The ending of one year and the beginning of a new one are always a great time to reflect on the past year: your accomplishments, struggles, where you have come from, but it is also a time to try to create goals and changes for the future. Maybe you want to get healthier, get a new job, graduate school, go back to school, take up a new hobby, be more confident. People love to take the start of a new year and make it a blank slate where you can try to be the person you want to be. It would be funny to think what a dog's resolutions would be if they had an understanding of a concept of a new year. What resolutions do you think your dog would make: I will no longer jump up on grandma when she comes over and knock her over; I will no longer pull on the leash so hard my owner falls over; I will become more confident and hold my bladder when men lean over me. While dogs do not have a concept of a New Year's Resolution, as their owners we can certainly create resolutions for them and do our part to help them succeed. Better yet, if we don't want to create resolutions for our dogs, maybe we can incorporate our dogs into our New Years' Resolutions. Here are 5 resolutions you can make for you and your dog.
1. Get healthy. Many people choose to try to lose weight, exercise, or eat healthier for their New Years' Resolutions. You can make the same resolution for your dog. If your dog is a little overweight, now is the time to help your dog shed a few pounds. Or maybe your dog isn't overweight, but your dog always has bad breath, a dry coat, allergies, or constantly seems to be having health issues. A dog's diet could be the issue. Not all dog foods are created the same and some diets that work well for one dog may not work well for another dog. Working with an animal nutritionist who has a PhD in canine nutrition, for example, Evolve Animal Services (www.evolveanimalservices.com) might be a good solution for working with your dog to provide the best possible diet for your individual pet. Adding exercise to your pet's daily routine is also not only good for your dog, but can be good for you. If you want to add 30 minutes of walking or running to your daily exercise, bring your dog along! Dogs benefit drastically from going out for daily walks. Putting your dog outside in the backyard to run around is NOT enough daily exercise for your dog. If it is cold outside, go to dog-friendly locations such as a Home Depot or Petsmart and walk your dog around to get some of that energy out. (if your dog is too crazy to have out in public like that, then check out resolution #2). Mabye you have trouble walking or running, you can still exercise your dog with little effort on your part with games of tug and fetch. You also can teach your dog tricks or sports such as Nosework or Agility that are great ways to exercise your dog physically and mentally.
2. Cut out bad habits. Lots of people reflect on their own bad habits and try to eliminate them in the new year such as cutting out soda, alcohol, cigarettes, coffee, saying bad words, speeding while driving, showing up late to work, chewing your nails, etc. This list could go on and on for people (myself included, so new habit each year since there are so many), but what about our dogs? Does your dog jump up on people? Does your dog pull on a leash? Maybe your dog barks non-stop when its in a crate or anytime someone walks past your front door. Is your dog fully potty trained? Does your dog steal toys and growl when you try to take them away? Does your dog steal your food whenever you aren't paying attention? Does your dog always run in the opposite direction every time you say the words "come here"? Again, a dog's bad habit list could also go on and on. This is an area where you can help your dog work on these habits. Most of the issues listed above are issues worked on in a basic obedience class, such as our Elite Level 1 class. Maybe your dog needs more work on one of these areas than is covered in an obedience class, in which case private lessons with a professional trainer may be a good option for you. Just like with us, bad habits aren't a quick fix. Your dog won't learn to walk nicely on a leash or not jump on people in one lesson once a week. These bad habits didnt' develop overnight and they won't go away overnight either. But working hard with your dog and creating training opportunities for them to be successful can kick these bad habits to the curb.
3. Go back to school. Some people choose to go back to school for their New Years' resolution so they can create better lives for themselves and their families and get a sense of accomplishment. You can also take your dog back to school. Maybe your dog is already well-mannered and you have no complaints. However, we are going to let you in on a littel secret: dogs love to learn. If you have a dog you think doesn't like to learn, then your dog probably hasn't discovered that learning can be fun. Dogs can always learn something new. Not everything you teach your dog needs to be practical, some of it can just be for fun. Dogs thrive on mental stimulation and teaching a dog new things is a great way to accomplish this. Even if your dog performs cues relatively well, have you gotten your AKC Canine Good Citizen title (something ALL owners and their dogs should strive for)? If not, that is an area you and your dog can work on. Maybe you want to teach your dog some fun tricks. Maybe you want to learn a new sport with your dog like Treiball, Agility, Freestyle, Rally Obedience, or K9 Nosework. Even if you have never thought about these sports (or even heard of some before), what could it hurt to give it a try? Have fun with your dog and see how well they do and what you together can accomplish when you go back to school.
4. Work on your relationship. Some people choose their resolution to work harder on their relationship with their significant other or child. Some people want to rebuild a relationship with a sibling, parent, or friend. But what about your relationship with your dog? Do you spend a lot of time with your dog? Is your dog always being put outside or in its crate? Do you play with your dog or cuddle with your dog? Evaluate your relationship with your dog and see where you can make improvements. Maybe try to always set time aside every single day, no matter how stressed or tired you are, and spend that time with your dog playing, walking, grooming, or just enjoying each others' company. Maybe take a class for something new where you can both learn something new together. Figure out what you can do to become your dog's number 1 person and for you to become a better person for your dog.
5. Conquer your fears. Some people want to work on their fears: fear of public speaking, fear of sticking up for yourself, fear of living without, fear of driving at night, fear of doctors, fear of being alone, fear of heights, fear of being out in the wilderness. While these fears aren't necessarily irrational, they can pose a hinderance to your daily life. Believe it or not, even as a trainer I have never been comfortable out in the real world talking to strangers or even sometimes aquaintences. But when I got a puppy and knew I had to take her out and socialize with her for her well-being, it taught me to come out of my shell and try to talk to people I otherwise would have most likely walked by and ignored as quickly as possible. Your dog can be your support for you as well when you need help conquering your fears. But what about your dog's fears? Maybe your dog doesn't like strangers either, other dogs, other animals, men, the vet, having its nails trimmed. Maybe what you perceive as aggressive or reactive on a leash is a behavior rooted in fear. While your dog's fears may not be irrational either, it is a hinderance and an un-needed stress on your dog's life as well. These sorts of behavior issues are not going to be a quick fix, but with the right support and training plan in place, you can help your dog get to a better place. Behavior issues are not something you should try to deal with on your own, with novice trainers, or with people who use the credential of "having dogs their whole life". Look for a professional dog trainer or dog behaviorist (ideally with good certifications) to help you and your dog.
This is our list. What sort of New Years' resolutions do you have planned for you and your dog?