(Fulfilling a Dog’s Needs)
While we tend to think that all behavior problems in our dogs require a training fix, it is often the case that dogs do things we don’t like simply because their needs are not being met. What are a dog’s needs? Their physical needs are fairly obvious and most people do OK with those:
• Health and hygiene – your vet and possibly a groomer can guide you here
• Diet and nutrition
• Safety and security – actual safety and whether they feel safe or not
• Physical exercise – although contrary to popular opinion, more exercise is not a cure-all
Other needs may not be so obvious but are important to a dog’s mental health, which will affect their behavior:
• Appropriate environment for their age, size, breed, personality — an elderly lap dog should not live in an outdoor kennel and a large dog of an active breed should not live in a tiny city apartment. A fearful dog should not be forced to go to a kids’ soccer game.
• Sensory stimulation — dogs that are trapped in houses alone all day are like prisoners in solitary confinement. They need visual, oral, and tactile stimulation, and especially scenting opportunities.
• Social interaction — some dogs love dog friends, others prefer human friends, but they are social animals and it’s hard for them to be alone all the time.
• Mental exercise — dogs that are bored tend to get into trouble. Try dog games, puzzle toys, training, dogsports, and . . . scenting activities!
• Opportunities to forage and “be a dog” — dogs evolved as scavengers and until very recently spent most of their time outside. Regularly exploring new places on a “decompression walk” (either off leash if it’s safe or on a long line) where the dog chooses where to go and how long to sniff, can be life-changing for a dog.
• The chance to do breed-specific behaviors — sight hounds gotta run, terriers gotta dig, retrievers gotta retrieve, herding dogs gotta herd (toys will do!).
And whenever possible give them the ability to make choices and feel in control of their lives.
Here are some easy ideas for making your dog’s life better and possibly improving their behavior:
• Provide a safe, comfortable place for Fido to rest to ensure he gets enough sleep. Adult dogs should sleep about 14 hours/day. Puppies and elderly dogs about 18-20 hours.
• Determine if your home environment is working for your dog. If he enjoys calmly watching birds outside the window, great. But if he goes crazy barking at all the activity outside, attempting to ward off “intruders”, then let him be “off duty”. Block his view of the outside and give him something else to do.
• A dog feels secure and comfortable if there are patterns in her life that she understands, like: I get fed twice a day at about the same time in the same spot. I know where to go if I want to take a nap. I’m allowed to run out the back door into the fenced yard, but I do not go out the front door unless my leash is on and I am given a release cue. I can get up on the kids’ beds but not the adults’ beds. After the humans eat dinner we go for a walk. You decide, but the idea is to make things predictable for the dog.
• Dogs also feel safe and secure if they are not exposed to punishment-based training. The threat of possible punishment is a mental health issue for most dogs. Mixing “corrections” with rewards can be even more confusing. Dogs can suffer from learned helplessness just like humans. Or, depending on their personality, they may become aggressive.
• Make sure no one bothers your dog while he is sleeping, eating or chewing a bone. This includes other dogs, kids and adults, too. A dog doesn’t feel safe if he is never sure whether someone might steal his dinner.
• Ditch your dog’s food dish. Dogs are natural scavengers and love to work for their food. Try puzzle toys, kongs, snuffle mats, or just scatter their food in the grass for them to sniff out. It’s fun for dogs!
• Hide treats or toys for your pup to find. Even kids can do this. If you have more time, explore the sport of nosework. Sniffing is great mental exercise for dogs and they love it.
• Any kind of training is mental exercise, too. Tricks, anyone?
• Give your dog things to lick and/or chew. It’s calming for them, good sensory stimulation, and then they won’t need to chew your shoes. Many dogs also love to shred and destroy things. Don’t bother buying expensive toys for these dogs. Let them shred your empty paper towel rolls and delivery boxes. Hide treats inside to encourage them. Or put kibble in an empty egg carton or old muffin tin and cover it with wadded up paper or balls and let them figure out how to excavate the food.
• If you’re playing fetch with your dog, use some of that time to practice their impulse control and other training skills: stay while the ball is thrown; fetch; drop it; sit/down/roll over; come; fetch; whatever they know. Make sure your dog can listen and think while playing fetch, so they’re not losing their minds.
• While most people understand that dogs need physical exercise, it is often done inappropriately. For example, unless you have a very tiny or geriatric dog, leash walks don’t really qualify as physical exercise. Healthy adult dogs need to run until they’re panting! A leash walk can count as mental exercise (if you let the dog sniff!). Don’t make them heel all the way. Conversely, it’s not natural for a dog to run hard for long periods of time without breaks. They will be tired afterwards (briefly), but then they never learn to self-regulate in the off times. Plus too much exercise just builds Olympic athletes and they need more and more!
• While dogs are social animals, they are not all candidates for the dog park. Young, well-socialized dogs of certain breeds love to roughhouse with other dogs. Others prefer to “play chess”. Dogs that are fearful or unfriendly toward other dogs will not be fixed by throwing them in the deep end (the dog park). Make sure your dog is always given the choice of whether or not to interact with people too. Pay attention to what she is saying with her body language, before she is forced to growl or snap. If she doesn’t want to be petted by strangers, don’t make her.
• Consider your dog’s L.E.G.S. – Learning – Environment – Genetics – Self. We have all focused heavily on the L. – Learning (training), but many dog issues can be better solved by considering their E. G. and S. (For more information on the L.E.G.S. model of Family Dog Mediation see the works of Kim Brophey, Applied Ethologist.
While these ideas should be helpful for all dogs, if you have a dog with a serious behavior problem like separation anxiety, aggression, fear, or anxiety, you should also seek further help from a qualified positive reinforcement trainer or behavior professional, like Puppy Love Dog Training. Contact us: https://puppy-love.biz/contact