11 Ways to Love Your Dog

Dogs are the best, and anyone who says otherwise is either some weirdo cat person or some awful, black-hearted hater. But as for the rest of us, dogs rule. They make us healthier, happier, and provide us with the closest thing there is to unconditional love. So in appreciation of our furry little friends, here now are 11 ways you, the loving dog owner, can return the favor.

11. Create Rituals

Dogs are experts on human behavior. We control their schedules, so they spend their days attuned to our every move. They learn putting on a coat precedes a walk and opening the pantry means it’s time to eat.

You can use your dog’s association skills to create fun little rituals. Give him a treat when he comes in from the bathroom or an after-dinner bone when he finishes his kibble. When you’re ready to leave for a walk, say, “Walk, boy?” and watch him lose his damn mind. Daily doses of fun and excitement strengthen the bond between man and mutt, but maybe the most important ritual of all is saying hello.

10. Say Hello

When I come home, guess who’s most excited to see me. HINT: it’s not my wife or daughter.

Studies show that when caretakers return home, a dog experiences bliss-fueled energy and a desire for physical contact. His happy feet and thundering tail are signs of his excitement; he’s so elated he could run around the block. But he contains himself in favor of a physical greeting with his human. I know there are a million things to do between returning home from work and going to bed, but make time for a proper greeting. Your dog has been waiting for it all day.

9. Scratch His Favorite Spots

Researchers have long known that when humans pet a dog, it floods our brains with endorphins, oxytocin and dopamine — chemicals that make us happy and promote love and bonding. However, more recent research suggests that touch can have a similar effect on our dogs.

Dogs even have preferred touch zones and will move to position these favorite spots directly under your hand. In general, dogs like to be touched on the sides of the head, base of the tail, around the ears, and on the belly.

8. Train Using Positive Reinforcement

Dogs are not wolves, and the theory that a dog believes he is part of a wolfpack is not only incorrect but toxic to the human/dog relationship. The dog does not consider you his alpha male and will therefore not challenge your rank if you fail to display dominance over him.

When it comes to raising a happy and obedient dog, positive reinforcement beats punishment; punishment only beats the dog. Dogs aim to please, so make training a happy time filled with lots of praise and treats. Now, WHO’S A GOOD BOY?

7. Let Him In the House

A dog is domesticated; his natural environment is with his family in the home. He shows an attachment to his caregivers that, according to some researchers, is strikingly similar to that between an infant and its mother. A dog has social needs just as he needs food and water. And remember the need for physical contact? An owner’s return home must be torture for the poor boy tied to a tree in the backyard.

6. Let Him Stink

Dogs and humans have different definitions of what smells ‘good’. For example, a just-bathed dog still fresh with the scent of his Creme de la Coco doggy shampoo is a smell us humans might find favorable. But to a dog, an animal that will willingly roll in a pile of shit and be glad he did so, artificial scents can be overwhelming. If the dog is gonna be in the house, obviously he will periodically need a bath. But a dog’s sense of smell is millions of times more sensitive than ours, so remember that before you cover him in fancy shampoo.

5. Let the Stinky Boy Sleep in Your Stinky Bed

Dogs aren’t the only creatures that stink; humans stink, too. Our breath stinks. Our feet stink. Our armpits and genitals — they stink. We leave a trail of our unique scent wherever we go and it collects in our favorite places. To a dog, an expert sniffer and master of association, our stink is us. And our bed, where we spend hours every night snuggled between layers of sheets and blankets, reeks of us. To him, there’s no place more comfortable than a soft flat surface soaked in the scent of his human. It doesn’t matter if it’s a Sealy or a Serta.

4. Play P.S. I love You

For those who don’t know, P.S. I love You is a chick flick starring Gerard Butler and Hilary Swank. When Butler’s character is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he masterminds a series of surprises that will be delivered to his widow (Swank) once he’s gone. The little gifts help Swank escape her loneliness and the accompanying letters eventually lead her to a rediscovery of love.

