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The Secrets To A Happy Dog
Your dog brings you joy. Do you ever look over at her while she is sleeping and wonder if you make her as happy as she makes you? Is she as glad to be yours as you are to be hers? How do you know if your dog is content? All social species have the same basic needs, just different ways those needs are fulfilled. We can use Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs with a little canine twist to discover the secrets to a happy dog. When all of these needs are met, you will know without a doubt that your dog is living a fulfilled and joyful life.
Clean water - The most basic and most vital need for dogs is fresh clean water. Give your dog virtually unlimited access to water. The only exception is limiting a few hours before bedtime when housetraining. Keep water bowls clean and free of debris. Make sure outside water does not freeze in winter or overheat in summer. Change water in outdoor containers often. Stagnant water can lead to disease. It doesn't have to be Evian, but it should be fresh! If your dog has a habit of knocking over her water bowl, it's not because she doesn't want water. It's because dogs live in the right now, and right now it's fun. It doesn't occur to her that later, she won't have any water to drink. Weighted water bowls will solve this problem.
Good Nutrition - Ask a dozen people what dog food is the best, you will get a dozen answers. The elusive Absolute Best Brand has not yet revealed itself. However, there are better and worse choices. Feeding a quality dog food means your dog will be healthier from the inside out - from a stronger heart and bones to a shinier coat with less shedding and itching. The little extra money spent on a better food is more than made up for in fewer Vet visits. Nutritionally balanced dogs get sick much less often, fewer ear infections, fewer outbreaks of worms, fewer UTIs, and even fewer injuries. There is even evidence that better food makes for a better behaved dog, as well! A quality dog food will have meat as at least the first 2 ingredients and little or no corn as a filler. Dogs are primarily meat eaters. If your dog has a dull coat and flaky skin, it could be her food! more...
In addition to the right type of food, your dog also needs the right amount of food. This is a case where you can get too much of a good thing. Being overweight causes health problems in dogs just as in people. Since dogs have a shorter life span than humans, the ill affects are even more severe for them. Overweight dogs are not happy dogs. Lucky for them, it's much easier for them to follow a diet than it is for us. We control their access to food. They can only eat as much as we give them. Feed them a measured amount on a schedule, usually twice a day, rather than free feeding. The dog food bag tells you how much to give. Even that is too much for some dogs. Observe your dog's weight and adjust the amount you feed her accordingly. A dog is at her ideal weight when you can easily feel the ribs and can see the outline of the ribs when the dog turns sideways. She is underweight if you can see the ribs easily, and overweight if the ribs and hip bones are not easily felt and she has no waist.
Exercise - In addition to proper nutrition, exercise is vital for good health. Not only will it increase your dog's longevity, it will also decrease her unwanted behaviors. A dog's energy has to go somewhere. If she doesn't get enough exercise, she may find undesirable ways to expend that extra energy or even develop neuroses such as obsessive spinning. Just as you should see your doctor before starting an exercise program, so should your dog see hers! Some breeds need more exercise than others, and some cannot tolerate intense activity. Be sure your dog's exercise program is right for her breed. more...
Good Hygiene - It's true, dogs love to roll around in the stinkiest thing they can find. They don't seem to mind being dirty or smelly. However, for a dog's overall happiness, cleanliness is next to dogliness! Dogs may not care how they smell, but people sure do. A smelly dog does not get petted by people and generally isn't allowed in the house, and a dog shunned to the back yard with little or no human contact is not a happy dog. Filthiness can also lead to health problems. For example, dirty ears can lead to ear mites which are itchy and can cause ear infections. Being too dirty can also be painful, especially for a long-haired dog. Mats in a dog's fur pull on the skin and are extremely uncomfortable. Nails that grow too long can cause a dog to walk awkwardly and lead to problems in their joints and muscles. Keeping coats brushed, ears cleaned, and nails trimmed is essential for a happy dog. Bathing too often can lead to dry itchy skin. Dogs need a bath only when they start to smell bad. If your dog is on a quality food, this won't be very often.
