Your dog could be much happier if you do any of these 20 things, according to experts

Because a happy pup is a good pup.

Originally Published: 

It’s a truth universally acknowledged that dog owners like to go above and beyond for our furry friends, and that’s totally welcome. Expensive diets, fancy toys, wild contraptions for travel, over-the-top grooming, luxurious doggy daycare… nothing is off the table.

While we’ll stop at nothing to please our pups, it is nice when we have some guidance on what’s most likely to work best. Not that we wouldn’t buy every type of food imaginable to test it out on our pup’s tummy, or get one of every toy in the aisle, or try multiple beds to ensure that our friend is getting the best night of sleep possible — but it’s good to have a starting point.

That’s where these experts come in. I consulted with a variety of professionals who work with and around dogs to get their advice on things we can do and buy that help make our dogs so much happier. Of course, none of these things replace your invaluable love and attention, but you’re already showering your pup with that, right? So, call your dog over, give them a few belly rubs, and consider the treats, toys, and more, that will make every day their best day.

We only recommend products we love and that we think you will, too. We may receive a portion of sales from products purchased from this article, which was written by our Commerce team.

1. Use training treats that help your pup do the right thing

Nancy M. Kelly, CPDT-KA certified Professional Dog Trainer & Behavior Consultant and Founder of The Mannerly Dog, recommends training treats for when your pup has a hard time seeing you leave. She says, “If your dog has a history of trying to blast out the front door every time you go out, plan ahead to have some treats available, [or] toss a few treats behind the dog ... This isn’t just distracting your dog from the door, but teaching him a new behavior; moving away from the door when you approach it. Good behavior and training starts with good management, which means preventing your dog from doing the things you don’t want him to do, while building the behaviors you want.”

Allow yourself — & your home — to be predictable for your pup’s comfort

“Happy and contented dogs are dogs who have all their needs met,” Kelly also notes. “It seems simple and obvious, but beyond food, water, and shelter, your dog needs a sense of security and predictability about what goes on in his home.” Sticking to a routine will help them understand what’s supposed to happen (and what they should do next to earn your favor).

2. Get a cozy bed they can snuggle up in to feel safe

Security is a big theme with Kelly’s suggestions. As she puts it, “Dogs don’t want to be startled. Your dog can have a bed or mat where he can go when he wants to rest and feel sure he won’t be startled. Any bed will do; pay attention to whether your dog likes to burrow or snuggle into a blanket or whether he prefers to stretch out on the bare floor.”

3. Consider an elevated bed for dogs that don’t like extra fluff

Sometimes simpler is better. Your pup’s chosen bed doesn’t need to be extra plush or frilly to be perfect for them. “A ‘bare floor’ dog might prefer a hammock-style bed to a fluffy one,” explains Kelly. This elevated bed that helps pets stay cool is a great example, and it comes in different colors and sizes to suit different dogs and decor styles. It’s breathable, easy to clean, and can be used indoors or out.

4. Give your dog clear messages when learning tricks & commands

Kelly also emphasizes how important it is for dogs to be mentally stimulated, noting that such simulation goes hand in hand with play, exercise, and, of course, training. She likens each command to a puzzle of its own, and notes how saying something as simple as sit is a way to challenge them to figure out what to do. And when they get it right? Kelly has a suggestion for that, too. “Clickers and treats are the best tools for communicating to dogs which choices are the ones you want them to use.”

5. Offer a puzzle toy that keeps their brain working during solo play

“Mental stimulation can also come from enrichment in the form of interactive toys and food puzzles,” Kelly says. “Any toy that gives your dog a chance to ‘do’ something, has a different texture from other toys, makes sounds, or lights up, can be fun.” For example, these squeaky hiding squirrels promise to keep pups busy for hours (and if squirrels aren’t your — or your pup’s — thing, a variety of other animals are available, too).

6. Try a puzzle with hidden treats to hold your pup’s attention

If a noisy toy sounds less than appealing, don’t worry, there are plenty of other options out there that still allow you to follow Kelly’s advice to keep your dog mentally stimulated. This puzzle toy allows you to hide treats to keep your dog engaged. Even better, it’s available in a variety of styles with different difficulty levels, so you can allow your pup to start with something on the easy end of the spectrum, and work up to the most challenging option.

7. Play with active dogs using a ball launcher that’s easy for you & fun for pup

Richard Conti, K9 scent detection trainer with NYC company Doctor Sniffs, reminds us how important it is to get out and play with our pets. “[R]esearch shows that having fun with your dog can help both of you live longer! I love using the Chuck It Fetcher to play with my dog Goosey.” The ball launcher makes it easy to send the ball sailing so your dog can retrieve it, and there are multiple sizes, as well as folding options for storage and transport, too.

8. Let your dog have a cozy blanket so they can snuggle with your scent when you’re away

If your dog tends to be timid, try this tip from Jeraldin Paredes, professional dog sitter and founder of Talk the Bark. She says, “[S]hy dogs like to hide when they are overstimulated. [You can] wrap them in a baby blanket with your scent and help them through their ordeal. Your scent is a calming tool to let them know they are safe.” Almost any baby blanket, fuzzy blanket, or other beloved blanket can work, and while it’s no substitute for your actual presence, it can make a big difference to your pup.

9. Walk them with a strong & safe leash to make the best walk for both of you

“When walking your dog, make it a time to disconnect from technology and really engage with your dog,” recommends Jamie Ruden, founder of Dog Spotted, a site and community for navigating dog paw-renthood. “Oftentimes, you'll find people walking their dogs while texting and yanking their dog along the way. That's not enjoyable for anyone! But by watching them, giving them the time to sniff, and ensuring their safety it will be a better experience for both you and your pooch.” A durable, reflective leash adds another layer of safety so you and your dog can stay visible after the sun goes down. And while of course you’ll be watching and connecting with your pup, it helps when others can see you, too.

