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Do dogs really need pampering or are you going overboard?

For most pet parents, it’s easy to say that you love your dog and that you go above and beyond to ensure their happiness. In fact, it’s all too common for pet parents to brag about spoiling their little prince or princess by pampering them. However, you should understand what it means to truly take care of your pooch’s health and well-being and avoid spoiling them in a way that can be detrimental.

For example, it’s probably cute when you dress up your dog in fashionable outfits and strut them around town, but is that outfit designed to keep them comfortable and warm in cold weather (or dry in the rain), or are you putting them in clothing that’s adorable but uncomfortable and serves no purpose other than to get compliments from your human friends?

Likewise, do you think you’re pampering or spoiling your dog by feeding them way too many unhealthy treats or sharing your own meals instead of making sure he’s eating a well-balanced, premium-quality dog food that provides the proper calories and nutrients based on their breed, age, and weight?

When it comes to grooming, it’s essential that you keep your dog clean but that you use a shampoo, for example, that won’t dry out their skin or compromise their hair or fur, even though it smells wonderful to humans. For dogs that require regular grooming, are you picking a haircut style that’s best for them based on the season (temperature) and their activity level, or are you choosing a style based solely on what makes your dog look the cutest?

Focus on your dog’s safety, health, and well-being

For absolutely everything you do for or with your dog, focus on their safety, health, and well-being — not just on what seems appealing or convenient to you or what generates the most favorable reaction from your dog. For example, most dogs will provide extra love in exchange for plenty of treats, but too much of anything, especially unhealthy treats, is not good for any dog.

Dr. Sarah Wooten, CVJ, at Pumpkin Pet Insurance suggests, “Invest in nutrition. Give your dogs the best nutrition you can afford. In general, avoid cheap, grocery-store dog food, because you get what you pay for. Feed your dog an appropriate number of daily calories to avoid weight issues.”

When it comes to pampering your pooch, instead of regular massages, for example, Wooten urges, “Brush your dog’s teeth every day. If your dog has any level of dental disease, get it addressed as soon as possible, because even mild dental disease causes discomfort and additional wear and tear on internal organs that can be avoided.”

Investing in a thorough comprehensive oral health assessment and treatment (COHAT) procedure every few years, when prescribed by your veterinarian, will cost between $600 and $1,500, but it will prevent dental-related pain your dog may be experiencing and ultimately could extend his life, plus provide for a better quality of life as he ages. Money spent on a COHAT procedure is better spent than on an unnecessary massage, for example, that your dog may or may not benefit from or even enjoy.

Proper grooming is essential, but massages might not be as beneficial as you think

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In terms of grooming, Wooten suggests, “Have your dog professionally groomed once a month and regularly give them a pedicure as it’s needed. By this, I mean trim their nails to prevent long nails that can be uncomfortable and tear.” If you insist on applying nail polish to your dog’s nails, use polish designed specifically for canines and not humans, as the dog may lick or eat it. Nail polish for humans can contain ingredients that are extremely poisonous if consumed.

Even if, as a human, you enjoy relaxing time spent at a day spa — getting massages and other treatments — this may be something that frightens your dog, causes extreme stress, and that’s not at all beneficial to them. Consult with your veterinarian before providing your dog with massages, acupuncture, or other new age or specialty procedures offered by doggy spas, as opposed to veterinary practices.

Avoid humanizing your dog during the pampering process

“It is not a good idea to humanize a dog because dogs are not humans,” adds Wooten. “They don’t think like us, and it can lead to behavior problems. The main problem with spoiling a dog or treating it like a human is that the dog is typically given carte blanche to do whatever they want to do. This can result in a dog that is difficult or impossible to control, can predispose a dog to aggressive and dominant behavior, and ultimately can create stress and conflict within the home.”

When a dog is overly pampered or spoiled by human standards, Wooten states, “These dogs are more likely to bite and snap, guard their valued resources, such as food, bedding, and even their humans, jump up on people, and eat food off tables. They could also become aggressive toward strangers, not listen to commands, and have problems with house training. Humanizing your dog can be very stressful on your dog because they don’t know what to do and they don’t know who is in charge. This can create stress-related aggression toward people and other dogs, or result in the dog developing compulsive disorders. Dog parents need to develop an understanding of how the canine brain works, as opposed to humanizing their dog.”

