When you are a pet parent, every day is Valentine’s Day
One thing is clearly obvious to every loving pet parent: Our dogs love us back unconditionally. Our cats, not quite as much, and they can be picky about which human in a household they do love — with conditions.
But dogs are just big, furry bundles of love on four feet and a daily reminder of the sheer joy of a being that lives in the moment with a sense of wonder and an amazing innocence.
So who better to celebrate on Valentine’s Day and for the entire month than your dog? Here are five ways you can spoil your fur baby that they’d love you more for if they didn’t love you with all of their hearts already.
Let’s get physical
Dogs love to be active (some more than others) so plan an outing to exercise their body, and yours, and to engage their senses at the same time.
Take them on an extra-long walk, and be sure that you go into parts of your neighborhood or community that you normally don’t. This will allow your dog to start with the familiar and then suddenly discover something entirely new.
Depending on your dog’s temperament and stamina, going on a hike together is a great way to give them a physical treat. So is a visit to a dog beach if it’s available in your area — although if you’ve never been to one, you’ll have to be the judge on this. Dogs that are afraid of loud noises like thunder and fireworks can also be spooked by the crashing surf.
Someone’s in for a treat
While you can’t give your dog that big box of chocolates — or any chocolate — for Valentine’s Day, you can still give them a treat to enjoy, and they will absolutely love it.
I used to have a tradition in which my dog got a special meal on their birthday. I would basically cook the same thing for both of us. Now, depending on whether I was working in a high-paying job at the time or not, that meal ranged all the way from steak to cheeseburgers.
The birthday “cake” was generally a dog-friendly muffin of some sort. Keep in mind, though, you should leave out certain ingredients in your dog’s version. For example, don’t heavily spice it, and don’t add onions, garlic, or any related veggies. Definitely no grapes!
With the dog cheeseburger, I’d also skip the condiments and keep it to meat, cheese, and bun. Also, and this is very important, whatever you make for your dog, cut it into tiny bit-size pieces first. Otherwise, they’ll just try to inhale the whole thing in one bite, and that’s not good.
What is good, though: The look of utter joy I would get whenever my dog realized, “Daddy made me his people food!”
Now, it doesn’t have to be people food if you’d prefer not to, and that’s okay as well. There are plenty of websites, like this and this with DIY dog treat recipes
Quality, not quantity
Another great thing you can do to spoil your dog for Valentine’s Day is to engage their minds by spending some quality time with them. Give them some extra-long playtime in their favorite manner, try some hide-and-go-seek, or even teach them a new trick.
In fact, trick training is one of the best things you can do for your dog for so many reasons.
Think about your own life for a moment and this will make total sense. In any interaction you’ve had with an authority figure — parent, teacher, boss — when you’ve mastered a new skill and they acknowledge it positively, how has it made you feel?
Most likely, it gave you a little boost in self-esteem and confidence.
It’s the same thing here, and it works best when you let your dog slowly figure it out. This is exactly how I taught every one of my dogs how to “shake,” and they wound up being so successful at it that all anyone had to do was hold a hand down, and boom. Paw on it.
The secret is to wait until your dog makes a move that is part of what you want. In the case of “shake,” I would say the word while holding a treat, but not do anything until my dog inadvertently moved or lifted a paw. It didn’t matter which one, but they’d get the treat.
This might take a few repetitions, but eventually they’d realize that it has to do something with “paw.” At that point, I’d combine “shake” with offering my hand, open and palm up, and it didn’t take any of my dogs more than three minutes after that to realize that, “When Daddy says ‘shake,’ if I slap his paw with mine, I get a goodie!”
In fact, one of my dogs learned it so well that I could get her to wave just by saying the word.
And in every case, when they finally got it and I made a big to-do about their success, I could see the joy in their eyes. They had pleased me and had learned a thing, and that is a great gift to give to your dog. And, honestly, yourself, because there is not greater joy than being able to say, “Hey, I taught my kid something new.”
Other ways to spend quality time together are as simple as cuddling, although a really great way that benefits both of you is to read out-loud to your dog.
I know. It sounds weird. But studies have shown that it not only calms both you and your dog, but can increase your self-confidence (because your dog doesn’t judge you), and improve your public speaking skills, since fear of public speaking is very common.
And it’s already been used in libraries to help children.
Finally, take your dog to the pet store and let them pick out some new toys on their own. (One of my dogs loved this, but she also had very expensive tastes. Go figure.)
Someone just needs a nap
After all of the exercise and excitement, give your fur baby a good rest, and maybe the gift of a fresh new bed or blankie or both. As opposed to humans — who need to get six to eight hours sleep per night but often get less — dogs generally snooze away for 12 to 14 hours a day.
Of course, they manage this through frequent power naps, and the enviable ability to just lie down and fall asleep, and then wake up fully alert when necessary.
But think of all those human mattress commercials about how janky our bed gets after eight years, and translate that into how much more dogs sleep and how short dog years are, and... yeah, it’s probably time for a new bed, which would be a most appreciated Valentine’s Day gift.
Health is better than wealth
February is National Pet Dental Health Month, and we’ll have more about that next week. But the greatest Valentine’s gift you can give your fur baby is a total wellness check.
It’s time to take them to the vet to get their teeth cleaned. While you’re at it, make sure that their vaccines, check-ups, and flea and heartworm prevention treatments are all up-to-date and in place.
If you don’t have it already (why don’t you?) now is also the time to discuss and obtain pet health insurance.
Giving the love back
As stated previously, a dog’s love for their parent is unconditional, but for Valentine’s Day, we can’t give them chocolate and they wouldn’t know what to do with flowers other than maybe treat them like a squeaky toy and shake the bouquet apart all over the living room floor.
But what we can give them is our love back, via any or all of the above suggestions. And don’t just save this list for February 14. You can do any or all of these things for your fur baby then and every other day of the year.
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