As we toss the last slice of unclaimed pumpkin pie into the trash and move into a new year full of fresh starts and new potential, I can't help but wonder how many of our typical resolutions can serve dual purposes that include our four-legged friends.

According to a USA government survey, the top 10 New Year's resolutions range from health and fitness to saving more money. So, as a dog trainer who is always looking for win/win situations, I can't help but wonder how many of these top 10 resolutions can be molded in such a way to benefit our dogs as well ourselves. Let's face it, a family with a well-balanced dog is a happier family overall.

So let's take a look at the top 10 most popular New Year's Resolutions:

  1. Get Fit
  2. Manage Stress
  3. Save Money
  4. Quit Smoking
  5. Loose Weight
  6. Take a Trip
  7. Volunteer to Help Others
  8. Manage Debt
  9. Drink Less Alcohol
  10. Get a Better Education

Now let's take a look at how these resolutions can be tweaked in such a way that both humans and dogs are benefiting:

  1. Get Fit – For some reason, it seems to be easier to stick to a fitness program when you've got a fitness buddy keeping you honest. If your New Year's Resolution is to exercise three times a week, why not create an exercise schedule where your dog can join you? It's the ultimate win/win situation. You get your 30 minute run in three times a week, your dog gets an opportunity to burn some of his energy and you both have a chance to bond with one another. Exercising with your dog is not only good for both bodies, it's good for both souls.
  2. Manage Stress – I've been training dogs long enough to know that a dog who is not well-trained or who misbehaves can put a lot of tension on a household. Why not get your dog signed up for a basic obedience class to get those skills underway?  If your problems go beyond basic obedience, why not get some in-home assistance to get your dog's annoying habits under control once and for all? Wouldn't it be nice to have the dog you've always dreamed of and have that stress gone for good?
  3. Save Money – Store-bought treats can be full of preservatives and very expensive. As opposed to paying way too much for a bag of too few treats, why not dust off that dehydrator you got a few holidays ago and use it to make your very own doggy jerky. The next time you and your family have left over meat that you were planning to just toss out, I recommend cutting the left overs into tiny treat-sized bites and drying them in the dehydrator. It's a great way to reduce your food waste while stocking up on preservative-free and inexpensive treats for your dog. Don't have a dehydrator? No problem. You can still use your left over meat… just be sure to refrigerate your treat bag holding the treats to keep them fresh.
  4. Quit Smoking – Anyone who has ever battled a smoking addiction knows that one of the trickiest parts to quitting smoking is figuring out how to manage cravings when those triggers present themselves. Redirecting is something we do with dogs all the time. When puppies are chewing on something they shouldn't be chewing on, we redirect them to an appropriate toy until that becomes a habit. So the next time you have that trigger-ridden cup of coffee in the morning, reach for the leash to take your dog for a quick walk instead of a cigarette. Your dog will appreciate the exercise and you'll give yourself a nice little boost of those natural chemicals exercising produces to substitute the buzz you get off a cigarette.
  5. Loose Weight – The only thing better than living a long, healthy life is living a long and healthy life surrounded by loved ones who are also in good shape. When you find yourself deciding where to take your weekly Sunday fitness walk, why not find a dog-friendly location so you can bring your dog with you? You'll both get a nice workout while getting a nice opportunity to bond and when you get back home, your dog will be nice and mellow. An exercised dog is a better behaved dog.
  6. Take a Trip – Many folks are unable to take that trip they've always wanted to because they don't feel comfortable leaving their dog at home. Now-a-days, there are a lot of hotels that are canine friendly as long as the dog is certified as a Canine Good Citizen. Make this the year that you train your dog to the point where passing that Canine Good Citizen test is a breeze so you can finally book that vacation.
  7. Volunteer to Help Others – If you find yourself in the market to add a dog to your family, seriously consider adopting a dog from a shelter. There are a lot of great dogs needing good homes. If bringing a new dog home seems like a bit much at this time, you can always volunteer some of your time down at the animal shelter to help a dog who is waiting to be adopted to be a bit more comfortable or volunteer your time with a local animal rescue organization.
  8. Manage Debt – Consider putting your dog on a more natural diet. While the food may be a little more expensive than your dog's current diet, the money you'll save on superfluous vet visits and potential medication could offset those costs. And, depending on what state you live in, you may find that groceries are a non-taxable item where dog food and treats likely are eligible for sales tax, so moving toward a more natural diet could put some extra money in your pocket. 
  9. Drink Less Alcohol – When you have a more fulfilled, better mannered canine companion, you'll find you'll need less alcohol as life will be less stressful and more enjoyable. (ok, maybe this one is a stretch). 
  10. Get a Better Education – Getting your dog properly integrated into the dynamics of your household will allow you more free time to accomplish life's bigger goals. By getting your dog the exercise, training and diet enhancements you've been putting off, you'll finally be able to finish that Ph.D program. Who knew training your dog could be such a pivotal step in catapulting your life to the next level?

Now that you know what to do, make a plan to incorporate these as lifestyle changes. You and your dog will see benefits, both short and long term.

Happy New Year!  

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine 2012

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