This Valentine’s Day, show your canine companions how much you care

By Taylor McLean

Unconditional. Loyal. Devoted. These are words used to describe the love our dogs bestow upon us every day, while asking little in return but food, water, shelter and the occasional belly rub. Indeed, anyone who has had the pleasure of being greeted by a wagging tail at the end of a long day can tell you that there is no love quite as selfless and pure as the love of a dog.

What better time to celebrate this love than Valentine’s Day—our annual reminder to appreciate the many forms of love in our lives, including the kind that comes on four legs. Fortunately for us, returning our dog’s fondness doesn’t have to involve diamond-studded collars, weekend getaways or expensive dinners. In fact, the things that our dogs tend to value the most are also the things we should already be doing to care for them and to ensure that they live long and healthy lives.

The Valentine’s Day holiday is great time to kick that care into high gear and send some extra love to your canine companion. Start with these special treats and add few ideas of your own, and your pooch is sure to feel extra pampered.

Book a Day at the Spa
While a head-to-toe spa package might feel like a luxury to you, regular bathing and grooming are necessary for maintaining the health and vitality of your dog. Bathing provides relief for dry, itchy or irritated skin, and removes dead hair and dirt that can harbor bacteria and parasites that lead to problematic skin conditions. Regular brushing stimulates blood flow and contributes to a healthier skin and coat. Frequent grooming is especially important for breeds with thick undercoats that become easily matted and long-haired breeds whose coats can get tangled and cause uncomfortable pulling of the skin. Trimming hair around the face of long-haired dogs also helps prevent irritation of the eyes and ears.

Even if you regularly groom your dog at home, a full professional grooming package will allow for special care to be paid to parts of your pooch that don’t get as much attention, such as ears, eyes, skin and nails. While you’re at it, be sure to have your dog’s anal glands expressed to prevent potential impaction and discomfort. Utilizing the services of a professional groomer or taking your dog to a self-service dog wash can also be a gift to you in the form of eliminating messy clean up at home.

Most people notice an extra bounce in their dog’s step after a trip to the groomer, and for good reason—it feels great! Whether you choose the do-it-yourself option or a full-service groomer, treating your dogs to a spa day is sure to make them feel like they’ve settled in the lap of luxury. As an added bonus, coming home smelling better means more cuddles from the human family—a very special gift indeed.

Take the Hands-On Approach
Wouldn’t you love a long, relaxing massage this Valentine’s Day? Chances are your pup would too. Canine massage and bodywork is a growing practice that practitioners say offers similar benefits for dogs as it does for humans, including increased mobility, improved circulation and digestion, muscle relaxation and relief from minor aches and pains. Regular massage is also a great way stay in touch with your dog’s health and well-being and can help you detect any stiffness, pain, swelling or strange lumps or bumps that could turn into bigger problems down the road. According to the American Kennel Club Canine Health Foundation, massage can be particularly helpful for decreasing discomfort and restoring range of motion and mobility in older dogs that may be experiencing the cumulative effects of compensating for chronic muscle imbalances.

You can read up on do-it-yourself massage techniques, enroll in a course in canine massage, or take your dog in for some professional bodywork. Learning some basic, gentle massage strokes to employ yourself is a soothing way to strengthen your bond with your canine partners and give them the individual and undivided attention they deserve. On the other hand, professional bodywork aimed at addressing specific issues might be more suitable for dogs that have injuries, ailments or chronic conditions that would benefit from the expertise of a trained professional who is well versed in canine anatomy and physiology. Many veterinary offices, groomers and boarding facilities in the area offer massage as a specialty service, or they can refer you to an independent professional who will come to your home.

Either way, remember that while massage can be a great stress reliever, it is not for every dog. You know your dog best; and whether it’s your hands or someone else’s doing the massaging, be aware of whether your dogs are comfortable, relaxed and enjoying the experience.

Go Gourmet
We all know that eating well can make us feel healthier, more energized and better able to face the stresses of the day. The same is true for dogs, and yet while most of us go to great lengths to make sure the food we are consuming is of high quality, we often don’t think to pour over the ingredient labels of our dog’s treats in the same way. By far the best way to keep tabs on the food your dog is consuming is to make it yourself. Homemade dog treat are often healthier, tastier and cheaper than their store-bought counterparts. By baking your own treats at home, you can control what goes into them and make sure they are free of harmful additives that can impact your dog’s health over time. Plus, your dog will love them! A good place to look for recipes is online. Does your pooch go crazy over peanut butter or cheese? Simply start your search with a main ingredient in mind and begin experimenting. Keep in mind that dogs can have food allergies and intolerances, just like people, and be on the lookout for any symptoms such as itching, vomiting or diarrhea.

