Dogs are easily the happiest creatures in the animal kingdom.
Your dog throws a little party every time you come home from work, when you’re dishing out each meal, and sometimes for no reason whatsoever.
Even so, your little one’s emotional well-being is delicate, and so critical to their mental health and behaviour.
For most dogs, just a few changes in their day-to-day routine can make a huge difference in their happiness. By supporting your pup’s emotional well-being, you can help them reach their potential, strengthen your bond, and even eliminate behavioural issues.
What Makes Your Dog Truly Happy?
Naturally, your best furiend loves treats, walks and snuggles. Adding more of any of these elements to their life will make them a bit happier… in the moment.
On a deeper level, you actually can help your dog’s brain create new synapses, or connections between brain cells, to help control emotional issues like depression and anxiety and increase their ability to communicate with you and learn new skills.
You can use playtime, exercise and learning to build your dog’s brain. You’ll not only make them happier in the moment, but create lasting, positive changes to their emotional well-being.
Take Mindful Dog Walks
To your playful pal, a walk is more than just exercise and a potty trip. They are constantly taking in millions of pieces of information with a sense of smell that’s 40 times more acute than ours, not the mention the fact that they’re experiencing the world from just a foot or two off the ground.
Though good walking manners are important, it’s equally important that you give your dog freedom to lead the way, sniff where they please, and investigate compelling scents. You’ll find that it’s easier to regain your dog’s focus if you allow them to enjoy the walk in their own unique way.
Walks are also an excellent opportunity for you to enrich your own emotional well-being. Take frequent breaks. Absorb the sights and sounds around you. Most importantly, enjoy the quality time spent with your dear dog, and try to imagine the walk from their point of view. Every corner is a wonderful new terrain to them - if only we could derive so much joy from so little.
Be A Part Of Your Dog’s World
When’s the last time you really played with your dog? No structure, no cues, no commands - just you, your dog, and maybe a few toys.
Dogs often ignore their toys until we engage with them. If you set aside time each day to play, you’ll notice that it becomes easier and easier to get your dog into a playful mood. At first, you may need to get them started by waving a toy around, hiding it under a blanket, or getting your dog to chase you.
You can also use “dog language” to get on your pup’s wavelength and truly connect with them through play. You know that bouncy “play bow,” dogs perform when they are trying to get another dog to play with them? If you get on the floor and invite your dog to play, they’re sure to bow right back.
A lesser known way dogs invite one another to play is though “laughing.” Researchers found that dogs make a huffy laughing sound when they want to play. They even found that when they played back recordings of dogs “laughing” in a shelter, the resident pups showed fewer signs of stress, and even began to get playful.
Using dog language and unstructured play is a powerful way to connect with your dog. By opening these new lines of two-way communication, you’ll find it easier to train your dog, understand the underlying reasons for behavioural issues, and build an interspecies connection that goes way beyond the outdated “pet and owner” structure.
Challenge Your Dog Every Day
Have you ever seen your dog’s face light up when they mastered a new trick?
Or ever watched their whole body wag when they found their toy under the sofa?
Learning releases dopamine, a feel-good hormone in your dog’s brain. They feel delighted when they work out a problem, and their brain builds more of those connections whenever they learn something new.
Aim to teach your dog a new cue every month. You can break up a complicated trick, such putting their toys away into their toy basket, into small steps that you can build upon every month. Then, you can have a short training session each day.
Another way to challenge your dog is to encourage them to use their nose. You can do this by hiding treats around your home, playing hide-and-seek, using puzzle toys at mealtimes, or even doing nosework with your dog. In a research study, dogs who played find-the-treat or nosework games were actually found to be more optimistic.
How Will You Support Your Dog’s Emotional Well-Being Today?
Between mindful dog walks, unstructured playtime and educational games, there are endless ways to improve your dog’s well being. Today, start with just one area of your dog’s life. Maybe you can start putting your dog’s breakfast into a puzzle toy, starting today. Or, pencil in a five-minute play session this afternoon and see where you go from there. All it takes is one small change to set off improvements that are worth celebrating.