Today marks the start of National Dog Week 2017, an annual event that takes place the last week of September, and a time to remind ourselves how much dogs have added to our lives as companions and as teachers.
There are many ways to celebrate, and you can find suggestions online — although, of course, many of those are more for the benefit of the humans than for our dogs.
But if you’d like to celebrate the week properly, here are some things you can do that your dog will appreciate, because they’ll make her a better dog and you a better dog lover.
Here are five ways to celebrate your dog during this week — and every other week of the year.
- Let your dog be a dog
This is probably the hardest thing for people to do because of our tendency to treat cute things like they’re human babies. The problem is that dogs are neither humans nor babies, but we can teach them all kinds of bad behaviors if we try to reason or deal with them the same way we would with children.
You can’t reason with a dog beyond simple behavior and reward interactions — “If you sit now, you get the cookie now.” But these have to be immediate. You could never tell a dog, “If you don’t tear up the sofa during the next five hours while you’re home alone, I’ll give you a steak when I get back.” Your dog won’t remember after you’re gone five minutes.
- Stop being so anxious
I’ve told you many times before that dogs reflect our energy back to us, which is why it’s so important for us to be calm. Show me a nervous owner, and I can guarantee you that they have worried, insecure dogs.
Why? Because your dog will sense your uncertainty in a situation and respond accordingly. Some dogs will become defensive or aggressive and try to protect you. Others will become frightened or skittish, and try to get away from the danger they perceive because they’re reading it in your energy.
One of the more common times for this to happen is when someone is walking their dog and sees someone with a dog coming toward them. They fear a confrontation or a fight, so they tense up on the leash. They may even abruptly cross the street. What they don’t do is continue forward quietly and confidently.
All this sudden tension does is send a signal to the dog: “Danger!” It’s not only the best way to make your dog suddenly focus on the other dog, but the quickest way to set those two dogs up to get into a barking match — or worse — with each other.
- Let your dog earn the reward
What happens when you give kids rewards they didn’t earn? If you do it too often and they come to expect it, they can become spoiled and demand to get gifts all the time from everyone.
Dogs can be the same way, and this is one of the areas where they are similar to kids. If your dog never has to earn a treat or a meal, then not only will they come to expect to get it for nothing, but they will think they’re the ones in charge of you.
But if you get your dog in the habit of always having to do something you want before they can get what they want, you’ll teach her to be obedient and well-behaved. This is also a great way to build her confidence and make her happy, because it gives her an opportunity to figure something out and to show you how smart she is.
In effect, it’s a double reward, really. Your dog gets to feel happy about having performed, and he gets to enjoy the treat. It’s a win-win for both of you.
- Keep your dog healthy
I cannot stress the importance of regularly taking your dog to the vet, making sure that she or he has been neutered or spayed, and is current on vaccinations, flea treatments, and tooth-cleaning. Your dog should also have a full wellness exam every year up until about the age of five to seven, and then every six months after that — starting the more frequent exams earlier the bigger your dog is.
Prevention really is better and easier than a cure. Think about it like a car. You can replace your brakes now for a little bit of money — or spend a fortune having to replace the whole front end after your brakes fail and you crash into a wall. Dogs — and people — are exactly the same when it comes to medical care.
It can also be good for your own mental health. Caring for a chronically ill pet can be just as stressful as being the caregiver for a chronically ill human.
- Help other dogs
Whether you have a dog or not, you can still help and honor dogs this week, or at any time. If possible, you can adopt another member for your pack, or you can volunteer at your local shelter. Also, in most cases when you renew your dog’s license you can also make a donation to the shelter, so consider contributing in that way.
You can also get involved by contacting your local representatives in order to encourage pet-positive and dog-friendly changes to laws, like overturning breed-specific legislation or finding ways to get your local shelters to convert to 100% no-kill policies. If there’s a need and you’re ambitious, you can try to start a dog park in your neighborhood, or keep it simple and start a local dog-walking group. And, finally, help educate your friends and family about the importance of spaying and neutering in order to end pet overpopulation.
Enjoy your week with your dog, and celebrate what they add to our lives year round!
Stay calm, and show your appreciation!