We all like to think we’re taking the best care of our dogs. I do too.
But then I learn something different and find out that I could be doing more. That I could be making my dog’s life even better.
While this post was written in December, I am not big on New Years Resolutions becaues I don’t beleive the first of the year is the only time you should make a promise to do something differently.
I would like pet owners to take this challenge at whatever point during the year they find it.
Note: I am not a veterinarian. I’m just a dog owner trying to improve her dog’s lives and help others do the same. Please check with your veterinarian before starting anything new you are not confident with (ex. suplements, exercise).
What is the 30 Day Happier, Healthier Dog Challenge?
We are bombarded with new information every day. It can be overwhelming.
I know each time I am presented with the latest scientific study on dogs, or pet trend, I start to feel like I’m not a good enough pet parent.
But I am a firm believer in:
- Where you are at now with taking care of your dog is great.
I don’t beleive in using new information to make ourselves feel bad if we are unable or uncomfortable changing the way we take care of our dogs.
2. Improving your dog’s life can be incremental. Taking one tiny step to improve yoru dog’s life is sufficient.
So I decided to come up with this challenge in hopes of nudging you to make just a few small changes in your dog’s life.
We will tackle one primary area of pet care per week – the 4 areas that I think are the most important – for a month.
During that week, you will examing a specific area, do some additional research if needed, and try to make one tiny change that will improve your dog’s health and happiness.
What Are the Four Pillars of Dog Care?
Again, I am not a veterinarian. This is just my humble pet owner opinion.
There are many theories on what pet care is essential and how it’s categorized.
Personally, I consider most everything I do for my dogs to fall into one of these 4 primary categories.
- Play and Exercise
- Medical care (Veterinary Care, grooming, etc.)
I regularly look at each of these 4 categories of care to see if I can be doing anything differently to help make my dogs healthier and happier.
The challenge gives you promts in these four areas.
How Do I Take the Challenge?
Taking the 30 Day Happier, Healthier Dog Challenge is pretty simple.
Choose a start date and then work on one of the 4 pillars of pet care each week for a month.
Working on them can mean:
- Reflecting on what you are currently doing
- Doing 5-10 minutes of reasearch so you are more informed
- Seeing that there is one small change you can make that will make your dog happier or healther and trying it out
- Making a major change
- Deciding this is an area where no improvement is needed and posible and moving on
Below are the 4 pillars and examples of what you can consier with each.
Note: you don’t have to do these in order. You can choose what you want to work on first.
This pillar has to do with what your dog is eating – food, supplements, treats, chews, etc.
Step 1: take a look at each of these categories (more below).
Step 2: see if you can make an incremental improvement somewhere.
Here are some examples:
Dog food ingredients
Look at the ingredients of your dog’s food and choose a food that is at least a one-step improvement from what your dog is curently eating.
If your dog’s current food has a lot of fillers like corn or peas – the higher up on the ingredient list something is, there more there is in the food – look for a food with less of them.
A great resource to check the quality of your dog’s current food quality rating is Dog Food Advisor.
You can also check out the list of what I feed my dogs to keep them active and healthy.
Consider adding or changing supplements.
If you are not giving your dog any supplements, maybe it’s a good time to start incorporating one or two.
Almost every dog can benefit from a joint supplement, some kind of omega oil, or probiotic.
If you are alreay giving your dog a supplement, consider checking to see if there is a higher quality or more effective one on the market.
For example, not all joint supplements are created equally. Some have higher concentrations of key ingredients and scientific studies behind them.
For ideas, review my list of supplements I give my dogs.
Make sure you are giving high quality treas that contain the appropriate amount of calories for your dog’s size and the quantity you give them a day.
The thing that matters most to me when considering dog treats is ingredients. I want to choose only the highest quality.
To, that primarily means all, or mostly, meat.
As with your dog’s food, take a look at the list of ingredients on the treat package and consider using something higher quality.
My second consideration is the number of calories because I like to reward my small dogs for good behavior frequently.
It’s easy for too many reats to make them fat.
Take a look at the calories listed on the package for your go-to dog treats.
I’m comfortable giving my small dogs treats that are 1-3 calories each.
You can view my list of favorite, low-calorie dog treats HERE.
While you’r at it, take a close look at any chews you’re giving your dog.
Stay away from those that are treated with chemicals, and aren’t easily digested, like rawhide and nylon chews.
Feeding your dog properly doesn’t just mean considering the quality of the food, treat, or chew.
It also means considering your dog’s daily calorie need/intake and controlling portions as necessary to make sure they stay at the proper weight.
Use this calorie calculator for dogs to see how many your dog needs a day.
Note: you may need to add 10-20% more calories if your dog is more active than average.
Then weigh or measure food and treat portions and look at the calories on the package to make sure your dog is getting no more or less than they need.