10. Offer this clever feeding mat to slow down eating & utilize brain power

Ruden also endorses mental enrichment toys (the Snuffle Interactive Feeding Mat is a favorite), to help your pet stay busy when you’re not able to give them your full attention. Toys that utilize physical and mental energy can be “great, low lift solutions for dog parents,” she says, so your pet can stay happy and you can use the time accordingly. The Snuffle Mat in particular requires them to sniff and forage, and use their instincts to find treats.

11. Let them chew on this durable & rewarding toy filled with their favorite treats

For a smaller treat dispensing puzzle that takes up less floor space, the West Paw Treat Dispensing Toy is another winner, according to Ruden. It comes in two different sizes and three bright colors, so you can pick accordingly based on you and your dog’s preferences. It can hold a variety of treats and snacks, and the best parts? It’s durable, recyclable, and dishwasher-safe.

12. Brush their teeth & keep their mouths clean with a finger toothbrush

Dr. Linda Simon, veterinary surgeon and consultant for FiveBarks, emphasizes how important it is to stay on top of your pet’s hygiene and grooming. She says, “Don’t forget to perform those all important ‘maintenance’ tasks including tooth brushing, grooming, claw clipping, ear cleaning and bathing. This prevents painful issues such as matted fur, dental decay and overgrown claws down the line.” For teeth cleaning, something like these finger toothbrushes hits the mark, giving you 360-degrees of flexible silicone bristles and a secure fit for most adult fingers. They come in sets of two or four.

13. Maintain their claws quickly & easily in the comfort of home

Paws and claws are included in grooming too, as Dr. Simon reminds us. A set of tried and true dog nail clippers allow you to get it done at home, and to practice with your dog and ensure he or she is comfortable with it. This clipper and trimmer has a comfortable grip and a safety guard, and it comes with a nail file and instructions, too.

14. Keep their coats clean & soft with a shampoo plus conditioner

As it turns out, not all pet shampoo is created equal. When you’re following Dr. Simon’s advice to stay on top of your dog’s grooming, keep an eye out for products that serve multiple purposes, like this oatmeal shampoo and conditioner. It promises to keep their coats soft and clean, to moisturize, to treat potential allergies, and to deodorize.

15. Encourage them to eat slowly & focus on their food

Have you ever considered not using a bowl to feed your dog? Dr. Simon says, "[O]ne of the best ways to enrich your dog’s life is to ditch their food bowl. Instead, make snack and meal times more interesting with food puzzles and toys ... They can be filled with your dog’s dinner, as well as with treats like canned pumpkin, peanut butter and cottage cheese.” For example, This slow dog feeder mat can be used with a variety of foods, and it comes in three colors, with different textures to choose from.

16. Have a multipurpose toy on hand that can be used for feeding, chewing, & play

A classic rubber Kong toy is another great way to encourage dogs to focus and use mental energy as they eat, according to Dr. Simon. This durable chew toy comes in multiple sizes and shapes, so you can pick according to your dog’s needs and preferences. Plus, it makes for a great fetch toy, thanks to its shape and resulting “unpredictable bounce.” When it comes to filling, the brand sells canned treats, you can use your own, or consider the range of home recipes available online — pop it in the freezer for a long-lasting experience.

17. Set up a mini course to encourage exercise & agility training

Worried about your dog getting bored? Dr. Simon suggests, “Think up new and exciting ways to keep them on their toes. Things like mini outdoor agility courses, or ‘Find it’ games where we scatter treats on the grass outside are usually well received.” And luckily, you’re not on your own when it comes to setting up such an activity. This agility course kit is simple for beginners, and has a range of obstacles you can set up indoors or out.

Plan ahead if you have a dog that tends to be anxious or nervous

Sometimes a dog’s emotional needs go beyond the scope of toys or blankets. Dr. Simon says, “Put measures in place to reduce anxiety if needed. Anxious dogs often need an extra helping hand from their owner. We must recognize they have a problem and work with them to address it. This may mean consulting a canine behaviorist and perhaps availing of prescription anxiolytic medicine from your vet.”

18. Consider a calming supplement if your dog needs extra support

It might not be for every dog, but Dr. Simon also says, “many dogs also benefit from calming supplements.” She recommends Zylkene capsules, which can be used short or long term, and can offer help during intense or traumatic events like separation, car rides, thunderstorms, and more. Of course, your veterinarian might have recommendations, too.

19. Consider aromatherapy to offer emotional support to your dog

If you like the idea of offering your dog something specific to help calm their nerves, but aren’t sure about capsules, Dr. Simon also likes aromatherapy. She likes the Adaptil calming diffuser, which “mimics a mothers natural nursing pheromones,” per the brand. Once you have the plug in, you can buy aromatherapy refills that last up to a month.

Keep time on your calendar for your dog, & schedule ahead if necessary

Dr. Simon emphasizes how crucial it is to ensure pups regularly get your attention. She says, “[C]arve out some one on one time for your pet. While many of us lead busy lives, it is important to prioritize our pooches. These social animals crave our attention and enjoy being the center of it; if only for a short while each day. This may mean some training sessions, a cuddle on the sofa or even giving them a nice, relaxing brush.”

20. Try to enjoy the grooming process, & use a brush that’s easy on you & your pet

Grooming doesn’t have to be a chore, nor does it need to be complicated. A comfortable, self-cleaning brush with an ergonomic handle (like this popular, best-selling pet slicker) makes it easy for you, and the more you’re enjoying it, the more likely your dog is to enjoy it, too.