Depending on who you ask, there are up to 339 identified breeds of dog in the world—all with their own unique characteristics, personalities and, of course, needs. But even though their individual habits can differ dramatically from one dog to another, there are certain universal essentials that all dog lovers agree help them live life to the fullest.
From what to feed them to how to keep them active, here are five non-negotiables that happy, healthy dogs are glad their humans recognize.
1. They’re more than just pets, they’re devoted, lifelong companions.
Anyone who relegates a dog’s role to “just a pet” has obviously never known the pure, unadulterated joy of dog ownership. If they had, they’d know that from the very first wet-nosed lick, having a dog at your side is like having a piece of your heart walking around outside of your body.
As such, it’s important to keep our beloved companions around for as long as possible. That doesn’t just mean keeping them up to date on shots, taking them to vet appointments, and helping keep them out of danger. It also means caring for your dog the same way you care for yourself. Which leads us to the second most important essential…
2. They’re fed biologically appropriate food.
Fun Fact: You know that thing dogs do where they walk in a tight circle before finding a comfy spot to curl up and lay down? That’s because, evolutionarily, dogs slept outdoors. The circling was used to trample down the grass to create a softer bed for themselves. So, even after thousands of years being domesticated, their canine roots still matter.
The same can be said for their nutritional needs—feeding your dog biologically appropriate food (read: one that mirrors the quantity, freshness, and variety of meats that they were evolved to eat) also matters. Brands like ORIJEN Pet Food, who focus on putting fresh free-run poultry, cage-free eggs, whole wild-caught fish, and ranch-raised meats in their food, have cracked the code for the type of optimal, nourished diet dogs need to live healthier lives so they can thrive. That means even incorporating nutrient-dense cartilage and bone for minerals like calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and potassium in the way Mother Nature intended.
3. They’ve got their messy moments.
Perhaps prior to owning a dog, the prospect of picking up their poop seemed high up on the gross-out scale for you. But, fast forward to pet parenthood, and now anything goes—you’re dealing with doggy vomit, fur maintenance, and the granddaddy of all dog-related gross outs: when they deliver a present in the form of a freshly deceased backyard creature at your feet. It’s no less disgusting than it sounds, but somehow you get used to these less-than-savory, dog-owner truths, likely because the reward for caring for your dog far outweighs these cringe-inducing moments.
Just make sure that, backyard creatures aside, any irregularity in vomiting or bowel movements is met with some vet attention. Your dog can’t tell you how he or she is feeling, but the signs are there if you look, and no one knows what’s “normal” for your dog more than you.
4. They know the difference between play time and bedtime.
Unless you’re fortunate enough to own a dog that loves to loaf around (we’re looking at you, Basset Hounds), chances are your sleep patterns have been disrupted since becoming a dog parent. It’s why training your dog to know when it’s play time and when it’s not is part of instilling a healthy schedule for your pet and ensuring sanity for you.
While puppies can sleep up to 16 hours a day, when they’re active, they’re really active, regardless of what the time on the alarm clock says. Dog owners know that the likelihood of being woken up by their furry charges, ball in mouth, is high pretty much every day of their young to middle-aged lives, so training your dog to understand your cues is key. Such is the price we pay for dog parenthood, but they make up for it by being stellar cuddle companions—if they’re allowed on the bed. And finally...
5. They stay physically and mentally stimulated.
The adage “a tired dog is a good dog” is true for a reason: Dogs need lots of exercise and stimulation, not just for health reasons, but to keep their behavior in good form. An oft-cited rule is that dogs require five minutes of walking/activity for each month of their age, up to twice a day.
And while breed, age, and health do play a factor in how much activity is appropriate for each individual dog, the need for mental stimulation also helps them stay sharp-minded and, more importantly, out of trouble. From nose-stimulating games like hide and seek (with treats or a favorite toy) to puzzle games that require diligence to solve, all dog lovers can agree that bringing up a well-behaved dog is part of responsible ownership. Luckily, rewarding your canine sidekick for positive behavior is as easy as T-R-E-A-T. Even luckier? ORIJEN also makes nutritious freeze-dried dog (and cat!) treats. Now that’s something to wag your tail about.