The end of summer is upon us, and as autumn slowly creeps in, retailers constantly remind us they have everything we could possibly need for “Back to School.” All my child-rearing friends are frantically rushing to purchase their kids’ shopping lists of things they MUST HAVE for this year’s classroom. Not being the parent of a human child, I am thankfully spared this ritual; but as a pet parent, this got me thinking: Why not send my dog “back to school,” too?
Medical experts agree that, in humans, a consistently active mind improves happiness and longevity. As we age and retire from our careers, we need to seek out other ways to keep our minds active and engaged in order to preserve our overall health. Dogs are no different. Any dog trainer will tell you that a number of behavioral problems stem from boredom. Anxiety, destructiveness, excessive barking — these can all be indications of a very bored dog. That’s why I can’t think of a better time of year to teach your dog something new.
Dogs, like humans, can continue to learn new things throughout the duration of their lives. Also like humans, they need motivation and encouragement to do so.
In order to teach your dog something new, think about what he likes to do for fun and use that as motivation or reward. For instance, if you have a Labrador who loves to play fetch, you can incorporate the desire to retrieve into the performance of another task, like getting your keys. “Fetching” your keys might result in a further reward, such as going to the dog park. From here you can build on your dog’s success and ask him to fetch other items or teach him to perform other tasks. Always make sure this is a positive experience with lots of praise and treats, and keep sessions short so they always end on a high note.
And since you’re focusing on the start of a new “school year” with your dog’s education, this is also a good time to take stock of what else your dog might need this year. Is he up to date on his vaccines and licenses? Is he due for a vet check? Is he microchipped and is the info current and registered with a reputable microchip registry? Take a look at his tags — would they be legible to a stranger?
Maybe your dog could use a few new, more interactive toys to help keep his mind sharp between learning sessions with you. Perhaps you may even want to get him a subscription to DogTV so that he can stay mentally engaged when you’re not home.
Other items that may need replacing are his collar and leash if they’re worn, and perhaps a new bed. If he is getting on in years, it may be time to think about investing in a firmer orthopedic-type bed to better support his older bones. Depending on his age and breed, he may also benefit from a sweater or two or a poncho or raincoat for damp outdoor activities.
Finally, take stock of his maintenance items. Is his current food still the right one for his age, weight and activity level? Is his shampoo still delivering optimal skin and coat health? If your dog takes supplements or other over-the-counter preparations, take a moment to check the expiration dates and throw out any that are past their prime.
To me, the beginning of fall brings with it the promise of crisp mornings, crunchy leaves, heartier meals and wood smoke. This year, for me, it will also mean more enriching activities and time spent with my dog, and setting him up for a year filled with fun, health, and happiness.
About the Author: Aimee Gilbreath is the executive director of the Found Animals Foundation.
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