There’s a lot of attention paid to what makes a good dog, but what about a good dog person? You’re out there in the agility rings and the off-leash parks, navigating icy sidewalks and fretting in veterinarians’ waiting rooms. You read pet food labels, sign animal-welfare petitions, reward your pals for dropping slobbery toys at your feet. Every day you probably strive to be the best dog guardian you can be.
Here’s a list of simple, concrete actions that can make us the sorts of people about whom our dogs brag.
Let’s get started.
Double-down on physical and mental exercise. Teach your dog a new trick and take regular play breaks. Enroll with your dog in a class such as agility, Flyball, Rally-O or even an obedience refresher course; thanks to the pandemic, there are more online classes available than ever before. (Even if your dog makes Lassie look erratic, there’s always room for fine-tuning.) Check out enrichment toys. Who knows? You might be living with a canine Einstein.
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Short on time? Have fun with a flirt-pole game in the back yard. Using three simple items—a piece of 3/4" PVC pipe, some rope and a dog toy (find more info and instructions here)—you can even DIY your own flirt pole.
Take longer walks—in new places—with your dog. Use the time to engage with your pup. Call her, reward her recall, have her go into a down, reward her, then release her and walk some more. Short training or re-enforcement sessions help you both stay sharp.
Don’t forget to give her time to smell the roses ... and the fire hydrants and the telephone poles. Dogs access the world through their sniffers, and investigating new smells is great canine brain exercise.
Bring your whole self to the dog park. It’s fun to meet your friends and visit, but your dog and her activities are the priority. (There’s a reason they call it a dog park.) Don’t be so distracted by a conversation or your cell phone that you lose track of your dog. More dog park tips.
Add homemade chow to her food bowl. Even if your kitchen skills are slim or your time is short, this is something you can do. Try starting with one simple meal a week; baked chicken, sweet potato and brown rice is an easy combination (make enough for yourself as well). Add variety and nutrition to standard fare with people food additions. Or, try baking your own treats or making a “barkuterie” board. Not only is it surprisingly easy to do, but with a little planning, homemade options are easy on the wallet too.
Give your dog regular check-overs. Frequent home grooming sessions are a good way to check in with your dog. Cleaning ears, clipping nails, combing and trimming fur, and brushing teeth help your pup feel good and keep you tuned in to what’s going on with her.
Periodically review your dog’s microchip registration to make sure it has your current contact information. If your dog’s microchipped but not registered, get that taken care of. (Here’s some useful information.) Or, if your dog’s not microchipped, schedule an appointment with your vet to get it done. And don’t forget ID tags, which can also be out of date or perhaps too worn to be easily read. Consider both microchips and tags to be part of your dog’s safety net, her way home in case of emergency or disaster.
Foster a shelter or rescue dog, especially if you’re a one-dog family. Not only is your pup likely to enjoy a little canine company, it will go a long way toward easing your guest into his or her forever home. If you can’t foster, consider sponsoring a shelter/rescue dog. You can help defray the cost of spaying/neutering, vaccinations, microchipping and more; a small donation goes a long way.
Read a good dog book. Fiction, non-fiction, essays, memoirs, science: there really is something for every taste and interest. (See our recent recommendations.)
Take a moment to reflect on how much your dog contributes to your life every single day. Companionship, comfort, reasons to laugh, reasons to get a move on ... life with a dog is better in so many ways than life without one.