Behavior & Training
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Make Your Dog's Life Better
10 ways for improvement.
Dog and Human Relationship

By just being their furry, adorable, lovable selves, dogs help us feel treasured and joyful. This not only boosts our quality of life, it raises the oh-so-important question: What have we done for them lately? Of course, we provide food, medical care, a home, grooming, toys and other amenities, but what exactly do we do to increase their happiness quotient? Here’s a short list of ways to improve the quality of our dogs’ lives.

1. Turn up dial on the exercise meter. Dogs adore activity — hence, the crazy exuberance most display at the very whisper of a walk. An extra-long hike, joining you on a run, or taking a few short outings in addition to those daily walks will be well received. Look for a place your dog can enjoy a safe off-leash run, which will make the experience even more enjoyable for him.

2. Fight boredom. Give your dog more mental exercise with mind-engaging activities such as enrichment puzzles, new toys, visits to new places, and learning new skills and tricks.

3. Give them a hand. Most dogs learn visual signals faster than verbal ones. When training, communicate more clearly by using hand signals along with words. Your dog will heave a figurative sigh of relief at finally being able to understand you.

4. Rub them the right way. Most dogs, like most people, adore a good massage. It not only promotes relaxation, healing and bonding, it feels sooooo good.

5. Stop and smell the world. Dogs need to be dogs, and that means allowing them time to explore the world’s wonderful odors. Or, engage them in scent work. Using their noses comes naturally, so tracking or playing scent games is fun for dogs. (For more on these activities, see “Nose Work” in the June ’10 issue.)

6. Free them from fashion. Consider removing your dog’s collar at night. Dogs will probably enjoy the freedom just as much as we do when we take off our belts, watches or earrings. Plus, the noise of jingling tags bothers many dogs; to reduce it, tape the tags together or stow them in a pouch designed for that purpose.

7. Feed them well. While the debate about canine nutrition rages, most people agree that a variety of food, especially if it’s healthy and fresh, has many advantages. Carefully consider what you feed your dog, do some research and ask your veterinarian for help in making good choices.

8. Keep them tidy. Good grooming is essential; dogs are most comfortable when their coats are orderly and free of any mats that tug uncomfortably at their skin. Abolishing tangles helps them eliminate more easily — I’ve seen dogs whose hindquarters were so full of mats that this was an issue! — and short toenails allow for easier movement comfortably. And no matter how darling your dog may look with fur hanging over the eyes, or how popular that style is for the breed, a haircut that allows for unobstructed vision is a better (and safer) choice.

9. Play it up. Make play dates for your dog with other nice, well-socialized pups. Most dogs love to play with other dogs, and their exhilaration is palpable as they frolic together. (Does your dog have a BFF? Read more about “Pal Dogs” in the Summer ’10 issue.) Also, add more play to your own interactions with your dog.

10. Sharpen your focus. Dogs value the time we spend focused completely on them, and that’s easiest to do without anyone else present. This quality time is especially valuable and important in multi-dog households. Improving your dog’s quality of life is a gift that keeps on giving: the more wonderful we make life for our dogs, the more ways they enhance our own.

This article first appeared in The Bark,
Issue 61: Sept/Oct 2010

Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by eardog | November 1 2010 |

dr. london..

i love the beautiful simplicity of your post....these are all things that we can easily do. but your post creates an awareness of our dog's experience! i started taking my dog's collar off a couple of years ago, and i notice that he does a pre-slumber scratch as soon as it comes off! 'what a relief!' he must be saying!
i'll be back to read more of your posts!


Submitted by Frances | November 2 2010 |

I am feeling very smug - which makes a nice change from the mild owner-guilt I usually feel! In the last 24 hours my dogs have:
- been for a trip to the Lakes, where they had a wonderful off lead walk through woods and along the shore and played with their BFF who came with us
- had their daily brush and face wash
- had raw meaty bones for supper, and home cooked chicken and turkey for breakfast
- played with their Ottosson dog brick, filled with tooth cleaning treats
- played a game of sit, wait, and running through the play tunnel, using hand signals as well as words
- spent the night asleep on my bed, together with the cats
And are now curled up, one on my lap and one close beside me.

Now I shall start worrying that perhaps my life revolves too much around my animals ...

Submitted by Anonymous | November 3 2010 |

My favorite is #6 - I've always done that for my mutt - I tell her it's time to "put on her pjs" which means take off the collar. I really do think it's great for them to have a breaks from that thing around their neck, and when done consistently it becomes a clear signal that it's time to wind down for the day.

Thanks for this list - it is very simple yet full of good ideas.

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