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New Year, New Us?

Hello there, and Happy New Year! I hope you all had a peaceful holiday, and that Santa was good to both you and your furry friends.

Now that we’re starting to hit our stride with 2017 – wasn’t that first day back at work just horrifying to contemplate? – we are being bombarded by endless messages of ‘New Year, New You!’ For those of us who are reasonably content with our current Me, this can be disheartening but fear not because the mutts and I are here to make calm, reasonable suggestions on how to improve the day-to-day health of you, and your canine companion(s.)

Let’s start with the classics –

Eat Better

It’s time for you and your canine to throw out those bad eating habits and get healthier. The trick here is to avoid the pressure of sticking to fad diets and high maintenance systems; work on portion size instead. Ronnie, our Rottie/GSD/Akita mix, suggests that you continue with current portions, but give half of it to your dog. We have tried to explain to him that this shouldn’t be considered either, as the human’s get trimmer but Dog will end up groaning in its bed in a food coma. He remains typically unconvinced! Try and avoid one big meal in the evening, and have your largest meal at lunchtime, with two smaller meals for breakfast and dinner. Equally, try splitting your dog’s meal into breakfast and dinner.  This also has the benefit of making it easier to leave the house in the morning without dogs staging a breakout. (Or perhaps that’s just our house?) If you’re going to Get Fit with your dog, then you might also need to review what you’re feeding him/her; just as you need the correct balance of proteins/carbs when undertaking a new fitness habit, your dog’s diet may also need adjusting.

Get up earlier

This is the most painful one, and it’s where my husband and I disagree the most because I do so love my bed, but I have to admit he’s right: the earlier you get up, the less tired you’ll be in the long run. Consistent bed times and waking times help develop a better sleeping rhythm. Dave has been known to use our dogs as mobile alarm clocks, and dump them on top of recalcitrant humans who won’t move out from under the duvet.  In fact, he does it to our two teenage children most weekends. My father used to favour his Wolfhound for this – until the onslaught of a Wolfhound, Scottish Deerhound, and Doberman/Lab cross broke my bed one morning when I was about thirteen. (It’s clearly A Dad Thing.) Smaller dogs provide good mileage as they can tunnel under the covers. This is a favourite of Fudge’s whose extremely cold, wet nose has woken me on many mornings when I might have otherwise snoozed on happily. It may be a rude awakening but it’s certainly effective!

Get Fit

Everybody loves to get fit, don’t they? OK, maybe not but dogs certainly do, because there’s nothing busy noses like better than being filled with fresh air and the smells of the world around them. If you can combine this one with getting up earlier, then you can fit in a short run before leaving the house. Your dog gets two walks a day, you get fitter, and everyone’s happier.

Get out of the house and do something new!

Every year, in our house, we promise to be more sociable and outgoing, and every year we get bogged down by everything that’s going on around us. Sticking to the first three New Year suggestions will leave you and your dog filled with more energy, and you’ll find it easier to get things done and make space for some new routines. If, like us, you have dogs with personality issues or nervousness, then start out by taking them to a local dog park, letting them watch the other dogs before moving them into the pen.

As resident “Let’s DO STUFF” dog, Fudge has some further ideas:

  • Dog walking groups are springing up all over, check out the Problem Paws site or this Facebook group , why not see if there is one in your area? For Fudge, who is the only ‘normal’, well-adjusted canine in our house, the opportunity to meet some of her peers and socialise is always welcome. (She still can’t quite understand that our other two dogs are so bad at…well, being dogs, I suppose.) Of course, if you’re near a dog hotspot such as Killiney Hill, then you can easily merge into less formal groups.
  • Failing that, there’s nothing a dog likes better than a car trip with the wind blowing about its ears (try not to open the window wide enough for them to get their head out, though!), and a saunter around new smells. Ireland isn’t as big as it seems once you’re on the road so go and explore. It’s good to tread new paths and see new things – there are few things more energising and uplifting for us or our pets
  • Harder exercise like lifting weights is also good for you, but dogs aren’t so good on an exercise bike, and they don’t fit in the bench press machine either. However a good tug-of-war is excellent for core body strength and a firm favourite of both Fudge and Ronnie. There are also a wide variety of entertaining facial expressions and noises that a dog can make while attempting to make you let go, possibly with laughter, so this provides mental strength training as well as a good workout! All joking aside, the simple fact of going outside and playing with your pet provides an unbeatable boost to your mental health. We have long known, and science has consistently validated the knowledge, that our animals help us to relax, regain a healthy perspective on life, and find our balance again. So if you’ve been stuck behind a desk all day juggling phone calls, emails, and an erratic boss, your pet will be delighted to have your undivided attention for half an hour when you get home, and you will feel immeasurably better for sharing their uncomplicated happiness in life.
  • Football is another firm favourite, and dogs don’t need shin guards and expensive kit like small children do. Fudge is a relentless deflater of footballs but we have found that a Gaelic ball will last much longer and has a reasonable chance of making it past the first evening intact. Kong balls also have an above-average life expectancy with our dogs – another good bet. In all seriousness, though, a word of caution: if you don’t want your young children’s football destroyed, it’s worth training your dog to understand that their toy is theirs, and everyone else’s is off limits. It keeps everyone happier in the long run

If Fudge were human, I think she’d be a PE teacher! She’s right, though. There’s no need to invest in wildly expensive gear in a bid to reach your health goals, and it’s not always necessary to travel very far out of one’s way to find somewhere new to walk or play. We’re lucky to live in a beautiful country that’s packed full of gorgeous countryside just waiting to be enjoyed. With this in mind, I splurged on a new pair of wellington boots in the sales – I have a feeling that this is the very year to use them! Happy trails to you and your dogs in 2017!

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