By Cheryl Lock
No matter how much we love our furry family members, sometimes life just gets a little too hectic. Showing our dogs the affection we want to — and the affection they deserve — often falls to the wayside.
The truth is, we don’t need tons of extra time in our already packed schedules to show our canine companions how much we care. Letting our dogs know that we love them each and every day can be easy with simple acts and gestures.
Making a few simple adjustments to your normal day can reap big rewards for the relationship between you and your dog. Here are some affectionate activities to try:
If you’re already stressed about how crazy your morning routine is, try waking up just five or 10 minutes early to include your dog in it. If you start the day with a quick trip outside with your dog, your pup will come to appreciate the chance to empty his or her bladder the first thing in the morning. “Then, come in the house and spend five extra minutes in bed cuddling with your dog in the morning,” suggests Mary R. Burch, Ph.D. and the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen director. It’ll help set the tone for the rest of the day.
If you have to be gone during the day, make sure your dog has plenty of mental stimulation in your absence. “There are a variety of interactive canine toys into which treats can be stuffed,” says Burch. “The dog stays engaged while working on getting the treat.”
Even the smallest act — like letting your dog hang around while you work — can help him feel like he’s part of your busy day. “Pets respond to interaction, even the simplest kind,” says Dr. Oscar Chavez, DVM and professor of Veterinary Nutrition at Cal Poly Pomona University. “Allowing your dog to lay on your lap while you work at your desk on that last-minute proposal, or lay at your feet while you type up that project that’s due, is likely enough to remind him you love him — and it gives you great company, too.”
You can also incorporate your pup into your family time to show you care. “When the family is watching television together, invite your dog to be with the family,” says Burch. “You can give the dog an interactive or chew toy to enjoy while human members of your family enjoy a movie.”
While your first instinct may be to hug or pat your dog on the head to show affection, to dogs, these are actually signs of dominance, says Dr. Rachel Barrack of Animal Acupuncture. “Instead, try gently massaging their bellies or behind their ears,” she suggests. “Brushing your dog with a soft brush feels great to your pup, and is also a nice way to show affection.”
Everyone needs a break from the booked-solid lifestyle, and if you can get outside with your dog during those five minutes, all the better. Of course this suggestion won’t work for everyone, but if you work from home or are lucky enough to bring your dog to work, try taking your pup for a quick five-minute walk during your break times. “Even if it’s short, your dog gets a chance to go outside — which she’ll love — and she can take care of any business, while you get to take a breather and refresh,” says Chavez.
It’s easy to turn our attention on our dogs when they misbehave, but by praising them when they are behaving like perfect angels, simply lying there and being quiet and calm or doing something cute, you’re helping to reinforce their good behavior. “Go over to your dog and give him 30 seconds of love or a healthy treat,” suggests Chavez. “You may also end up having a calmer pet over time if you are consistent about this.”
While we’re at it, you should also pay attention to your tone when conversing with your pet. “Dogs may not understand every word you say, but they do understand a kind, calm demeanor,” adds Barrack.
If you have any wiggle room, even just an hour a week, a training class is a great way to show your dog you care. “Then, you can spend 15 minutes a day practicing what you learned in class,” says Burch. “Plus, trained dogs are more relaxed and have fewer behavioral issues.”
Barrack agrees. “Mental stimulation is important for dogs, too,” she adds. “Work with your dog on basic commands and tricks — dogs appreciate rules and boundaries to help them feel safe and secure.”
Sometimes it’s not about specific actions we take with our pets but rather the way we tune into what they’re feeling that helps show how much we love them. “By understanding how your dog feels, you can react appropriately and foster a strong bond,” says Barrack. “For example, scared dogs will cower and lower their heads and tuck their tails, whereas angry dogs will have their ears back and hackles raised.”
If you’re running an errand that won’t require you leaving the car (like picking someone up, heading through the drive-thru, etc.), why not bring your pup along? “[Many] dogs love car rides, especially when it’s just about riding shotgun and there is no vet visit along the way,” says Chavez. “For them, it beats staying home and they feel like they are part of the mission.” But never leave your dog alone in the car since temperatures can reach dangerously high levels even on cool days.
If you’ve taken some time to walk your dog during the day during your own personal breaks, that’s great, but taking time at night to take your dog on a longer walk will be an added bonus. “Before your dog goes to bed, take another walk or trip outside,” suggests Burch. “This will give your dog a chance to meet her biological needs, and it’s a nice way for you and your pup to end the day together.”