Anyway, dogs need stimulation and that need doesn’t stop just because you’re at work for 10 hours. So take a page from The Book of Gerard, and surprise your dog while you’re gone. Doing so will prevent loneliness, boredom, and property damage that often goes hand in hand with a bored pup. Here are a few ideas (click links to see on Amazon):

3. Build Him A Hangout

Give your dog his own place. Put his bed or crate somewhere off the beaten path but still in earshot of all the action, maybe an office or sitting room adjacent to the main living area. Add a blanket or some of his toys to make it ‘his’.

This is especially important if you have kids. As any honest parent will tell you, kids are often very annoying. They can be especially irritating to a dog — tugging his tail, taking his toys, etc. Over half of all dog bites occur at home with dogs that are familiar to us. Providing the dog with a safe retreat, and of course keeping kids out of said retreat, gives him an escape when he’s not in the mood to have his ears pulled.

2. Take a Walk

Regularly scheduled walks are probably the best thing you can do for a dog. They provide physical and mental stimulation, promote bonding, and offer plenty of fun items to sniff. In fact, dogs love walks so much, we’ve dedicated an entire post to it: Why Dogs Love Walks: Inside the Mind of Man’s Best Friend.

1. Remember He Depends on You

Life is busy and dogs are a lot of work. With the demands of our jobs and kids and whatever else, it’s impossible for us to give the dog everything he wants. But we should do our best because to a dog, we’re his world — the provider of his physical, social, and emotional needs. We make his days and therefore his life.

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Sources and Recommended Reading

Decoding Your Dog

Why Dogs Love Walks

For the Love of a Dog

Why Dogs Love Walks

Inside of a Dog

Why Dogs Love Walks

The Other End of the Leash

Why Dogs Love Walks

Why Dogs Love Walks: Inside the Mind of Man’s Best Friend

The alarm sounds at 4:58, but Mo is already up. He hops from the foot of the bed, shakes, snorts, does some walk/stretch thing he does every morning, and hurries to the bathroom because he knows that’s my first stop. 

He lets me enter and then follows halfway, and as I relieve myself, Mo starts to wag his tail, rhythmically striking each side of the door frame. WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!

I tell him he needs to be quiet. I get dressed, and we sneak downstairs. Then, in one final affirmation that we are indeed doing what he already knows we are doing, I grab his collar and he launches into an bliss-fueled tailspin.

And on our way to the park, me half asleep behind the wheel and Mo in the backseat panting on my shoulder, I wonder, as I have on so many other mornings, why do dogs love walks?

Anthropomorphism and How Dogs ‘See’ the World

Ingrained in human psychology is the tendency to anthropomorphize or attribute human characteristics to things which are not human — we do this especially with our pets.

The dog barks, so he must be trying to speak. He licks, so it must be a kiss. He sniffs the rump of another dog, so we yank his leash because butt sniffing is gross, at least to humans.

But of course, domesticated as a dog may be, he is not human. And the only way to understand what a walk means to a dog is to remove our human lenses and view the experience through his eyes, or more accurately his nose.

Why Mo Loves Walks

He Sniffs

Why Dogs Love Walks

Humans — with our tiny, second-rate noses — will likely never understand life behind the snout of a dog¹. Imagine stepping into a forest and each tree having it’s own unique scent. Or sniffing the ground and instantly knowing that a squirrel passed by earlier…about 4AM…he had an acorn…and was headed east.

To a dog, smell is more than just a collection of scents. It’s a story. And stories are everywhere — on a stick, in the dirt, and under leaves. There are even stories left deliberately by other dogs.

He Marks and Messages

Why Dogs Love Walks

The whiz Mo takes before bed is different than the whizzes he takes on a walk. His evening whiz is a torrential, earth-soaking whiz, one of such concentration and density it kills the lawn beneath it. His on-walk whizzes, though, are a series of tiny squirts shot from underneath a lifted leg.

Recent research suggests the latter, commonly believed to be an attempt at territory marking, is actually a form of communication². Mo is depositing a message containing information regarding his sex, status, diet, mood, how often he visits this spot, as well as any recent accomplishments.

