Behaviorist shares 12 things you can do to boost your dog’s happiness (and we’re huge fans of number eight!)

Dog wearing heart-shaped sunglasses hanging out of car window
(Image credit: Getty Images)

Looking for new ways to boost your dog's happiness? If so, you're in the right place! While we often think of mental health as something that applies to us humans, ensuring our dogs have good mental health is just as important.

While dishing out a few of the best dog treats each day is certainly one thing you can do to keep a smile on your canine's dial, there are so many other ways that you can nurture their mental health and reduce stress.

"The normally separate components of physical and mental health cannot exist without one another," explains expert trainer and behaviorist Renee Rhoades. "A dog who is not mentally well cannot be physically well."

Rhoades has shared 12 of her favorite tips below — and we can't wait to give them a try! 

1. Let them sniff as much as you can: Sniffing is so important for your dog. Not only does it give them a great mental workout, but it can also tire them out a lot quicker than traditional exercise. Don't believe us? 'I tried a 45-minute 'sniffari', and it tired out my border collie more than a two-hour hike!', is well worth a read if you'd like to learn more about the powerful benefits of sniffing. 

2. Supply safe, natural and varied chews: Chewing is a wonderfully soothing activity for dogs that can help relieve stress and anxiety. We're huge fans of the best long lasting dog chews as they're designed to keep our fur friends occupied for hours at a time. 

3. Spend plenty of 1:1 time with them: Looking for new ways for improving your relationship with your dog? One of the best things you can do for your pup's wellbeing is to spend lots of quality time with them. That may be going out for a big walk or tossing around some of the best dog toys in the park, but it could also be something as simple as curling up on the couch together and quietly enjoying each other's company. 

4. Give them a place to dig and get dirty: Ever found yourself asking the question, why is my dog digging? If so, you're not alone! While it can be super annoying if your pup is digging up your garden, digging is very common in hunting breeds and other breeds may also use it as a form of mental and physical enrichment as well as to relieve stress. Providing your pup with a place they can dig is a great way of giving them permission to tap into this natural, calming behavior. 

5. Encourage licking opportunities: Licking is another behavior that's wonderful for your dog's mental wellbeing. Try smearing some xylitol-free peanut butter or other tasty treat on a likimat and let your dog take their time licking it off. 

6. Teach them fun, new tasks often: Looking for tips to help keep dog walks fun? Why not try incorporating something new into your daily stroll together by adding in a game of hide-and-seek or some doggy parkour? These are great ways to teach your dog a new skill while adding in a dash of play at the same time. 

7. Feed them in engaging ways: If you feed your pup the best dry dog food in a bowl at set times, why not try mixing things up a little? Consider placing the kibble in a snuffle mat or puzzle toy and letting your canine companion work for their food. You could also place it round the house and turn finding their dinner into a fun game. 

8. Enable them to get enough rest: Sleep is so important for our dogs and often, what we view as difficult behaviors (such as mouthing or nipping in puppies) is actually our dog signalling to us that they need to rest. Make sure your dog gets plenty of downtime, especially post-exercise. 

9. Advocate for them with others: We often don't realize just how crucial it is that we advocate for our dogs. It's okay to say no if someone asks to pet them or play with them and it's okay to ask people not to engage with your dog. If we don't stand up for our dogs, they'll often stand up for themselves in the form of behaviors like barking, growling, nipping or even biting, so don't be afraid to stand up for them — it's a great way to build trust and strengthen your bond. 

10. Take them to new places to explore: Dogs love exploring new sights, sounds and smells, so taking them somewhere they've never been before is a great way to offer them some of that all-important mental and physical enrichment. 

11. Use only positive reinforcement: While punishing a dog was once viewed as the best way to help them learn, thankfully, things have come a long way since those days. The science behind positive reinforcement for dogs has shown us that the best way to get a dog to behave well without damaging trust is to reward the behavior we want to see more of. 

12. Hire only ethical, qualified professionals: Feel that you and your dog would benefit from some extra support? Our guide to how to spot dog trainer red flags will ensure you choose a professional trainer who uses positive training methods. 

Pupford Beef Liver Training Freeze-Dried Dog Treats 
$16.89 from Chewy

Pupford Beef Liver Training Freeze-Dried Dog Treats
$16.89 from Chewy
We gave these to our tester Isaiah for his dog Hayes to try. He reports back that they're his new favorite treat and are a suitable size for training. "He could and would eat the whole bag if allowed!"

Kathryn Williams
Freelance writer

Kathryn is a freelance writer who has been a member of the PetsRadar family since it launched in 2020. Highly experienced in her field, she's driven by a desire to provide pet parents with accurate, timely, and informative content that enables them to provide their fur friends with everything they need to thrive. Kathryn works closely with vets and trainers to ensure all articles offer the most up-to-date information across a range of pet-related fields, from insights into health and behavior issues to tips on products and training. When she’s not busy crafting the perfect sentence for her features, buying guides and news pieces, she can be found hanging out with her family (which includes one super sassy cat), drinking copious amounts of Jasmine tea and reading all the books.