Dog Fitness Matters
There are many ways that I believe we, as a population of dog owners, can improve the quality of life of our canine companions. Many of the ways really rely on an extra effort put forth every day by us as owners. Sometimes only taking a half-hour of our time every day to devote to our pet can increase their mental, physical, and behavioral health. Our dogs will be friendlier, physically healthier, and more acceptable towards people of society who do not own pets or feel comfortable around them. The ways I believe that this can happen is through regular exercise, regular outside time, early handling and discipline at puppy age, and good nutritional maintenance.
Over the years, I have observed many pets that have come through the vet practices that I have worked at. I have noticed a strong correlation between the mental and physical stability of pets and the amount (and even presence) of exercise they got. The owners that would regularly take their pets on walks just seemed to have fitter and friendlier dogs. This in turn, would make it easier for the veterinarians and technicians to additionally increase the dog’s physical health with their expertise. As for personal experience, my family owned a border collie, while I was growing up, named Dusty. Dusty was a very active and loving dog. We used to play sports together outside all day long in the summers and that kept both of us in shape and mentally calm. But, if there happened to be a couple days when my family got busy and we didn’t make enough time to run him for at least an hour he would start getting anxiety problems. I realize that some breeds of dogs (especially border collies) require more exercise than other breeds, but as a whole, dogs need to run, smell, and use their canine instincts on a daily basis in order to maintain a high quality of life.
Spend Time Outdoors
Besides exercise, I believe a regular allowance of outside time is critical to improve the quality of life of a dog. Furthermore, I do believe that different breeds of animals require different levels of outside time, but as whole, dogs need grass and earthy smells and not just the inside of a crate or an apartment. However, the limits of a dogs out-door time experience is something that owners need to be in control of. Owners cannot just let their dog out in a city, town, or in the country without realizing the consequences and risk factors of doing so. Within city, town, and country homes, fences need to be implemented to keep your dog from encroaching on other people’s spaces and more importantly to protect your dog from injury (either from another dog attack or getting hit by a car). My family has used two different forms of fences over the years (electric and wooden) and I think that both were effective and gave our dog adequate protection from injury. We trained Dusty at an early age how to be aware of the electric fence that went around our yard and he fully respected his boundaries ever since. He never broke the fence to get outside of the line, and therefore, he never had a chance to get hit on the road. There have been several times while biking or running around town that a dog has lunged at me or followed me for over a block. Those experiences are frightening and they make you feel very intimidated to go on that street again. Owners that let their dog outside without physically being around to control their dog or without having some sort of a fence are exposing their dog to many risk factors. Some owners chose to chain their dog on a leash so as to imitate the effect of a fence. I believe this kind of control should not be used for large amounts of time, as it does not allow the dog to use its canine instincts to smell new regions of the yard. Also, I believe that a constant use of a leash can cause serious mental and anxiety problems in the dog and does not allow for the dog to have a high quality of life.
One way that I think owners can increase their dog’s quality of life from an early age is by handling and disciplining in the right form. I strongly believe that dogs are more mentally stable if they know their place in the family and know that they need to abide to some house rules. It is crucial for dog owners to catch their puppy’s bad behaviors and discipline them immediately in the process of the bad behavior. There are many experts in the world that teach different ways of disciplining dogs, but as long as an owner sticks to one they think is effective it will be helpful in the long run. It is even more crucial for dog owners to praise and positively reinforce their dog’s good behaviors with treats and petting. We took a behavior class as first year vet students and we learned some simple techniques with treats and handling that made an enormous difference in an animal’s reaction to experiences in the vet clinic. One example was using treats to get an animal used to toenail trimmers or hair clippers. This resulted in the dog associating dog treats (a good experience) with the use of trimmers or clippers and resulted in a happier dog in the clinic. Simple techniques like this can increase an animal’s quality of life tremendously at home and especially during visits to the vet clinic. In general, if a dog was not handled properly as a puppy and associated trips to the vet clinic with bad experiences instead of good it could affect the quality of care they are able to receive at home and in the clinic. Veterinarians and family members could get bit trying to treat the dog’s problem to raise its quality of life and this would therefore make people more reluctant to handle them without sedation drugs.
Also, nutrition plays a very large role in improving a dog’s quality of life. Owners should read as much as they can and listen to their veterinarian’s advice in order to use a diet that is the right fit for their dog. Quantity and quality are very important factors involved in keeping a dog healthy with a good body condition score and not overweight. There are studies that have found that overweight dogs are at a higher risk of attaining more diseases later on in life. Therefore, in order to maintain the health of their dog, not only in the young to middle aged years but in the senior years as well, owners should pay attention to their dog’s diet and weight.
Overall, there are many ways owners can improve their canine companion’s quality of life so that they can live long, healthy, and happy lives.