Mo was here. Ate a piece of steak last night with kibble. Chased a squirrel this morning. Didn’t catch it. Maybe next time. Ruff.

His message is then received by other dogs who come to sniff the area before likely depositing a message of their own in a process called overmarking.

He Plays With Friends

Why Dogs Love Walks

To me, dog play is weird and looks neither fun nor particularly safe. But for whatever reason, Mo adores bearing his fangs and biting the necks and legs of his playmates. Yes, sometimes he’ll frolic alongside other dogs or share a stick, but generally ‘play’ more closely resembles a fight to the death.

However, dog play is more organized and formal than it appears. Before play begins, one dog signals to the other, sometimes using a play bow as seen here:

Why Dogs Love Walks

If the playmate accepts the invitation then they mutually agree to some rules — taking turns, playing fair, considering size of the other playmate, etc. So while dog play may look dangerous, it’s not as bad as it looks.

He Picks

Why Dogs Love Walks

Because Mo enjoys walks infinitely more than I do, I allow him to make important walk-related decisions. If he wants a ball, he brings it along. He wants a stick, he picks it up. He goes left at the bridge, I go left at the bridge. And maybe most importantly, I let him follow his nose.

Head to any pet friendly area and you will see humans hurrying their dogs along a concrete path or yanking the leash when the dog stops to sniff, either unaware of or indifferent to the fact that dogs care far more for scent than for efficiency.

One of the first dog training books I ever read offered this very misguided piece of advice³: You must walk the dog; the dog mustn’t walk you. If the dog wanders, rein him in. He stops to sniff, yank his leash. He stops again, beat him until he submits.

I may have paraphrased that last part, but in all honesty it was something close. Anyway, the premise for this tip stems from the wolfpack theory, which says because dogs evolved from wolves and wolves run in packs, the dog expects to live in a social hierarchy similar to that of the wolf. If you — the owner — fail to cement your status as alpha male, the dog will spend his life challenging your rank.

The problem with this theory is not only does it fail to replicate the inner-workings of an actual wolfpack — social status is rarely challenged by pack members — but more importantly dogs are not wolves.

Dogs live with humans, most have access to a climate controlled and predator-free home, and if I ever told Mo to go hunt cooperatively with his dog friends, he’d starve to death before dinner.

Now, if the dog isn’t a beta male reporting up to his alpha male human, how then does he see himself in the eyes of man? Simple: as a best friend.

We hang out

Why Dogs Love Walks

Humans created the dog. Years of domestication transformed the tolerant wolf into a tamed one. Years more and we had an animal who shared our home. Now, thousands of years later, we have a creature so attuned to us he knows early alarm + bathroom = walk — a creature who, more than anything else, wants the company of humans.

Dogs depend on us not only for food and shelter but for a relationship. Mo knows that the walk is more than just his time; it’s our time, and I think that’s his favorite thing of all.

Why Dogs Love Walks


Notes:

¹A dog’s sense of smell is millions of times more sensitive than ours. The olfactory bulb, the part of the dog brain responsible for processing scent, is 40 times larger in dogs than in humans, relative to total brain size. This extra processing power carries more scent-related information to other parts of the brain, impacting a dog’s behavior, emotion and memory.

²In addition to a first-class olfactory system, dog’s have what is called a vomeronasal organ. Located above the roof of the mouth, this separate sniffing apparatus allows dogs to detect hormones and pheromones — the chemical and communicative pieces of information contained in another dog’s urine.

³Dogs require walk-related and leash training. How else will he know what’s expected of him? However, based on my research and experience, I would argue that sessions of positive reinforcement — treats when he heels in lieu of punishment when he doesn’t — are far more effective. Once the dog demonstrates obedience and understands that future walks are contingent on good behavior, let the boy run free.


Sources and recommended reading:

Decoding Your Dog

Why Dogs Love Walks

For the Love of a Dog

Why Dogs Love Walks

Inside of a Dog

Why Dogs Love Walks

The Other End of the Leash

Why Dogs Love Walks