By: Dr. Juli, DVM @itsDrJuli
Sharing life with your four-legged best friend makes everything more special. The unconditional love of a dog does more than provide the perfect couch cuddle buddy. In fact, the National Institute of Health (NIH) Human-Animal Interaction Research Program has funded and conducted numerous studies examining the benefits of interacting with and caring for a pet. Research has shown multiple positive health effects of caring for a pet, including decreased stress, lower blood pressure, reduced loneliness, and boosted mood. Your furry friend equally benefits from love, praise, attention, and time spent with their favorite human.
When humans started working from home, pets quickly got used to having their people around 24/7. However, with many people returning to work in offices outside their homes, pets are now adjusting to having less time with their favorite two-legged parents. As dog owners, we know our dogs are never with us long enough, so optimizing our time together is critical. Creating a doggy bucket list is a unique way to maximize your time with your pup and create new memories.
What Is a Doggy Bucket List?
Many people are familiar with the human version of a bucket list –– a wish list of activities a person wants to experience before the end of their life. A similar doggy version can also be created for you and your pup to share. Puppyhood goes by quickly, and your pup's gray muzzle years will be here before you know it. Small dogs are considered seniors starting around seven years old, while larger breed dogs enter their golden years around five or six years old.
It's never too early to start planning and checking items off your dog bucket list, even if you've just adopted a new puppy. There are numerous benefits to creating and participating in a doggy bucket list, including:
- Creating an end-of-life experience that's filled with positive, happy memories.
- Strengthening the bond with your pup during all life stages.
- Utilizing new activities to exercise your dog's mind and body.
- Decreasing behavioral problems caused by boredom.
- Boosting your pup's mood (and yours!).
- Positively reinforcing your dog's socialization skills and good doggy manners.
- Aiding pet parents in the grieving and healing process during a dog's end-of-life care.
How to Create a Dog Bucket List
Creating a dog bucket list should be individualized for your pet. Like people, all dogs have unique likes, dislikes, and personalities, which should be considered when creating a list of activities for your pup. Tips for building a bucket list for your furry friend include:
- Create a 'likes' list. Write down all your dog's favorite things, including toys, foods, treats, places, spots in the house, smells, doggy friends, human friends, etc. This will give you a good starting point to create a unique experience around something you know your dog enjoys.
- Check with your veterinarian. Yearly or more frequent veterinary visits help your pup remain healthy and protected throughout life. Discuss your planned doggy bucket list activities with your vet to ensure there are no restrictions based on your pet's current health status. Senior dogs or pups with underlying health issues may not be able to participate safely in certain activities. Also, make sure your dog is current on vaccinations and preventive care medication, especially if you are planning an outdoor adventure.
- Plan your activities. Doggy bucket list activities can be as simple as spending the day napping with your pup or more involved, like a hike at a National Park. Once you get the all-clear from your vet, it's time to start planning and creating activities. Always be mindful of the weather when planning outdoor excursions.
- Document your memories. Smartphones and social media make capturing life's best moments a breeze. However, they can also distract our attention from being in the moment. Consider asking a friend or family member to join you for part of your activities, so they can capture the memories while you focus on valuable time with your pup.
Dog Bucket List Ideas for Pets of All Ages
Before heading out on your doggy bucket list adventure, consider your dog's tolerance, age, and socialization skills. Dogs with anxiety around new people or animals, or those with noise aversion, should stick to activities that involve solo time with their favorite human. Dogs, like people, have unique interests, and chances are your pup falls into one of all of these categories:
For the Food Lover
If you have a dog who doubles as a vacuum, then these are the activities for you! Search your area for a dog-friendly restaurant, and spend an afternoon enjoying a meal with your pup on the patio. Most places will provide your dog with a special treat and water dish. No doggie date is complete without dessert, so complete your adventure with a pup cup or a small scoop of probiotic ice cream.
