As far as best friends go, dogs are a pretty selfless bunch. They give us unconditional love and companionship, and all they really ask is that we keep the kibble coming and their water bowl clean. Well, that and a bit of snuggling and belly scratching, but who’s counting, right?
Dogs don’t complain when they feel like you aren’t really listening to them, and they don’t ever require a shoulder to cry on… although they happily (and often) offer up theirs.
But just because our pups aren’t total divas when it comes to their mental health needs, it doesn’t mean they don’t have them. And chances are if you’ve noticed a change in your dog’s disposition or behavior — let’s say, for example, destroying your sofa cushions — your pup could use a mental pick-me-up.
Here are a few simple ways to boost your dog’s mental health so your BFFF (best furry friend forever, natch) doesn’t fall into a doggy funk.
1. Teach your dog a new trick
Contrary to that old idiom, you can teach an old dog new tricks. In fact, it’s an activity that can benefit all dogs. According to canine trainer Andrea Arden, teaching a dog new tricks increases their confidence, strengthens the communicative bond the two of you have, improves concentration and boosts your pup’s overall health.
2. Switch up your walks
While many humans prefer to pick a routine and stick with it, dogs — especially highly active and/or intelligent breeds — need a little variety in their lives to avoid boredom (and the destructive behavior that often comes with it). Bonus? A change of scenery will likely do you good too.
3. Get on their level
Certain occasions in life call for a buttoned-up approach, but QT with your dog shouldn’t be one of them. In the words of renowned dog whisperer Cesar Millan, “play like a dog.” Get on their level. Roll around on the floor. Play fetch. Dangle a toy in front of your pup’s face and then make a mad dash for the door as if you have a case of dog zoomies. Don’t worry — your dog won’t tell anyone, and your secret’s safe with us.
4. Take them to a dog park
Just as switching up your daily walks gives your dog something new and exciting to look forward to, a trip to the local dog park can prove a huge mood-booster for your pup. Because your dog is interacting with so many different dogs, their brain will be constantly stimulated during the outing. Plus, dogs are pack animals by nature. Getting to mingle with other canines will satisfy them on a primal level.
5. Visit a friend
Again, anything new — sights, scents, smells, pets, people — provides a welcome rush of novelty and excitement for your dog. Just as cavorting with other pups at the dog park offers important socialization time, so does visiting human friends. It’s interesting for your dog, thus beating boredom and anxiety, and it’s guaranteed to lift the spirits of both the visitor and the visited.
6. Go hide-&-seek with treats
A great way to keep your dog’s brain sharp and happy is to give it something to focus on. And what better way to do so than by engaging their most powerful sense? That’s right — put your pup’s nose to use! Hide treats and set your dog loose to track them down. Not only does this engage your dog in a meaningful way, but who doesn’t love puzzles that result in a prize? Especially when the prize is tasty.
7. Shower them with affection
Research studies show that, yes, our dogs really do crave our companionship beyond having their basic needs of food and shelter met. In 2014, scientists at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, discovered that the part of the brain associated with positive emotions was similar in dogs and humans. So, not surprisingly, dogs do experience love and affection — like us, they enjoy friendships too.