It’s the New Year, and chances are you rang it in with a personal resolution you’re determined to keep—meal prep on Sundays, read one book per month, start going to yoga (again). And if you’re a pet parent, you want to ensure your best fur friend kicks off the new year right, too.
When setting New Year’s resolutions for your dog, you may find your goals aren’t so different after all! Here are five resolutions you and your dog can work on together so you can both have your best year yet.
Resolution #1: Shed the Extra Pounds
Maintaining a healthy weight plays a major role in dogs’ overall well-being. However, it’s a common struggle among pet parents—56% of dogs in the U.S. are considered overweight or obese, according to the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention.
We all want our pets to live long and happy lives. And although the joy of seeing your dog munch on table food may check the “happy” column, it’s not always the best fuel for their canine bodies.
Stay mindful of the food your pup consumes—both as meals and treats. Choose treats that are made with natural ingredients and don’t contain any artificial preservatives, added sugar, or salt. Once you found a healthy dog treat he enjoys, remember to practice moderation; multiple treats at a time throughout the day can add up quickly!
When determining a sensible weight-loss plan for your pet, it’s always best to consult your veterinarian for guidelines on dog food, portion sizes, and exercise routines that align with your pup’s breed, age, and health.
Resolution #2: Exercise At Least Five Times Per Week
If one of your dog’s New Year’s resolutions is to lose a few pounds, then exercise is a key component in a weight-loss plan. Have you ever noticed how invigorated you feel after some fresh air or a good sweat session? Exercise is proven to release endorphins that make us (and dogs!) feel energetic and perky.
You don’t have to hike for miles or walk for hours to reap the benefits; even just short bursts of active time can help burn off some anxious energy and calories. It can be as simple as playing a few rounds of fetch or walking around the block after dinner. For those cold and dreary winter days, you can play hide and seek inside or even put a leash on your dog while you walk up and down the stairs.
Although resolutions are notorious for starting out strong and fading fast, remind yourself of the many benefits exercise offers your dog: mental stimulation, obedience training, healthy joints, increased metabolism, time to bond, and more. After a while, you will both likely crave exercise.
Resolution #3: Schedule Your Annual Physical
We understand that getting ourselves to the doctor every year can be a chore, but paying an annual visit to your veterinarian is one trip you do not want to skip. Aside from ensuring your dog’s overall health is in check, consistent visits to the vet are important to spot out-of-the-ordinary conditions early, plus give you the opportunity to ask any pet-parenting questions.
If you’re new to caring for a dog, veterinary visits typically consist of a physical exam to check your dog’s skin, eyes, ears, teeth, and more. Be prepared to answer basic questions about your pup’s eating, sleeping, and potty schedule, too.
There are also multiple vaccinations your dog needs, so depending on his age and medical history, he may be due for a new one.
Resolution #4: Make Time for Play Dates
Just like we set our own goal to make new friends or socialize more often, dogs need their own circle of buddies, too! Although some breeds don’t enjoy the company of other pups, most love to play and hang out with other dogs.
A great first step is to find a local dog park. Aside from allowing your dog to mingle with others, dog parks are also great for owners to get some exercise, socialize with other dog lovers, and maybe even discover a new part of the neighborhood. Always be mindful of the posted rules and be cautious when introducing your dog to others.
If you’re a new puppy parent, it will be beneficial to work on socializing your puppy before introducing him to strangers. Instead of the dog park, opt to hang out with friends or family members’ dogs. Knowing the temperament of other pets in your life will be a comforting advantage when playing fur-friend matchmaker.
Resolution #5: Learn Something New
We all want to grow as individuals, whether it’s learning how to play guitar or lifting heavier at the gym. Why should dogs be any different? Teaching your sidekick a new skill will take healthy doses of patience and persistence, but the payoff of seeing him learn and grow is worth it.
If you’re starting with the basics of sit, stay, and come, or exploring some more advanced dog-training drills like standing on command, keep your sessions short but frequent.
Think of training in three steps: incentivize, command, and reward.
1) Incentivize – Show your dog a treat or toy to catch his attention.
2) Command – Clearly state what you want him to do, staying consistent with the word or phrase you use each time.
3) Reward – Dogs respond to positive reinforcement, so rewarding him with a treat for a job well done will encourage more good behavior in the future!
Whether you’re focused on a New Year’s resolution for your dog, yourself, or both, you don’t have to wait for the ball to drop to begin. Work toward these goals at any time of the year for a healthier and more fulfilling life with your pup.