For the Party Animal
Party-loving pups who have more of a social life than their pet parents would love a birthday party (a pawty, if you will) to celebrate with their two- and four-legged pals. Invite your pup's best dog friends and yours, and turn your backyard or a local park into a dog-party zone, complete with water stations, kiddy pools, and dog-safe birthday cake. Don't forget the party favors like Native Pet Yak Chews for long-lasting post-party fun.
For the Expert Sniffer
Your dog explores the world with their nose, paws, and mouth. Experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells is vital to enrich your dog's brain health and sniff instinct. Take your dog on a "sniff trip" to a new location, like a dog-friendly beach or a part of your neighborhood where you haven't walked before, giving them ample time to explore and sniff.
For the Star Athlete
Dogs who love an endless game of fetch or who wake up before dawn for a morning run with their pet parent will likely enjoy trying a bucket list activity like paddleboarding, canoeing, kayaking, or hiking on a new trail. Bring plenty of water for your doggy athlete and a dog life vest for any watersports. Even if your dog is an expert swimmer, a life vest is critical to ensure your pup remains safe on the water.
For the Drama King or Queen
Spend an afternoon teaching your pup some new tricks. Training sessions are great for bonding time, and your dog won’t mind getting a few extra treats for getting the hang of some new skills.
For the Adventure Seeker
The open road is not just for humans anymore. If your pup can't get enough of car rides and window sniffs, then it's time to plan a road trip with your dog. Pick a pet-friendly destination and spend the day exploring and spending time with your furry friend. But safety always comes first, so remember to buckle up your pup for the open road.
Bucket List Items for Senior Dogs
Approximately 1 in 5 dogs will experience joint or mobility issues. Talk to your veterinarian about managing any potential joint pain your pup may be experiencing, and discuss what activities are safest for them to enjoy. Giving your pet a joint support supplement can help support their aging joints. Aging pups may not be able to enjoy overly active doggy bucket list ideas. Still, there are numerous gray-muzzle-friendly activities you can plan for your dog. Here are some ideas.
A "Doggy and Me" Staycation
With more than 40 million households having at least one dog, pet-friendly hotels and vacation homes are becoming more accessible. Bring all your pup's favorite toys and treats, and spend a night cuddling and pampering your furry pal away from the daily chaos.
A Doggy Spa Day
Many dogs loathe bathtime, so skip the soap and pamper your pooch with a gentle doggy massage. Like with humans, massage therapy can help improve circulation, alleviate pain, and decrease stress. Talk to your vet about finding a certified canine massage therapist, or ask for tips on safely massaging your pup at home.
DIY Dog Treats
Go to your pup's favorite spots, whether a dog park or a particular cushion on the couch, and have a friend or family member photograph you and your pup enjoying time together. Capturing these special moments will provide a lifetime of memories. You and your dog can even dress up like it’s Halloween to add another layer of fun.
For this low-impact but high-fun activity, take your pup to the pet store and let them explore some of their favorite aisles. Treat your pup to a new vest, toys, or treat to reward them for good doggy manners while in the store.
Dos and Don’ts For Your Doggy Bucket List
Planning a doggy bucket list is the perfect way to make lasting memories with your four-legged best friend. Life can get busy and chaotic, and slowing down to enjoy precious times with your pup will strengthen your bond and improve your and your pet's health. Follow these do's and don'ts for safe and fun adventures with your dog:
- DO: Pay attention to your dog's physical and social limits and use caution not to exceed them.
- DON'T: Forget to enjoy the moments (big and small) with your pup; a day of cuddling with your dog can make a perfect bucket list activity.
- DO: Plan ahead and make sure places are pet-friendly, and ask if there are any size or weight restrictions.
- DON'T: Let your dog overindulge in treats. Too much of a good thing can lead to upset stomachs, diarrhea, or gastrointestinal issues.
- DO: Give your dog lots of praise, snuggles, and love.
- DON'T: Forget your dog's medications, food, and favorite toys when going on extended trips or overnight adventures.
For more information and tips on your dog's health, check out the Native Pet blog.