Your dog's happiness is not something you should take for granted. Dogs are aware, sentient beings that need a number of things in order to be content and to enjoy life. Dog owners need to get out of the mindset that dogs are mere possessions and begin to establish caring and responsible relationships with these fine animals. For all the loyalty and love dogs give to humans they deserve consideration in return. Bearing this in mind, here are some tips you can use to keep your dog healthy, motivated, and happy.

Pat and be affectionate with your dog.

This seems simple enough, but in the general bustle of a busy schedule it can be forgotten. Take at least a few minutes each day to just pat your dog and show your love. If you don't understand how this leads to a happier dog, then perhaps dogs aren't for you.

Let your dog have a chance to run outdoors.

This is neglected even more often than the previous tip. Dogs are naturally active, athletic animals. Both to for simple physical exercise and to maintain their sense of psychological zest dogs need to run and jump. So take you dog to dog parks, on hiking trails, or out to a safe yard (fenced or far from roads) and let it actually run or at least vigorously walk.

Clean fresh water.

Many people leave water in bowls for days on end. It accumulates dust and dirt, becomes stagnant, and if outdoors even provides a breeding ground for insects. Change your dog's water daily, and make sure to use clean, fresh water. Also make sure the bowl doesn't run dry for long periods. Just as it is for humans, drinking enough water is one of the keys to efficient and balanced physical functioning. Insuring your dog has good, fresh water is an important step toward insuring good health.

Give your dog high quality food, and food it likes.

Dogs need good high quality, healthy food of course. There's some controversy as to what the best dog foods are of course, but one thing to keep in mind is that your dog should also like the food he or she gets. Experiment with both canned "wet" dog food and dry - ones that are high in nutritive value and protein, and recommended by professionals. Though you may hear it advised, don't feed your dog only dry dog food. Dogs are primarily carnivores and need actual meat in their diet.

People may also tell you not to feed a dog leftovers. But as a matter of fact, any meat leftovers are fine. You can also give your dog bones from the butcher (never of fowl, only large animal bones), which they love. As long as you do these things responsibly, your animal's diet will be more varied and they will be both healthier and happier. Reminder: never feed your dog scraps directly from the table or you will train it to beg and stare every time you eat dinner. Feed dogs any scraps in a separate room and at a different time then your meal times.

Play with your dog and/or give it an activity to learn.

Dogs need stimulation, activity, and learning. They are susceptible to boredom and need something to give their time purpose, just as humans do. So whether indoors or out, spend time being active and playing with your dog. This could take the form of simple wrestling or playing fetch with your dog to more complicated teaching/learning activities such as training your dog to fetch the newspaper.

Take preventative health care measures.

Health and happiness go hand in hand. So take measures to protect your dog's health, preferably before any problems occur. Check regularly for fleas and ticks, especially during the season when these pests are a problem. Here's some advice you may not hear often - avoid the major brand flea and tick defenses such as Frontline and Advantage. These products have been shown to contain neurotoxic compounds and have resulted in health problems for dogs and other animals, and even deaths. There is a product called Best Yet that uses cedar oil to fight fleas, and cedar oil in itself is a natural flea killer with no harmful effects. In general, favor natural health products, and read up on any health products you use on your dog.

Pay attention to changes in your dog's energy level, temperature (an overheated dog will have usually have a warm dry nose, while one at the optimal temperature will usually have a cold, wet nose), appetite, and excretory patterns. If any seem abnormal for an extended period, it may be for a veterinary examination. In general, give your dog a check up at the vet at least once a year.

Train and keep good control of your dog.

Dogs understand authority. If you're vague on control you'll confuse the dog. This does NOT mean to strike, repeatedly yell at, or otherwise abuse the dog. It simply means that in a firm and friendly way you make clear to the dog that you are in control. More often than not this will be in the form of training that involves positive rewards rather than scoldings and yellings. Occasionally you may need to speak loudly to your dog or give it a quick swat. But it is proven fact that dogs learn far better with positive as opposed to negative reinforcement. Your dog will respect and obey you much better if you are kind and firm at the same time.

Give your dog adequate shelter and bedding if it is outdoors a lot.

If your dog spends a lot of time outdoors, make sure you have provided adequate shelter in the event of rain, snow, cold, and so on. This will generally be a dog house or other sheltering structure such as a porch. Provide clean bedding in dog houses and change it at least one every few weeks.

Don't chain your dog up or leave it outdoors for long periods.

In general the "dog on a chain" idea is long overdue for a change. Chaining a dog up and leaving it outdoors for long periods is abuse, plain and simple. It limits the mobility of the dog, exposes it for over long periods to the elements, and deprives it of needed contact and interaction. If you must use a chain, make sure it is fairly long (at least 15 feet) so that it allows your dog to move around relatively freely. And make sure that the dog is on the chain for only part of the day.

Leaving your dog outdoors for extended periods is inhumane. Even though dogs have fur, they can only remain warm to a limited degree. In winter temperatures leaving them outdoors for more than a few hours should be avoided. And they definitely shouldn't be left out over night. Inside a house or warm garage is the best place for dogs to sleep, especially in the winter.

Let you dog interact with other dogs and people.

Dogs are social in nature. Indeed, they are pack animals. So if possible, let your dog meet other dogs and play. Dog parks (preferably large ones where people are allowing their dogs to run and play) and dog socialization/training classes are good places for this to take place. Even on an ordinary walk to can let your dog meet and sniff another dogs as long as they don't seem to be snarling at one another. Another option you might consider is simply getting a second (or third) dog. Dogs that can group together and play in yards or your living room will be extremely happy - and a lot of the responsibility for entertaining will be off your shoulders.

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