5 Simple Steps To Improve Your Dog’s Quality of Life

A harness is perfect for walking around Old Town (and shopping at Lou Lou!), but even this simple one is too restrictive for 24/7 wear.

Alexandria, VA – If there were something simple you could do that would make your dog much happier, you’d do it in a heartbeat, right?

I see owners going to great lengths and spending small fortunes to improve their dogs’ lives. That’s why I’m perplexed when those same folks ignore the small, easy-to-rectify issues that are diminishing their dog’s daily quality of life, causing anything from mild irritation to major pain.

We tend to focus on expensive food and treats, beds and toys, training tools, dog walkers, and doggy daycare –  all things brought to our attention by marketers. But some of the most important ways to support our canine friends are low-ticket items that nobody is advertising. So they often go under the radar.


Ready for the hard truth? You need to trim your dog’s nails more often.

I know: Your dog hates it. You hate it. So you put it off and ask the vet or groomer to do it whenever your dog goes in. Unfortunately, unless you’re in the habit of monthly visits, that’s not enough.

Here’s why too-long nails have a dramatically negative impact on your dog:

  • Each step your dog takes puts inappropriate pressure on the toes through those nails. That hurts, and can even make toes twist.
  • The pain causes dogs to compensate by adjusting their posture. That can cause major orthopedic issues, including hind-end soreness.
  • Long nails give dogs less grip on slippery wood or tile floors, increasing the likelihood of muscle strain. This is particularly hard on older dogs who’ve lost muscle tone.

With a few exceptions, if a dog’s nails are clicking on the floor, it’s time. Mind you, the easiest way to keep up with this is to learn how to do it yourself! Nobody’s great at trimming nails at first, but once you and your dog are in the swing, you’ll be so glad. I have a starter video on YouTube ( with me trimming various dogs’ nails using clippers and a Dremel.


Does the sound of your dog’s clinking tags ever bug you? Now imagine those tags were around your own neck 24/7, and you had incredibly acute hearing. Sure, maybe most dogs get used to it. But why put them through that when we don’t have to? (Try enjoying a meal with metal tags clanging against your bowl!) The solutions are easily found online:

  • Little pouches that can wrap tags together in silence.
  • Rubber silencers to fit around the edges of tags.
  • A slide-on tag that loops over the collar and lays flat.
  • Or, a custom collar with ID information engraved on the buckle or on the collar itself.


While it’s easy to get a collar to fit well, a harness is another thing entirely. There are so many contact points where there can be rubbing, pinching, and discomfort. Invest the time in figuring out exactly how it’s supposed to fit, then re-check regularly, particularly if you have a growing puppy.

Once it’s adjusted properly, use it only for the walk! Would you want to wear something 24/7 that pulls uncomfortably every time you try to sit down, play, or stretch out for a nap? A harness that fits well on a standing dog will not fit the same way in other positions! Again, it’s something many dogs tolerate – they don’t have a choice, do they? – but let’s not ask them to.


We’ve all found something on our dog that we should have seen earlier: an infected ear, a mysterious abscess, a burr tangled deep in fur, a tick. No matter what, the sooner it’s found, the easier it is to fix. If you get into the habit of a Sunday night brushing session/exam while you’re watching TV, you have a chance to catch things before they become a painful, expensive problem.


Ready for the easiest one of all? Let your dog sniff more on a walk! I see lots of folks hurrying their dogs along, even yanking them in frustration away from yet another deep, rewarding sniff. If you’re thinking, “but this is the only time I have today and she needs exercise,” let that go.

You’re not tiring your dog out with a little walk, but the gigantic database of information she can inhale during a sniffari is the kind of mental stimulation that will tire a dog beautifully.

I’m all for indulging in high-end luxuries for our dogs, but if you asked the dogs, they’d tell you to address the five issues above first. It’s the low-hanging fruit of canine quality of life!

(A version of this piece first appeared in Whole Dog Journal.)

Kathy Callahan (CPDT-KA, FDM) loves to help people and their dogs live happily together. Through her business, PupStart, she offers puppyhood coaching (including a socialization playgroup) and private dog training. She writes monthly for Whole Dog Journal on dog behavior and is the author of 101 Rescue Puppies. Her family has fostered more than 200 dogs. More at

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