How to Keep Your Dog Mentally Healthy

Updated: 6/4/2021
With mental health awareness on the rise, more people are opening up and sharing their experiences. Pets play a key role in soothing symptoms of mental illness. Studies show that companion animals improve pet parents' sense of identity and provide a distraction from stress.

But how often do we "paws" to consider the mental wellbeing of our fur-children? After all, dogs can also suffer from depression and anxiety.

How do you know if your mutt is mentally healthy? Keep reading to discover how to improve your dog's mental health (and yours too!).

Stimulate their mind and body

Dogs need a daily dose of mental and physical stimulation to stay sharp. You already know you need to exercise your dog for at least 30 minutes per day. But the same daily walk or game of fetch won't cut it for some highly intelligent breeds, like Boxers and German Shepherds.

Mix things up with different games and activities that work out your woofer's brain and body at the same time! The "pawssibilities" are virtually endless — here are a few ideas to get you started:

To learn more about your dog's activity requirements, check out our dog breed guides.

Follow a routine

Want Lucky to live their best life? Create a routine with set times for meals, walks, naps, and potty breaks. Knowing what to expect and when helps your dog feel safe and secure.

But following a routine can be easier said than done for pet parents who work or attend school full-time. And while your dog's wellbeing is undoubtedly built in to your schedule, we understand life happens. Pet caregivers on the Wag! platform have got you covered on those long workdays and study sessions. Book a walk, drop-in, or overnight pet care to keep Rex's routine on track.

Introduce your dog to new experiences

Ever seen those videos of dogs playing in the snow or swimming in a pool for the first time? We're sure you'll agree the joy on those cute little faces is contagious!

New sights, smells, and sensations will delight your doggo in more ways than one. Going on a vacay with your Vizsla might require additional planning, but sharing an adventure in a new place with your fur-baby will be worth it! Pet-friendly hotels in destination cities like Las Vegas roll out the red carpet for four-legged guests, with on-site groomers and even room service. Some restaurants even serve up gourmet dishes to doggy diners.

The experiences don't always have to be this extravagant, though. Even changing up your walking route or visiting a different park gives your pup something new to chew on.

Know the signs of mental distress in dogs

Unlike cats, dogs aren't adept at hiding their emotions. If your dog is stressed or unhappy, you'll likely know it. However, some signs are subtler than others. Here are a few signs of mental distress in dogs:

  • Panting

  • Licking their lips

  • Excessive yawning

  • Whining

  • Pacing

  • Shaking

  • Hiding or avoiding

  • Dilated pupils

  • Ears pinned back

  • Weight shifted to the back legs

  • Tucked tail

If your dog is showing signs of stress despite a regular routine and proper care, consult your vet to rule out an underlying cause or condition.

Keep them cozy

Your pup is a member of the family, so treat them like one! Give them their own quiet space away from children and other pets where they can relax. Make the crate or area comfortable with toys and plush blankets. (If your pup is still crate training or has a chewing problem, leave these out.)

If you really want to go the extra mile, why not give your dog a room of their own? Clear out the cupboard under the stairs and deck it out with all your dog's favorite things, like their bed and toy box. Add some art or photos for an extra special touch!

Learn how to interact with your dog

Any pet parent will attest their dogs are in tune with their emotions. Dogs are highly sensitive beings who pick up on the slightest changes in mood and behavior. If you're visibly stressed out about something, chances are your dog is stressed, too.

Always do your best to stay calm and positive whenever interacting with your dog. This shows your fur-baby there's nothing to fear whenever you're around.

Positive interactions also apply to training. Hitting or yelling at your dog is the wrong way to correct undesirable behaviors. These negative training methods also harm their mental health. One study found that frequently using negative methods like yelling and physical force impacts a dog's mental wellbeing long term. Dogs trained with positive methods also learn commands quicker than dogs trained with negative methods.

Pamper them now and then

Barking at the mail carrier and chasing squirrels at the park is hard work! Treat your fur-baby to a spa day and let Lassie take a load off. You'll find all manner of spa products for pets out there, like fragrant fur conditioners and balms to soothe dry paws and noses. Why not apply a face mask and join in the fun? Your pupper is sure to appreciate your company!

If you really want to splash some cash on your canine, book a spa day at a high-end pet spa. Forget "pawdicures" and massages — some of these facilities are so fancy, you'll wish they served humans! We're talking private rooms with flat-screen TVs, on-site personal trainers and exercise equipment, and even organic dishes cooked to order.

Final thoughts on improving your dog's mental health

Fortunately for us, pups aren't hard to please. With some structure, stimulation, and a dash of adventure, your pooch will have everything they need to stay physically and mentally fit. Plus, you'll also reap the rewards of your dog's mental wellbeing. Win-win!