Dogs have physical, mental, and emotional needs that, when consistently met, result in a furry, four-legged companion who lives happily by your side. These needs include obvious things like food and shelter and things that might be overlooked, like regular grooming and time with favorite people. A little overview of the basics with a reminder of what life with a dog really means can ensure that your dog is living his best life.
What does a dog need?
Dogs have different personalities and quirks, but in general they are not complex beings. Basically, they need food and shelter. Many breeds don’t settle for anything more. However, the quality of that food and shelter can make or break their happiness. Dogs can have sensitive stomachs, allergies, and personal dislikes that interfere with their usual carefree personality.
A dog’s naturally cheerful temperament can also disappear without:
- Veterinary care
- Regular grooming
Last, but never least, there is love. Loyal and dedicated, a dog will follow you all the way, asking for very little in return. Love comes in simple, everyday actions like a pat, an ear scratch, or a touch of their Alpha’s hand. Here’s a look at what makes dogs truly happy.
A healthy and balanced diet
Federal and state agencies regulate the quality of pet food. They base their demands almost entirely on the Association of Feed Control Officials (AFFCO) nutritional guidelines. The AAFCO requires pet food labels to include ingredient information based on the amount of content, along with feeding instructions and proper ingredient identification. These guidelines also define and regulate the use of terms such as human grade, organic and natural.
You want dog food that provides all the vitamins, minerals, and nutrients needed for your dog’s caloric needs.
The dog’s size and activity level affect exactly these caloric needs. Also consider your dog’s dietary restrictions. Allergies, food sensitivities, and other health issues can affect their ability to absorb nutrients and limit the number of ingredients they can safely eat.
Look for foods with AAFCO-approved food labels. These labels list everything ingredients in descending order from highest to lowest. They also include the species the food is for, a guaranteed analysis, feeding instructions, and other information that ensures your dog is getting the best nutrition. Buy foods that are appropriate for your dog’s life stage. Senior dogs need a higher protein content, while puppies, especially large breeds, need careful control of their caloric intake to regulate their growth. Speak with a veterinarian about your dog’s specific caloric needs and any dietary restrictions. She may even suggest a specific brand.
A happy dog has his own space
Dogs are pack animals that are perfectly happy to be in your business all the time. However, they need rest as much as we do, and their sleep patterns aren’t exactly ours. Rather than having a long sleep period like people, dogs nap during the day with active periods in the morning and evening.
To ensure they get enough sleep, they need a quiet, secluded place to lie down. For some homes, the corner of the living room will do. If your home is particularly chaotic, a dog bed in the corner of your bedroom might be a better option.
If your dog spends time in the yard unaccompanied, you’ll need a security perimeter to keep him out of the yard and the neighbor’s street. Provide a dog house or shaded area where he can escape the sun and rain so he is comfortable outdoors.
Regular veterinary care
Your dog may only need his vaccinations and an annual exam to stay healthy. Other dogs may need daily medication, ear cleaning, teeth cleaning, and the occasional trip to the ER. Establish care with a veterinarian you trust and stay in touch with them about any issues that may arise. It will help you keep your pet at a healthy weight and diagnose problems as they arise.
Dogs, like people, need exercise to stay healthy, and healthy = happy. The amount of exercise they need depends on their size and breed. Border Collies and Beagles are known for their high energy. They will need more exercise than a Basset Hound or Bulldogs who tend to be happier sitting on your lap. Exercise needs also change with age. Puppies, of course, can circle around an older dog of any breed.
Walk your dog at least once a day. If he seems hyperactive in the evening, he might need two or three walks a day. You can also take longer walks or try running with your dog if walking isn’t enough.
Walks aren’t the only way to exercise. Don’t underestimate the power of games like fetch or hide and seek. Anything that gets your dog’s heart racing can keep him healthy.
Grooming isn’t just about making your dog look good. It’s also a health issue, especially for long-haired breeds. Long and knotty hair can tangle, creating tangles that pull and irritate skin, trap fleas, cause infections or potentially cut off circulation.
Long-haired dogs may need regular appointments with a professional groomer. Keep dog grooming clippers handy to trim problem areas between appointments. Also, brush her hair every other day or so to prevent tangles and mats from forming. Some dogs need a weekly bath because they soak up mud and other hair-lining debris more quickly. Take steps to keep the dog’s hair clean and tangle-free so his skin stays happy.
Love doesn’t take much
It doesn’t take much to win your dog’s affection, but be sure to give it some too. You are your dog’s pack. Love comes in small daily actions. If you are consistent and affectionate, you can bet your dog will be happy and healthy.