If spending time in the kitchen is not your thing, you’re in luck. We are blessed with a plethora of bakeries in the area that can help you pick out some healthy and delicious Valentine’s Day treats for your pooch, without you having to lift a pot holder. Check out Dogma Bakery and Boutique, Barkley Square Pets and Wylie Wagg for some tasty and unique Valentine’s Day (or any day) treats.

Get Out of the House
Winter is a tough time to keep up with exercise. If your long walks and afternoons spent at the park have morphed into brisk turns around the block, finding new ways to get out and move might be just what you and your dog both need to feel revived. You could take a Valentine’s hike or a road trip for a change of scenery (see the “Hit the Trail” article for a great day-trip idea), or consider signing up for a class for you and your pup to have some fun together while learning something new. Many trainers in the area have classes outside the normal obedience offerings, like agility, Nosework, rally and Treibball. Figure out what fits your dog’s idea of fun and you’ll be rewarded with a tail that never stops wagging.

Do you have the kind of dog whose personal ad might include “loves long walks on the beach?” If so, nothing will bring the memories of summer back quite like some hydrotherapy, or in dog language, fun in the pool! While swim therapy pools are often used for rehabilitation for dogs recovering from injury or illness and for older dogs with arthritis and joint pain, they are also a great source of low-impact exercise that can help any dog reduce stress and anxiety, build endurance, flexibility and strength, and work off some extra winter weight. Olde Towne Pet Resort’s locations in Springfield and Sterling both offer 20-foot-long heated lap pools and swim sessions supervised by a trained attendant. The Northern Virginia Animal Swim Center in Middleburg also offers year-round water therapy and specializes in helping newbies get acclimated to swimming. Pup ‘N Iron is a canine training and fitness facility in Fredericksburg that offers hydrotherapy for rehabilitation, as well as Fun and Fitness sessions, where owners can join their dogs for some fun in the pool. Book some time at the pool this Valentine’s Day and your water-loving pooch will certainly love you.

And if you’re planning a romantic getaway this winter, consider bringing your pup along with you! BringFido.com can help you find pet-friendly accommodations and attractions in more than 54 countries and has pet travel experts on call to help with booking questions. With more and more hotels catering to canine guests, spending a weekend away from home no longer has to mean leaving your dog behind.

Spend Some Quality Time
Regardless of how you choose to pamper your pooch, remember that what your best bud cherishes most is time spent with you. If your busy life has cut down on the amount of attention your dog receives, now is your chance to re-balance. After your trip to the spa or masseuse this Valentine’s Day, be sure to set some time aside for just the two of you. Choosing a longer route on your morning walk, playing together and building some extra cuddle into the day are great ways to show your dog appreciation and love throughout the year.

One of the most special qualities dogs possess is their ability to be truly present. By taking a lesson from your four legged friend on living more fully in each moment, you will both reap the rewards of that special brand of doggie love.

Taylor McLean is a writer and dog lover living in Alexandria, Va. She and her husband enjoy long walks in the woods with their Bassett Hound, TJ. Reach her at taylormham@gmail.com.

RESOURCES:
Dog Bakeries
• Dogma Bakery and Boutique—www.dogmabakery.com
• Wylie Wagg—www.wyliewagg.com
• Barkley Square Pets—www.barkleysquare.com

Massage
• www.k9zentime.com—Eneida Ramirez, Professional and certified Canine Massage Therapist (in-home massage)
www.ksrpetcare.com—30-minute sessions with certified massage therapist Brigitte Aronhime (in-home massage)
www.ponyandpooch.us—Holli Shan, ESMT, CMT

Indoor Swimming
• Olde Towne Pet Resort—www.oldetownepetresort.com
• Pup ‘N Iron—www.pupniron.com
• Northern Virginia Animal Swim Center—www.animalswim
center.com
• Liberty Hill Pet Resort—www.libertyhillpetresort.com
• Gunnys Rainbow—www.gunnysrainbow.com