By Jameson “Jamie” deLeon
Resolution No. 1. Lose three pounds. My humans, Linda and Peter, entertain a lot during the holidays at the end of the year. It's been prime rib, ham, roasted chickens and even occasional ice cream for weeks! Some of their guests even pass me treats secretly under the table. And, at the dog park, lots of the people carry around treats that they feed me, with extras if I do a nice sit and don't bark at them.
So when I was weighed in on January 1st (I hate this, but she does it every month), I had gained some weight. She says I have to go back to my regular diet, and she's going to measure out my portions, cut down on my treats and there will be NO FROSTED COOKIES AT ALL. Bah, humbug!
[Editor’s note: From the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University comes this advice: When you’re measuring portions, remember that your dog might actually need less than recommended on the can or bag of food. Some dogs metabolize more efficiently, or they may exercise less due to age or injuries. Also, your dog may be very good at using the “big eye” to beg for a treat. Offer a baby carrot or a string bean instead of a more calorie-dense item. If s/he turns up her nose and walks away, well, then you know she’s not hungry!]
Resolution No. 2. Do more interesting activities. She is very good about taking me out for a nice long walk every morning, and he takes me for one after lunch. The greenbelt/bikeway where we walk has many humans and dogs for me to meet (and bark at) and interesting smells of deer, coyotes, foxes and other animals to investigate.
But my days can be boring, especially since my annoying companion Molly went over the Rainbow Bridge this year. Molly kept me on a tight leash, so to speak, but at least she was someone to help me bark through the fence at passing dogs and cars. Now I’d like to try something more interesting, like hiking, swimming or even agility classes or nosework. And I think my lady human should also be enriching my environment with a few interesting toys that let me use my brain as well as get rid of excess energy.
Resolution No. 3. Be more polite. My lady human has her own goals for me, and I guess I’ll play along. She gets quite agitated when she finds a little pool of pee in the house. (We just moved here a little while ago, and She doesn’t realize that I have to make this house smell like me.) And she wants me to bark less when I meet other dogs while on leash. This is not easy: my lady human is fond of telling her friends that the only time she has heard barking dogs at the Westminster Dog Show is when the Kerries are in the ring.
Fortunately, training is a wonderful game, usually involving treats, so I’m willing to do a couple of sessions every day. And then take a nap.
Resolution No. 4. Allow my teeth to be brushed. I have to admit I don’t care for all the hygiene stuff that’s foisted on me. I’m a rough-tough Irishman (she says she wanted to name me “Hooligan” but my gentleman human wanted to call me “Jameson” instead). Instead, I must endure baths and combing, and I suppose my ears and eyes need to be cleaned too. Tooth-brushing is the worst, though, but at least the toothpaste she uses tastes all right (she says it’s made especially dogs, tasting of meat instead of (ugh!) mint.
OK, now my human wants to put in her two cents’ worth. I’ll let her take it from here.
Thank you, Jamie. Well, first of all, I should like to add a few other resolutions I will offer on behalf of Jamie, who should have thought of them himself. They’re from the January 2017 issue of Tuft’s Your Dog newsletter:
Resolution No. 5. The right mattress. Just as people need to replace their mattress from time to time to make sure it supports their aging bones, so do dogs need a comfortable mattress with good, hygienic padding. As they age, they might also benefit from an orthopedic bed or a gel pad that has the additional benefit of coolness on hot nights.
Resolution No. 6. Regular baths. Jamie would never admit this, but he knows he needs a bath regularly. His groomer makes it as comfortable as possible, and also makes sure that ears and eyes are clean.
Resolution No. 7. Proper I.D. Always make sure your dog has an ID tag on his/her collar, or even get it custom-printed onto a collar. Of course you should make sure that your telephone number is shown on the ID tag. If your dog is microchipped, keep your contact information up to date with the company from which you bought the tag.
Resolution No. 8. Organize health records. Put all your dog’s health records in a single folder (I prefer a plastic file pocket since it’s more durable and nothing accidentally falls out of it). Put all your dog’s important dates (days to give heartworm or flea and tick medicine, his wellness visits to the vet and, OK, his birthday too) on your calendar.
Resolution No. 9. Post all these resolutions on your refrigerator door or someplace else where you’ll see them every day. With Jamie’s 4 resolutions and these additional ones, it’s a total of 9.
Now, as promised, here are some science-based tips on how to keep those resolutions. This information is from an article by Katherine L. Milkman of the Washington Post and printed in the Denver Post issue of January 4, 2018. Not long ago, two economists (Gary Charness and Uri Gneezy) at the University of Chicago created an experiment to see what sorts of incentives work best for people who make resolutions to get more exercise. They learned three things:
First, start with a bang. They randomly assigned 120 students to one of three groups. The first received $175 for attending an information session and let the researchers track their gym attendance. The second were paid if they attended the information session, permitted their gym attendance to be tracked and went to the gym at least once in the next month. The third group had to attend the information session, allow their attendance at the gym to be tracked AND hit the gym at least eight times in the next month.
The last strategy worked the best. That not surprising, really, but here’s the surprise: the last group kept on going to the gym, twice as often as the students in the other two groups. The lesson is that we can kick-start behavior change by jumping in at a high level. There’s a huge benefit from giving your resolution a huge burst of energy at the start. Set your goals high.
For example: plan to have two short training sessions with your every day. Try really hard to keep this up for at least the first three weeks (the sessions can be very, very short – only five minutes – but don’t omit any. This will help you figure out when to do them and for how long, and you’ll probably get enough payoff, in fun or your dog’s improvement, to keep up after that.
Second, “take a mulligan.” [Editor’s note: Of course the name is Irish. Mulligan is a surname originating from Ireland, sez Wikipedia, coming from the Irish Ó Maolagain literally meaning "grandson of the bald man".] In golf, taking a mulligan means an extra stroke allowed after a poor shot, not counted on the scorecard. Research by two marketing professors (Marissa Sharif and Suzanne Shu – offered hundreds of people $1 for every day in a week that they remembered to go online and complete a set of 35 annoying tasks. Some participants were promised an additional bonus if they did this assignment seven days out of seven. Period. Another group earned the bonus if they did the tasks at least five days out of seven. The third group – the “mulligan” group -- was told to do the assignment seven days out of seven but “in case you need it, up to two days will be excused.”
In short, the second group and the “mulligan” group had the same basic incentives but the latter were significantly more successful: 53 percent compared to 26 percent won their bonus. This means you should set high goals but make an explicit allowance for a mulligan or two so you won’t be overly discouraged by occasional slip-ups.
For example: set a goal to brush your dog’s teeth every day, but mark yourself down as having achieved the goal even if you forget to do it twice (or whatever other level you explicitly specify in your resolution).
Third, make use of piggybacking and temptation bundling. “Piggybacking” just means linking a new behavior to one you already do very faithfully. For example, you might brush your dog’s teeth as you pour your second cup of coffee in the morning.
Temptation bundling is linking a behavior you want to ingrain with something you love or crave. For example, if you’d like to enrich your dog’s life by taking him/her on longer walks, try downloading audio books on your smart Phone but only let yourself listen when you’re dog-walking. You won’t want to go too long between sessions, and you’ll get a big reward for fulfilling your resolution at the same time
In closing, here’s one last piece of advice: Look back at Resolution No. 9 and do it right away! You and your dog will both off to a good start.