Chew Toys - Dogs have a physiological need to chew. This is especially true for teething puppies. Providing them with safe chew toys will help them satisfy this urge without having to gnaw on your coffee table. Thick rubber toys like Kongs are a good option because they will not break apart and become a choking or obstruction hazard.
Elimination - Dogs need reliable and sufficient opportunity to eliminate away from their sleeping area. Normal healthy dogs will not eliminate where they eat and sleep. Dogs who do use the bathroom in their dens do so because they have learned that they will not be given sufficient opportunity to eliminate elsewhere. For optimal happiness, make sure your dog doesn't have to hold it too long.
ShelterIn the wild, dogs are able to seek out shelter when they need it to get out of the rain, to shield themselves from the cold, or to find relief from the heat. In a domestic environment, we keep them confined to a limited area. They don't have the option to go out and look for adequate shelter. Therefore, it is up to us to provide it. The ideal place for your dog when it's raining or cold is in the home with you. Most dogs are happiest living inside with you. It's also the easiest way to provide appropriate shelter. However, if your dog is one of the few who prefer living outdoors, or bringing her inside is not an option, you can make sure she is well-sheltered outdoors. Follow these tips to properly prepare her dog house for winter weather.
Some breeds are simply not equipped to deal with cold weather and should not be left outside in winter. This includes most of the small breeds and the short-coated large breeds, such as Dobermans. Remember, these are man-made dogs. Cropped coats and tiny dogs do not occur in nature. Likewise, some breeds are not equipped to deal with the heat of SC summers and should not be left outside in hot weather. This includes the arctic breeds such as Siberian Huskies, Alaskan Malamutes, and St. Bernards. These dogs living outdoors are not only unhappy dogs, they are also not safe! They could literally die from the heat.
SecurityHappy dogs feel safe in their environment from threats either real or perceived. Dogs who live confined outdoors but without a physical fence are not secure. Invisible fences and chains may keep the dog in the yard, but they do not keep other animals out. A dog living this way is a sitting duck. She is vulnerable to attacks from coyotes, other dogs, and even mean people, and she has no way to escape. The dog who lives this way is not a happy dog.
A happy dog trusts her owner to not put her in harm's way. She knows exactly what is expected of her and what happens when she doesn't follow the rules. She does not fear her owner because she knows he will do her no harm. She is also not overly dependent on her owner because she feels secure in being alone sometimes. A trained dog is a secure dog.
Social NeedsDogs are social animals who thrive on companionship with others. They are unique in the animal world because they enjoy companionship with people as much as they do with other dogs. A dog who lives in a backyard with only minimal human contact is a lonely dog, like a hermit living on an isolated mountain. The happy dog gets lots of ear scritches and belly rubs. She gets to associate with lots of different people and dogs because she has been well-socialized and trained in basic obedience and manners. She is a dog who can go anywhere, and people are happy to see her.
Esteem NeedsDo dogs have a sense of self-esteem? If you doubt it, just watch a dog who has accomplished a complicated task. See how she holds her head high and struts! Dogs need to have confidence in themselves and their ability to master tasks. Training a dog builds her self-esteem. It makes them feel good to master the perfect Sit and earn your appreciation! Learning tricks is fun for dogs. There are also all sorts of canine sports available that dogs enjoy. Agility, flyball, ultimate frisbee, and lure coursing are just some of the examples. A dog with a hobby is a fulfilled dog.
Cognitive NeedsDogs are more than just instincts. They also have the ability to think and problem solve. They need to experience more than just the same old scenery of their own home. Mental stimulation leads to a happy dog. Just walking a different path and letting her smell new smells and see new sights provides mental stimulation. At home, puzzle toys like the Buster Cube let her put her brain to use. You can play games with her like hiding and she has to find you, or hiding a treat that she has to find. Learning new tricks also works her brain. Put her to work. Make her fetch the paper (make sure it's safe first) or bring you a drink from the fridge. Yes, working makes for a happy dog!
The meaning of life is to live it. The secret to a happy dog is to help her live a fulfilled life. That means she actively participates in it. She plays, goes places, and does things. Basically, the secret to a happy dog is not much different at all from the secret to a happy person.