This article originally appeared in the January 2003 AKC Gazette’s Irish Water Spaniel breed column.

Happy New Year! January is the month when many people resolve to eat less, exercise more and place greater emphasis on the things in life that matter most. These resolutions, however, do not always include the commitments that directly benefit the lives of our companion animals. Without the ability to make such conscious declarations for themselves, our dogs rely on us to ensure that they too enjoy the promise of the coming year. The following list of suggestions is intended to be of benefit to both man and beast.

1. Take your dog for a walk. Few activities are as pleasurable as walking a dog. A leash becomes your shared accessory to explore the world around you. Every trip outside will reacquaint you both to the physical and mental nuances of the other. As you stroll through the neighborhood, you’ll be certain to encounter an ever-changing cast of characters and events that will aid in your dog’s socialization.

2. Give your dog a natural treat. Dogs love vegetables and require them as part of a balanced diet. Instead of handing out another processed treat, consider using a carrot stick as a reward. Baby carrots are readily available in zip lock pouches and are a convenient alternative to messy liver.

3. Clean those ears, teeth and nails. Busy owners often overlook these basic requirements. If left unchecked, serious conditions can develop here that quickly threaten your dog’s health. Your grooming box should contain cotton pads, a toothbrush and nail clippers, as these tools are your dog’s best defense against several debilitating diseases.

A therapeutic massage is beneficial to both dog and owner. Photo © Ckellyphoto/Dreamstime.

4. Massage your dog. While you spend another evening in front of the television, why not experience the benefits of a therapeutic rubdown? As you both experience a heightened sense of relaxation, tired muscles will be stimulated and blood circulation will increase. This time spent together also affords you the opportunity to check for parasites or any injuries that may have gone unnoticed.

5. Train your dog to do a stupid pet trick. Your dog will love the attention gained by balancing a ball on the nose, wearing a costume or retrieving a can from the refrigerator. These silly tricks never get old, and the two of you will delight in sharing your brilliance with the rest of the world.

6. Have your dog’s photograph taken. Of course, every scrapbook will contain the inevitable show-win photos, but these are really historical records. To best capture your dog’s personality, head over to your local pet supply store for a sitting with a pet photographer. The experience may be chaotic, but if you’re lucky, you’ll enjoy a treasured keepsake of the special bond the two of you share.

Dogs possess an undying affection for the sound of their master’s voice. Photo © Arenacreative/Dreamstime.

7. Talk to your dog. Whether you’re a mezzo-soprano or a bass baritone, your dog possesses an undying affection for the sound of your voice. Through the inflections of every spoken word, your dog comprehends your emotions and your intentions. Choose your words wisely, as they can both uplift and cause great harm. A smile is easily understood by anyone and will not be wasted on your dog.

8. Read an old dog book. So much is written these days about the modern dog show, but few readers know much about the early development of our beloved breeds. To fully understand the needs of our trusted companions, we must first become knowledgeable of those whose hard work has given us the dogs of today. Many out-of-print books can be found on the shelves of used bookstores, and the information contained therein is as invaluable today as ever.

9. Go to a dog show, and leave your dog at home. Without the anxiety that comes with competition, a dog show becomes the perfect place to continue your education. With a flexible schedule, you’ll have sufficient time to wander between the conformation, obedience and agility rings with the sensitivity of a novice. Soon you’ll be learning something new again, perhaps even strengthening your commitment to the sport. In any event, your dogs will be especially happy to greet you upon your return home.

10. Commit to having fun again. Any child will tell you that dogs are fun. Sadly, many competitors in the sport too easily forget this fact. If you find yourself becoming too serious with your goals for the coming year, take a break from the ratings systems and revisit this list. Your dogs (and your family) will thank you.

Here’s to a year of great success in the whelping box, the competitive arena, and, most of all, with your resolutions.