If you have a Dachshund, you can also read this detailed description of how to tell if your Dachshund is at the correct weight.
It’s important to consider food, treats, food scraps, supplements and chews – everything that goes into your dog’s mouth – when totaling the calories consumed for the day.
Play and Exercise
This category includes:
- physical exercise like walking your dog, hiking with your dog, or playing sports.
- mental stimulation like dog puzzle games, lick mats, snuffle mats, and other treat toys
- Engagement with you – undivided attention like play
Let’s discuss each of these separately.
Physical fitness can mean walking your dog reglarly but it doesn’t have to end there.
But it can start there.
If you are not walking your dog, try going for a 15 minute walk a couple times a week.
If you feel like your dog is alreay getting enough exercise from walking, or you are physically unable to do more yourelf, consider doing dog gym exercises to strengthen their muscles.
Mental stimlation, or mental exercise, is as important for your dog as physical.
While walking, hiking in the woods, or sports can provide some mental stiumulation, it’s not the complete picture.
Besides processing their surroundings when out and about, dogs need to use their smarts and natural insincts to solve puzzles or figure out to do something.
Hint: they will do this on their own if you don’t give them something to do like stealing and chewing your slippers).
Consider incorporating one of these brain games or dog puzzles into their routine.
Most of us got a dog to provide us companionship. But don’t forget we need to provide companionship to our dogs too.
If you’re constantly busy rushing in and out of the house, or distracted by TV, social media, or household chores, your dog may feel ignored.
While dogs don’t feel the range of emotions people do, look at any dog that is not getting the focused attention they crave and you can tell.
They may look depressed, bored, or sad.
Make sure that you are turing your total focus to your dog at least a couple times a day.
Sometimes a little is all they need to be happy all day.
While training is a form of mental stimulation, it deserves a specific call-out.
Well trained dogs are easier to live with, get yelled at or punished less, and are more enjoyable companions while you are traveling or going to events.
I admit I was sorely lacking in this area until about 4 years ago when I brought my first Dachshund puppy home.
Since then, I have made a slow but consistent effort to train her to my routine and to be well behaved.
I’ve even taught my senior Dachshund a few new things in the process.
It truly is never to late to teach an older dog new tricks, so if there is something about your Dachshund’s behavior you don’t like, or that that causes tension in or out of the house, consider:
- a self-paced home traning program like the Pupford Academy
- virtual sessions with a dog trainer
- taking an in-person dog training class.
Medical care includes veterinary care, grooming, and being prepared to handle emergencies.
Regular veterinary care is important.
Some people don’t take their dog to the vet unless the the dog is clearly sick or injured.
I’m not judging – veterinary visits can be costly and post-pandemic waiting times can be long.
Ideally though, your dog would get an annual checkup.
Your vet can check your dog’s vitals, physical appearance, and feel in all the telling places to monitor whether something has changed with your pet’s health.
It’s even suggested that older dogs recieve a senior blood panel to act as a baseline for future comparison of blood tests so any changes can be noted.
If it’s been a while since your dog has been to the vet for a checkup, you may want to book one.
I consider grooming to be part of medical care.
Dog nails that are allowed to grow too long can cause pain, are more likely to break, and can cause your dog to trip and fall.
If your dog has long hair and develops mats, they can trap bacteria, tear the skin, and cause pain.
Not bathing your dog can cause bacteria to build up and lead to skin irritation and infections (but be sure not to bathe your dog too often).
Grooming also give you or your dog’s groomer an opporunity to feel your dog’s body for suspicious lumps, bumps, and sores.
I’ve been very vocal about brushing not being the only way to clean your dog’s teeth so I get it if you don’t want to do that or your dog hates it.
But there are things you can do to help keep your dog’s teeth clean.
See the brusheless dog teeth cleaning strategy I use if you want to know more.
So if it’s been while since you’ve clipped your dog nails, combed out mats, or done anyting for your dog’s teeth, try doing something now.
Emergency planning means preparing for the future in case something goes wrong.
Properly preparing for the future also means making or buying a dog first aid kit.
But don’t stop there because you need to know how to properly use what’s in the kit.
If you never have, consider getting certified in pet first aid.
When you found this article, I assume you are taking the best care of your dog you can given your knowledge and resources.
But when we know better, we do better (within our means).
I hope this 30 day challenge will help you get out of your pet care rut and make a change in you pet’s life to improve it.
A hundred tiny, incrimental steps add up and can help your dog live a happier, healthier, more fulfilled life.
About the Author
Hi, I’m Jessica. I’ve been studying the Dachshund breed since 2007, owned 3 of my own, and shared in the lives of thousands of others through their owner’s stories. When I’m not sharing what I know on this blog, you can find me hiking, camping, and traveling with my adventurous wiener dogs.