As we enter a new year, perhaps we should make our dogs the focus of our new year’s resolutions. Not only will it enhance their lives, but it may well enhance our own, with resolutions we are inspired to keep.
1. Explore a new local walk
It’s very easy to get into a dog walking rut, and end up taking your dog to the same place and walking round the same route every single day. It’s easy to allow our walks to become dull and routine, but we mustn’t forget that it isn’t just for physical exercise that we walk our dogs. It’s a chance to spend quality time together doing something we both love. So, every now and then — even if only once a month — find and explore a new dog walk. Discover the sights, sounds, and sniff s of a totally new location together.
Try to find ways to vary your regular walks too; make them interactive and fun. Remember that they are your dog’s only chance to explore the world, so stop looking on them as a chore or yet another boring plod around the usual places, and instead find new adventures to enjoy and discover together.
2. Take up a new dog sport – or at least try one
Until fairly recently, the only real dog sport you could easily take part in was agility, and even then, the clubs where you could try this were often very competitive and a little intimidating! Over the past few years, there has been a huge increase in the number of dog sports available for owners and their dogs to try, with more relaxed options for those who have no real expectations of competing, but still want to mix with other dog owners, have some fun with their dogs, and do something different that will help build the bond between them. No matter what breed of dog you have, there is a sport you could at least try — and who knows, you might get addicted!
The Kennel Club can give you information on the better known activities, such as agility, flyball, heelwork to music, rally, and working trials, but also a quick internet search and a talk to your local training clubs will give you information on the newer sports, such as hoopers, treiball, scent work, pet gundog classes, and parkour among others. There really is a sport for every dog and owner — so make 2020 the year to try something new.
3. Go on holiday with your dog
Most of us live for our summer holidays or our weekend breaks where we can get away from it all and relax, but not so many of us include our dogs in our getaways. With dog-friendly hotels (from the basic to the seriously luxurious), B&Bs, pubs, and even AirBNBs, it’s never been easier to take your dog on holiday with you, and, if you’ve never done it before, 2020 could be the perfect opportunity to start. While we don’t know (at the time of writing) what changes
Brexit will bring to travelling abroad with dogs, there are plenty of places in the UK to discover. The National Trust and English Heritage both allow dogs to visit many of their properties — and the UK has some of the best and most spectacular dog walking countryside in the world. So whether you want to hike across open moorlands, explore deep forests, play on perfect beaches, or just visit country pubs, there is the perfect holiday for you and your dog.
4. Start to use interactive toys
One of the best ways to bond with your dog is through games and play — and interactive toys give you a way to do this and exercise your dog’s brain as well as his body. Most interactive toys revolve around the principle of having to find and liberate food, and there are plenty on the market, as a quick visit to a pet superstore or an internet hunt will reveal. These toys vary from the simple to the fiendish so you can slowly build up your dog’s skill level (and work out if he is better using his mouth or his paw as this will dictate what toys he is good at and enjoys).
You don’t have to spend a fortune on toys, however, and many household objects can be turned into interactive dog toys. You can use old cardboard kitchen towel rolls and put food in them; fold over the ends and the dog has to either open them up or rip them apart (terriers love these kind of games!). Alternatively, hide food in the folds of a large towel so your dog can sniff it out. The secret is that you work with your dog to help him find the food, encouraging him, and helping him when needed.
5. Feed your dog in a different way
For most dogs, a highlight of the day is dinnertime! As soon as their bowl comes out, they bounce around in crazed excitement with the expectation of food — and then you put it on the floor and it’s gone! A bit of an anti-climax really — and not how our dogs were originally designed to eat.
In the past, a dog, being a natural scavenger, would have spent ages hunting out his food, and then chewing and gnawing it. By changing the way you feed your dog — even if just occasionally — you can add interest to his day, stimulate his brains (as well as his stomach), help improve his behaviour (chewing can have a relaxing effect on dogs), and make dinner time far more of a long-lasting event.
There are lots of choices: stuff his dinner (or some of it) into a Kong or two for him to gnaw; scatter-feed him in the garden (literally throw his kibble onto the grass for him to sniff out (although this isn’t a good idea if you are very garden-proud and your dog is an overly enthusiastic food-hunter!); split his dinner into several portions, and ‘hide’ them in different places, such as under towels or plant pots, to create a treasure hunt; hand-feed him (great for your bond); or use other interactive toys. The list is endless, so be inventive!
6. Work to improve the bond between you
There are lots of ways to improve the bond you have with your dog. These include playing games (especially interactive ones), reward-based training (either starting with simple exercises like ‘Watch me’ if your dog has had no training, or expanding your dog’s skills if he is already well-trained), spending quality time together (including plenty of exercise), but also doing things that help you understand your dog better, like learning about canine body language so you know what your dog is telling you. It’s these shared experiences, and enhanced communication that will deepen your relationship.
7. Attend a dog event
Over the summer, there are a whole host of dog events you can attend with your dog. These are everything from large shows with demonstrations, fun dog shows, trade stands and a chance to try out different canine sports, to charity dog walks or even small, local companion dog shows. If you are really dedicated, you could probably attend one every weekend! They are a great opportunity to spend time with your dog in a new environment, discover new sports or activities you might like to try, and be among like-minded doggy people (and, of course, shop!). As always, a google search will show you plenty of options — or else www.dfordog.co.uk usually has a good events page where you can see what’s going on all over the country.
8. Check all your equipment and replace anything that isn’t safe
This is a simple resolution but a really important one. Look at every bit of equipment you use with your dog and check that it is in good condition and safe. Especially look at leads, collars, harnesses, and car equipment. Look for any fraying, loose stitching, dodgy clips or buckles, sharp edges, and anything that looks worn. Replace anything you have any concerns about. Make sure your dog goes into 2020 safe and secure.
9. Train a new exercise every month
Like us, our dogs never stop learning and we often underestimate their capacity and enjoyment for learning new skills. We are usually inspired to train our dogs when they are younger — and most learn a sit and a down, to come back when called, and to walk nicely on the lead — but then we tend to stop! Our dogs can, and should, continue to learn new things all through their lives — and by teaching them something new every month, we deepen the bond between us, improve their behaviour, and stimulate their brains, plus our dogs learn some really cool tricks that will have your friends green with envy! These can be as simple as giving a paw or doing a play bow, or as complicated as putting rubbish in the bin or closing doors behind them! Find a good, reward-based trainer who can help you if you need inspiration or to brush up on your training skills, or search the internet for ideas for tricks and new behaviours. And as always — have fun!
10. Get involved in a charity and help others
Charities need help more than ever and there are many in the UK that help dogs and the people who love them in a wide variety of ways. There are rescue organisations, assistance dog charities, charities that help people on low incomes with veterinary treatment, charities that help pet owners in housing crisis or victims of domestic abuse, charities that help fund studies into canine disease and treatment, charities that help the elderly and their dogs… and many more. No matter what you care about, you can find a charity who will welcome your help — and you will probably be able to do more than you expect. First of all, rather than donating a large amount every now and then, consider a small direct debit. This gives the charity a regular amount of money they can rely on, rather than an unpredictable amount. It’s not just all about donations though. You can gift items either to the dogs themselves (such as food, bedding, toys, but ask the charity what they need and can accept/store) or for the charity to sell (if they have a shop or retail outlet). If you shop online a lot, there are websites that will donate a small percentage of what you spend to the charity of your choice, so you donate without spending anything more.
Or just give your time; nearly all charities need volunteers so your skills or energy could help more than you know. We can all do more to help dogs — or other dog lovers — who need a helping hand.