Every Valentine’s Day, I take a moment to thank my one true love… my dogs! I don’t have human children (yet!) and while some may roll their eyes thinking dogs aren’t “real” kids, I consider myself their mom. Penelope, Delilah, and our angel Preston are the center of my heart, my career, my finances, my adventures and everything good in my life.

I strive to give them the best possible, as they have always given me their best. When others say I’m spoiling them, my first response is, “They’re not spoiled, they’re well-loved.” And my goal, whether you label it as being spoiled or well-loved, is to do that in the healthiest way possible.

7 Ways I Spoil My Dogs (My Quest To Be A Better Human)

So, in honor of Valentine’s Day, here are my top seven best ways to spoil your dog, and feel like a better human in the process:

  1. Invest in Good Nutrition. Dogs have the best chance to live long, happy lives if they receive proper nutrition. My heart dog Preston was evidence of that, as he happily played his piano daily, even after his 17th birthday! What works best for my dogs and my wallet is to buy human-grade food from Costco and prepare small batches of gently cooked food, enough to fill my freezer. That helps make it super-easy for my busy lifestyle. Although I wish I had the same enthusiasm to meal prep for myself! I’m pretty confident, if I just added some seasoning, my dogs’ food would be pretty tasty.

    In addition, the treats I offer for training are the highest-quality. I read every label to ensure the contents and sourcing are going to be good for them. In fact, I care so much about the treats and foods I give to them that I developed my own product line, NumNums, which are made of organic, non-GMO, human-grade meat and green vegetables. I can relate to dogs, who may not be excited about eating their greens. I got the idea, as I was making a smoothie to incorporate more vegetables into my diet, about using the same concept by placing vegetables into a freeze-dried raw dog treat. Our treats are wonderfully nourishing and delicious to dogs.

    For an extra special occasion, we enjoy romantic dinner dates with my boyfriend, where I will splurge a little and get an extra filet mignon, for instance, so my dogs can enjoy a meal with us. It’s a great bonding experience, that has earned my dogs’ future father the nickname “Steakman.” For anyone who wants to learn more about understanding nutrition for dogs, I highly recommend Susan Thixton’s blog, TruthAboutPetFood.com.
  2. Enrich Their Life Experience. My favorite hashtag #DitchTheBowl! We have ditched dog food bowls for training and interactive toys for them to have more fun while they eat. They both work as doggy actresses and models, which gives them a healthy outlet for their energy. They love to perform tricks, and I’m happy I can support their work ethic with a diverse range of experiences.

    And—regardless of your dog’s age or how much training you have done—there is always something new to learn! My dogs go to summer camp every year at Wild Blue Dogs, where they learn all sorts of new hobbies, like lure coursing and nose work. Mental enrichment is so important and helps to keep aging dogs’ cognition in top-notch condition. (Perhaps insert the link to our dog TV series!)
  3. Have Regular “Spaw” Dates. My dogs regularly have their nails done, their teeth brushed and regular baths. I do all of this at home to ensure my dog’s safety and comfort while grooming. Dogs whose nails are too long can be in discomfort and possibly develop joint-related health issues. Likewise, teeth that aren’t well cared for can also fall prey to many health-related issues of all kinds.

    You can get your dog acclimated to the tools needed for these jobs by introducing them carefully, at their pace, and pairing them with nummy treats. Going slowly will pay off, and by doing this routinely, you will save money by not having to go to your vet or a groomer for these services or have a future of possibly costly surgery due to neglect. For bath time, licky mats can be a great way to help them have a positive experience.

    Another way to help your dog learn how to participate in their own care and handling is to teach them to start behaviors, such as chin targeting, to readily give permission for grooming tasks, vet care and more. We highly encourage you to check out my friend and trainer Laura Monaco Torelli’s videos for more.
  4. Walks are a Fashion Show! I don’t tend to dress up my dogs outside of the rare, red-carpet appearance, but, they do need to wear collars with ID tags so why not make them special? I recently ordered these cool biothane with Swarovski Crystal collars that way my girls look good, and they’re also easy to keep clean and sanitized!

    Harnesses are another must-have, always in style fashion item. My dogs have different harnesses for different needs, from hiking to nose work and volunteering as therapy dogs. Harnesses are also great for ensuring dogs’ delicate trachea areas are not hurt by any kind of pulling, in addition to doing proper loose leash walking training. Some of my favorite harnesses include the Balance Harness made by Blue-9 Pet Products, the Freedom Harness by 2 Hounds Design, the Front Range Harness by Ruffwear, and the Perfect Fit Harness made in the UK.
  5. Keeping Health in Check. Remember to see your vet on at least an annual basis, do regular bloodwork and have vaccine titers each year to make sure your dog is not over-vaccinated. I also recommend seeing both traditional and integrative veterinarians, as this will give you a good balance of advice to consider. In addition, having health insurance for your dogs will help you focus on doing what’s best for them, and not worrying about the financial impact in the event of an emergency. My dogs have been insured by Embrace Pet Insurance for over a decade, And alternative care like physical therapy and hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy really helped Preston thrive in the face of his many senior health challenges.
  6. Have Adventures and Travel. I believe the greatest gift we can give our dogs is time together, and memories are worth spending money to create! Our likely most extravagant purchase is a custom-built Mercedes Sprinter, I named Gidget, our glamping van. It was customized for my dogs’ safety and comfort, and it allows them to be with me 24/7. We all work together in the entertainment industry, so it’s a good way to keep the dogs resting while we’re working long days on set.

    It’s also ideal for going on road trips! We’ve explored Yosemite, the Grand Canyon, and driven cross country twice… stopping in just about every state. I recently submitted the girls’ bloodwork so that I can take them to Maui, once I receive my Covid vaccine. Talk about lucky dogs! We do as much as we can to be out in nature… sunset romps by the sea, and off-leash hikes in the mountains. Our time in the outdoors benefits ALL of our physical, mental and emotional health.

    I think we should all spoil our dogs with safety considerations when we travel! The Center for Pet Safety has done extensive testing for harness, crate and carrier safety for pets and also lists their recommended products on their site. Regardless of your budget and your dog’s size, you can find some incredible options to keep your dogs protected while on the road.
  7. Paw It Forward, Together. Perhaps my favorite “indulgence” is the time we dedicate to helping bring joy to others. Penelope and Delilah have followed in Preston’s footsteps as therapy dogs. They volunteer at children’s schools and summer camps, doing tricks, supporting reading programs, and teaching children about dog safety and body language. We love being able to not only brighten the lives of those around us, but have fun doing it! We are even starting our own nonprofit, in celebration of Preston’s life of service. If you want to learn more, join our private Facebook group, The Preston’s Planet Foundation. Our website will be launching soon, with a mission to promote positive reinforcement training and make it more accessible for children to have free training education. Love Doggedly, always!

I am so lucky to have a career in which my dogs play a large role. I am spoiled—err, well-loved—by my ability to have them be a part of my daily life and work. From the joy of a simple walk, teaching a trick or doing an enrichment game to playing hooky from work to spend the day with them, there are many ways you can love them that don’t cost a thing because really, time is the most precious commodity to our dogs. Our time with them means everything.

***Laura Nativo, CPDT-KA, KPA CTP Founder & Fairy DOGmotherSocial @LauraNativoLauraNativo.com

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