or aggressive dog to dog parks or other off-leash public areas.  Consider working with a behaviourist if your dog's temperament is detracting from its quality of life or poses a potential safety risk.
  14. Communication.  Learn to speak dog so that you can translate your dog's individual verbal and non-verbal cues as well as better read other dogs in interactive situations.  Dogs give plenty of signals with noises, yawning, head movement, eye movements, and body language. 
  15. Enduring Care. Accidents can happen at anytime. If you don't yet have an enduring care plan, consider making one, including an emergency care plan and a long-term nominated guardian, with provisions in your will for maintaining ongoing care for the life of your pet.
  16. Cleanliness and Grooming.  A clean coat, regular brushing for skin stimulation (and feel-good bonding), healthy teeth, clean ears, suitable nails, and (if your dog is a breed that needs it) the occasional haircut can help to prevent health issues. Don't forget to clean dog beds, blankies, and toys on a regular basis
  17. Preventative Medicine. A ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Survey your dog regularly for physical changes (doggy massage is a great way to check for lumps, bumps, and sore spots), be alert for changes in behaviour, keep an eye on what goes in/out (eating, drinking, peeing, pooping), have regular vet health checks, and keep your vaccinations (or recheck titre testing if you prefer) updated. 
  18. Love.  Enough said!
My own reflections are stirring up a few changes in habit around our household, and you'll see some of those trickle over into the post we share here on the blog.  

On the food front, I've already started actively working to include more superfoods and natural health supplements in our dog treats.  In addition to my baked goodies and dehydrated meats, as mentioned in my last gummy post I'll be trying to ensure that there are always gelatin treats in our fridge.   I'll also be trying to channel my inner dog more during recipe development so expect to see more meat, fish, and interesting flavour combos coming up in future posts. What I think is kind of gross, they always like best and I should be taking more advice from my spotty taste-test team.

Our boys are both trained, but Humphrey has always been rather wilful. He is usually very responsive, that is unless something more interesting is on offer.  We worked with a trainer when he was young on his overly social nature and he now has much better recall, but he has never consistently responded to commands to leave/drop/give when he discovers a "delightful object" (usually something dead, stinky, or both) on walkies. I'm going to revisit that gap in our core obedience training.  I'm also not the most patient (understatement) when these showdowns happen so I'll be working on my own calm assertive consistency shortcomings too.

I have also returned to my habit of doing dedicated training activities with the boys daily as part of our routine. They're not natural tricksters (at least not by command!) but do seem to really enjoy showing off their favourite moves for a shower of praise and treats. It's also very good mental stimulation, especially for Oli who is less active in outings and play now that he is a slow and steady senior.  I'll be working to add a few new tricks to the repertoire as well, especially for Humphrey.

On the toy front, we have tons of fun as it, but I recently learned (more in a future post) about dog's colour perception as part of trying to assist Oli with his vision issues.  Our crafty craziness won't change much, but expect to see a lot more blues and yellows in the mix for added visual interest to a dog's perspective. 

What will you be doing to make 2018 a truly great year of the dogs and for the dogs? Leave us a comment, we'd love to hear your reflections, thoughts, ideas, and resolutions.

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