8 Easy New Year's Resolutions to Improve Your Pet's Life

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When it comes to New Year's Resolutions, I'm not a believer in going big. Only 8 percent of people actually stick to their resolutions, and one likely cause of that is the "all or nothing" mentality that tends to be behind them.

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So instead of deciding that you and your dog are going to run a marathon each month, here are some New Year's Resolutions that will improve your pet's life, and are actually feasible.

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1. Provide your dog with more mental stimulation (in addition to physical stimulation).

We all know that dogs need daily exercise, but it's easy to forget that they need mental stimulation as well. Though physical exercise provides this to some degree, dogs benefit from activities specifically designed to challenge them. An easy solution: dog puzzle toys. These days, there are countless different types, and you can find them in almost every price range. There are also tons of different ways to provide your dog with enrichment, ranging from simple toys to more complex activities like scent work.

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2. Play with your cat for at least 15 minutes a day.

When they're kittens, it's almost impossible to forget to play with them, because they are constantly forcing you to with their pleading eyes. But it's easy to forget that grown cats need playtime, too. The good news: they don't need much. Just 15 minutes of playtime a day is very beneficial to your cat.

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3. Walk your dog in a new location once a month, or try a scent walk.

Many people's dog walks follow almost the exact same path every day. Try this: once a month, drive yourself and your dog to a new location, and exercise there. This could be a dog beach, a park, or simply a pretty neighborhood that you don't usually walk in. Mixing up your routine will help keep both you and your dog from getting bored. Don't have a car? Recruit a car-owning buddy to come get some exercise with you.

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If you have access to a large, open area where it's safe to bring your dog, another great option is going on a scent walk (also called a decompression walk). A scent walk is simply a walk where you prioritize letting your dog sniff over all other aspects of the walk. These are usually done on a long line (as opposed to a standard 6-foot leash). Don't worry about the amount of exercise either of you are getting, just let your dog sniff as much as they want to. Sniffing is very important to dogs' brains, and most dogs will greatly benefit from a sniff walk!

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4. Measure your pet's food with a real measuring cup.

If you've been using a mug or another kind of casual measuring device to scoop your pet's, switch to an actual measuring cup. Ensuring that your pet has a consistent, measured amount of food each time is an easy and important way to make sure they stay at a healthy weight and get the nutrients they need.

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5. Update your pet's identification information.

If you haven't moved recently, you're off the hook for this one. But if you have, make sure to update your pet's tags as well as their microchip info. Several different sites allow you to do it, and it's super easy. A lost pet with an up-to-date microchip is many times more likely to be found than a pet whose microchip information is out of date.

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6. Start a savings fund for pet expenses.

You don't have to put a ton of money in it! Just creating a separate account for your pets is already a huge step. Pledge to contribute a small amount each month, or just to put money in it when you have extra. (Advanced move: set up an automatic transfer to the account each month, if you can afford to.) Having a separate pet fund is a good protective measure to put in place for unexpected or "extra" expenses that might come up, like vet bills and pet sitting.

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7. Clean their toys and throw away any toys that are beyond hope.

Do you have an assortment long-ago-destroyed toys hanging around your house haunting you? Old toys can harbor germs, and if your dog or cat no longer plays with them, the new year is a great time to throw them out and start anew. For their favorite toys that get a lot of use, the new year is a good time to commit to washing them once a month, to avoid them becoming hotspots for bacteria. (This is also a good time to wash their leash, collar and harness, if you haven't done so recently!)

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8. Remember that your dog isn't being purposely annoying, and that behaviors (usually) have a function.

This is easier said than done, but it's helpful to remember that dogs aren't trying to ruin your day, they are simply trying to live their dog lives in a human-centric world. Providing lots of enrichment and using positive reinforcement training can help curb the behaviors that annoy you, and can help you to understand your dog's needs and deepen your relationship.

Happy New Year!

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