Instead of pampering your dog with activities that appeal more to humans, invest your resources toward providing your pet with exercise, social time, and mental stimulation that’s enjoyable and beneficial to them. As opposed to a massage or spa treatment that is not treating a diagnosed medical issue and recommended by your veterinarian, Wooten says, “Provide 30 to 60 minutes of daily exercise and fresh air, provide your dog with mentally stimulating toys that keep them busy, and give them something to chew on that’s healthy. Dogs love to chew, so provide them with something to chew on every day.”

Lily Chernysheva / Shutterstock

Depending on your dog, they may love the opportunity to regularly visit a doggy daycare facility, where they can get exercise and socialize with other dogs. Focus on providing your dog with a comfortable and safe place to sleep after their busy day.

Wooten adds, “Dogs need quality sleep as much as humans, so invest in a supportive sleeping surface that cushions joints away from hard surfaces. A company like Big Barker manufactures and sells orthopedic dog beds for large dogs that have been clinically studied by the University of Pennsylvania Veterinary Clinical Investigations Center to prove their effectiveness.”

Dr. Joanna Woodnutt, MRCVS, from The Vets adds, “It’s important that you are not overpampering your dog, especially when it comes to treats. Pet obesity is one of the leading concerns of veterinarians all over the world, with more than 50% of pets now considered obese. When we investigate why, a lot of dogs are simply consuming too many calories and not getting enough exercise. Because we humans equate food with love, we like to pamper our pooches by cooking them special meals or giving them scraps from our table. But these crusts of toasts, slices of steak, and scrambled eggs mixed with their kibble will cause weight gain and increase the risk of joint disease, cancer, and heart disease.”

So, instead of shelling out for a weekly massage for your dog, consider investing that money into a proper and healthy diet and ensuring they get plenty of exercise — especially if that means hiring a dog walker or paying for doggy daycare. Giving your dog what they need is far more important than humanizing your pup and providing them with services you might enjoy as a human but that aren’t as beneficial to healthy dogs.

Of course, if your pet is suffering from a physical ailment and has been diagnosed with arthritis, for example, a massage, acupuncture, or a specialized diet could reduce their ongoing pain and discomfort, but this is something a veterinarian — not a doggy spa attendant — should recommend.

Pampering your dog can be a good thing but only if done correctly

Dr. Rachel Szumel, CTC, at Blue Lake Animal Care Center adds, “Spoiling a dog implies the dog is ruined by the treatment. I tell my clients to let that idea go. A dog who is treated well, kept healthy, and gets lots of enriching activities might be considered pampered, but happy dogs in this case are far from spoiled. First and foremost, take care of your dog’s health. Yearly wellness checks are a must, and make sure they’re vaccinated. Do as much preventative care as possible. Take care of their teeth and keep them lean, so they can move around well and don’t develop debilitating arthritis when they are older. Providing a comfortable and well-made orthopedic bed, where your dog will feel safe sleeping, is also a really good investment.”

Dr. Sabrina Kong is a veterinary writer at We Love Doodles. She explains that the concept of pampering a dog can mean many different things to people. Her top six recommendations for pampering your pooch are: refreshing their water bowl regularly, providing treats to reinforce good behavior, getting them groomed regularly (to avoid matting and keep him clean), taking them outside more often for long walks, providing interactive toys and quality chew toys, and giving them more opportunities to socialize with other humans and dogs.

Meanwhile, Dr. Joanna De Klerk, the author of Old Dog Love: A Common-Sense Guide to Caring for Your Senior Dog, recommends focusing on the physical needs of your older dog. She advises providing an orthopedic dog bed and utilizing doggy ramps to help your dog get into the car or up onto furniture (to prevent jumping) and adds, “Grooming should be part of every dog owner’s routine, but especially so in senior dogs. Not only does it remove loose hairs and spread natural oils through the coat, but it also improves your dog’s comfort. This is because gentle grooming is like a massage that stimulates blood flow to the skin and muscles. This in turn decreases inflammation. As a result, it can reduce downtime and discomfort due to still, creaky joints and muscles.”

Ultimately, the key to pampering your dog is to provide the nutrition, services, toys, and activities they need to prosper and to lead a healthy lifestyle. That’s preferable to humanizing your dog and giving them what you, as a human, would enjoy. Speak with your vet to ensure you’re investing your time, money, and resources into pampering your dog in ways that truly benefit them and their long-term well-being.

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