It's a new year, and that means you have the chance to strike up some good habits for both you and your pet.
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woman walking dog as her dog is sniffing; things to do with your pet for a healthier new year
Credit: Brie Goldman

In 2023, I think we can all agree that we want to do our best to keep our pets happy and healthy. But we need to make sure we're extending ourselves the same courtesy. 

That's why we've come up with five things we can do with our pets in the coming 11.5 months to stay fresh and curious. Yes, there's some (mild) exercise, and you'll need to visit the doctor. But maybe learning a new language or routine could make you both happy? 

Here's what we've got—with help from a pair of experts: 

1. See the Doc (Both of You)

Taking your pet to the veterinarian was part of our 2023 resolutions, sure, but we're always going to harp on how important it is to take care of your pets' health. You and your dog or cat need to head to the vet once a year at the very least. (Extremely young pets as well as older ones need to visit more frequently.) 

Ideally, the regular visits will ensure that your vet can catch any potential health problems early and that your furry friend is up to date on all their shots

"It's just a good idea," says Steven Appelbaum, founder and president of the Animal Behavior College.  

But you need to hold up to your end of the bargain, too. What would your pet think if he knew you were skipping out on your regular checkup or physical? Make that appointment. 

2. Learn Some New Skills—Maybe a Language?

Sure, you can start off 2023 by teaching your dog the basics—or you can even try something more advanced, like nose work. You can attempt the training yourself, but make sure you've done your research and employ the proper methods, says Ben Bennink, chair of The Association of Professional Dog Trainers.

If that's too much, then you can hire a dog trainer or attend a group training class. But what about something you can learn, too? Perhaps a new language

You might not want to spend a ton of time on Duolingo or Babbel, but teaching your dog new cues in a different language can have its benefits, Bennink says. For example, if you normally speak English but teach your dog's cues in French, you no longer have to worry about tossing "sit," "stay," or "walk" around in normal conversation. 

Bennink says you can also save the alternate language for your dog's "emergency cue"—the one word you use to recall your dog to your side right away. That can eliminate confusion when your dog needs to come to you fast.   

Need a shortcut? Teach your dog's—or cat's!—cues with hand signals, too. Dogs learn through hearing or seeing, but Bennink says they're more likely to follow the hand signals than the spoken word.     

3. Embrace the Special Routine

This one is a favorite of Appelbaum, and many of us probably have one. You know, those weird rituals you and your pets have developed over the years. For him, he used to play a game of "find the treat" with his basset hound and Labrador retriever. The self-explanatory game took about 10 minutes, and the dogs—forced to use their brains to find the hidden morsel—loved it. 

My family had something similar. For years, my poodle Riley would beg for her dental treat each night, and each night my mom would get her to bark, turn around in circles, and then execute several flying leaps into the kitchen. After basically long-jumping two or three times—to great applause—she would very smugly trot back into the living room with her chewy stick. 

Anyways, all this is to say you and your dog or cat should find your own special routines. Maybe you can jazz up meal times or turn a few morning minutes into hide and seek. Your pet will enjoy it, and you'll enjoy watching your pet have fun. Win-win.   

4. Walk—and Smell—More

Speaking of routines, walking more with your dog or cat is good for everyone involved. For us, walking daily can help regulate our weight and keep us healthy. For our pets, dogs especially, it might be even more important. 

"Giving them opportunities to engage in their natural environment is huge," Bennink says. 

Most of our dogs are primarily stuck in a house—maybe with occasional time out in a yard—so walks offer the perfect chance for physical and mental stimulation, especially if you give them plenty of time to sniff

Dogs experience the world through their noses, so be ready to linger on the sidewalk as your pup tries to figure out who's peed there so far that day. It's good for his mental health, and some fresh air won't hurt you, either.     

Exercise can also really help dogs with behavior issues and boredom, Appelbaum says. A consistent walk—maybe even just three or four times a week—offers an outlet for energy that could otherwise turn destructive

5. Just Do What Your Pet Likes

This is abstract, but you know your pets better than anyone. You shouldn't do any of the activities listed above unless your pet enjoys them. (Well, except for the vet one. Our pets definitely need to see the vet whether they like it or not.)

Bennink says you shouldn't force your pets into activities they might not like. If you try a new activity and your pet clearly doesn't like it, that's fine. Just go back to the enrichment your dog or cat knows and loves, whether that's a food puzzle or the flopping fish.  

This, in part, is why you should always be conscious of what's going on with your dog, Appelbaum says. Not just likes and dislikes, but watching their pee, poop, and behavior will make sure they're doing OK. They'll do the same for you, after all.