January can be a tricky month. The promise of longer days, warmer weather and more sunshine is on the horizon. Already, plants and buds are starting to grow and awaken, and other signs of new life are slowly starting to appear. The dark evenings are even showing the first signs of becoming shorter.
These are all good signs for us and our dogs. The combination of wet, cold weather and limited daylight can often mean that our dogs don’t get as much exercise and activity at this time of year as they might in spring and summer. Include the potential overindulgence and relaxation that often accompanies the festive season, then it could be that we need to look at some minor (or even major!) lifestyle amends for our dogs in this new year.
You might already have made some resolutions and be well on your way with them. However, here are some ideas of things you might also want to consider for your dog’s health and happiness.
Let’s Talk Training
Did you know that January is National Train Your Dog Month? This is an initiative to encourage anyone living with dogs to incorporate training into their day-to-day lives with their dog and lots of training organisations are running events both online and in-person to support canine caregivers in learning more about training techniques that are fun, fair, ethical, and effective.
You might start small by considering ‘back to basics’ for your dog, especially if key skills such as recall or ‘stay’ have become a little sloppy. You can do this at home and when out walking, using suitable rewards (tasty food treats are often easiest) to identify to your dog when they have done well. Positive reinforcement training using clear markers and rewards consistently results in quality training outcomes and robust behaviours.
If you decide to look for a training class, find a trainer that is qualified and applies reward-based training principles. This will make training safe and fun for you and your dog, as well as ensuring that your training and behavioural aims for your dog are met too. You might even make it a goal to explore an activity with your dog to keep you both fit and active into the new year – agility, obedience, working trials, freestyle, flyball and gundog work (as well as many others!) are all common activities with potential competitive opportunities too. Social media can be a good place to find classes and trainers – just look out for trainers and classes that use current and scientifically based approaches, in addition to being experienced in the discipline they are training.
Dogs are built for running and activity. Many dog breeds and types have been selectively bred for specific skills related to activity and when we limit what they can do and their activity level, we can inadvertently create problems for both them and us. Think about the border collie – originally bred to herd livestock but often also seen as family pets with no access to sheep. If they do not get a suitable outlet for that inherent behavioural need, then they might take to herding family members or potentially more harmful chasing of cyclists or cars.
Granted, some breeds and types have a physical make-up that might limit some aspects of what they can do and the speed at which they might move, but exercise is important for the physical, mental, and emotional health of our dogs and might even tap into some of their natural skills and attributes too.
Activity is also important to help our dogs keep a healthy bodyweight and condition. With overweight and obesity being one of the most significant health and welfare concerns that veterinary surgeons report for companion dogs, helping our dogs maintain a lean body shape is one of the most effective things we can do to help our dogs live long, healthy, and happy lives. Maintaining a healthy bodyweight can also reduce the potential risk of developing other health conditions and help to manage the impacts of existing health concerns such as osteoarthritis.
Walk The Walk
Walking is probably one of the most common forms of activity we undertake with our dogs, and it is a great way to support weight management as well as providing benefits of outdoor exposure. You might decide that you want to increase your walking distance and/or speed for your own health this year – a great goal and one that will benefit your four-legged friend also.
An important consideration if you are planning to increase your own and your dog’s exercise and activity level is to do it gradually. This is essential to make sure that you minimise injury risk as well as making the new habit sustainable and an integral part of everyday life. You might start with a known circuit walk and aim to walk it a minute faster over the period of a week. Alternatively, you could increase distance by using trees, streetlights, or other markers as targets. This might also create ideal opportunities to practice your dog’s loose lead walking too and reinforce this training by marking and rewarding calm, contented and close lead work.
Don’t forget to make walks interesting and fun for your dog too – marching along is absolutely beneficial for activity and physical health and conditioning. However, our dogs will also benefit mentally from being able to sniff and explore their environment too, so be sure to incorporate some ‘dog time’ in your walks also. Sniffing and scent work is also a naturally rewarding and calming behaviour for many dogs, so being able to incorporate into your daily activity will help your dog in many different ways.
A health review and check is often a good place to start if you plan a new exercise plan for your dog or are even looking at starting a new activity. Chat to your vet and have your dog get a health check to make sure there is nothing that might impact on their ability to take part well. This is especially important for our more mature canine friends, who can often hide signs of discomfort and pain and who might need additional veterinary or other support to keep them as happy and healthy as possible.
A diet review is a good idea too. Exercise is important for body condition, but what our dogs eat also has an impact. If you feel your dog needs some help to either lose (or maintain or gain) bodyweight, seek nutritional advice and support. A food change might be needed to ensure that the nutrients being fed actually meet your dog’s individual requirements – this is often best done with professional input.
In some cases, you might wish to support specific aspects of your dog’s health through nutritional supplementation and for dogs with specific challenges, highly active dogs or our older dog companions, there are a number of options available. Science Supplements produce a range of canine supplements that can be easily added to your dog’s food to support joint, skin/coat, digestive, behavioural and cognitive health. Based on your dog’s individual needs, supplements can be a simple way to tailor your dog’s nutrition as well as being a tasty addition to their mealtimes.
Whatever your aims are for the new year, all at Science Supplements wish you and your dog(s) a happy, healthy, and prosperous one.
- Make any exercise and activity changes gradually – start small and increase over time
- You can teach older dogs new tricks! Training is for life, not just for puppies
- Aim for your dog to have a lean, healthy body condition – a good guideline is to look at your dog from above and you should see a waistline. If not, some weight management is probably needed
- Maintaining overall health and seeking advice at the first sign of any changes to your dog’s condition can help them live long, happy lives
Science Supplements offer a range of high specification, canine supplements that can help to support your dog’s health and wellbeing all year round. We offer options to support your dog’s joint, skin, and digestive health as well as supporting them during periods of anxiety or worry.