With more than eight in ten (84%) saying that spending time with their dog makes them feel more positive, dog owners across the UK will no doubt want to show their canine friends just how much they love them this Valentine’s Day.
But while we may want to show our love through big bear-hugs and kisses on the nose, these acts may actually be causing our four-legged companions more stress than joy.
Ahead of the big day, the team at Dogs Trust’s Dogs School, which runs classes across Northern Ireland, gives their top tips for showing your dog just how much they mean to you:
- Show your four-legged friend affection in ways that are dog friendly and suitable for what your individual dog enjoys. This might be a gentle fuss in their favourite spot or simply just spending some time with your dog. Although you may want to give your dog a big hug to show how much you love them, sadly dogs don’t share our love of hugs. In fact, to your dog, a hug can feel like they are being trapped and cause them to become uncomfortable or fearful. It’s particularly important to teach children the right way to show affection to your dog.
- You may want to treat your dog to a special Valentine’s meal but it’s essential you remember that some “human foods” are toxic for dogs. As well as chocolates they should definitely not eat grapes, raisins, sultanas or foods containing them. Also, nuts such as Macadamia nuts along with onion, leek, garlic, and avocado are toxic for dogs as is Xylitol (aka E967 – an artificial sweetener in some sugar- free foods). Rich fatty foods and fat trimmings can also cause serious upset stomachs and cooked bones can be dangerous. Alcohol is incredibly toxic to dogs and can cause organ failure and even death. If you are worried your dog has consumed something toxic, contact your vet immediately.
- Spend quality time with your canine friend. Dogs are intelligent animals and many love to play games such as fetch, tug and hide and seek with their toys. Take some time out of your day to go for a walk together. Not only is this good for them physically, but walks are full of mental stimulation for your dog too – an all round enjoyable experience for them. You can teach an old dog new tricks, and they love to learn! Spend time training your dog, and reward them when they do well. Make sure the level of exercise is appropriate for your dogs age and individual circumstances and check with your vet if you’re not sure what activities are suitable for them.
- Many dog owners will want to spoil their dogs on Valentine’s Day but beware of getting gifts for your dog that could be harmful. Avoid the brightly coloured rawhide chews on sale in shops as they can be a choking hazard for dogs, and some even contain chemicals that can be dangerous for dogs. When picking toys and balls for your dog, make sure they are appropriate in size so they can’t be swallowed, and remove any broken toys before they become a hazard. Remember to teach your dog how to swap and drop so you can safely remove any gifts that become hazardous.
- Learn to “speak dog” and to understand their body language. Dogs use their whole bodies to show each other, and us, how they’re feeling. It’s really useful to learn how your dog communicates so you can recognise when they’re feeling confident and relaxed, or if they’re worried or frightened. Recognising signs a dog is stressed will help you to avoid situations that they might find challenging, and keep you, your dog, and others safe. Dogs that are calm, confident and relaxed will have a tail, body, and facial expression that is free from tension.
- Why not spread the love over the year by taking your dog on a regular date to a training class? Training your dog is not only fun for you both but will help you build a lifelong bond. Through Dog School, Dogs Trust offers training and preventative behavioural advice, and promote all aspects of responsible dog ownership.
Dog owners can find support and advice on the Dogs Trust website www.dogstrust.org.uk, including information on the newly launched Dogs Trust Behaviour Support Line which can be accessed by calling 0303 003 6666. Dogs Trust also runs Dog School classes across Northern Ireland. Visit www.dogstrust.org.uk/dog-
Maria Murray, Deputy Director of Community Education and Engagement from Dogs Trust, says:
“As a nation of dog lovers, it’s only natural that we want to show our dogs just how much we love them. But it’s important to remember that some of the ways we show love to our human friends are not suitable for our canine companions.
“There are some really simple and effective ways of showing love to your dog, from taking them on walks and playing games with them through to spending time training them and teaching new tricks. By following our tips and advice, you can show your dog just how much they mean to you in a positive, dog-friendly way.”