You lavish attention on your dog, but how well does this meet all his needs?
Ponder this question: How would you feel if your partner gave you a power-drill as an anniversary gift?
If you’re a DIY nut you’d be delighted, but considerably less thrilled if you were hoping for a diamond ring. In short, some gifts reflect what the ‘giver’ would like, rather than what makes the recipient smile.
So what has this to do with the dog?
Sometimes our perception of what a dog wants and what the dog actually wants are two different things but we don’t realize it.
Take a moment to look at life from a dog’s eye view. Is his life is filled with the doggie equivalent of a power-drill, when what he really wants is a diamond ring? This isn’t about spoiling or indulging the dog, but something much more basic…meeting his needs.
The Five Freedoms
The ASPCA lists five basic freedoms all animals require. Let’s use these to hone your doggie vision and see if you have a contented canine or a frustrated fur-friend.
#1: Freedom from Hunger and Thirst
It’s distressing to think anyone would deprive their dog of food. Not for a moment are we suggesting you starve the dog, but rather asking if you satisfying all the dog’s food-based needs?
• Age and Size Appropriate: Is the food wholesome and nutritious, and appropriate for the dog’s age and size? Remember that a St Bernard puppy has very different nutritional needs to an elderly Yorkshire terrier. From slower growth for giant bones to small kibble size for tiny teeth, there’s more to food than filling the tummy.
• Correct Quantity: Being overweight puts the pet at increased risk of health problems. You wouldn’t dream of putting the dog at risk of injury on a busy road, so don’t endanger his health by overfeeding.
• Mentally Stimulating: When mealtimes mimic normal hunting behavior, you’ll have a more contented dog. Try using puzzle feeders so the dog has to problem-solve to get his chow. Even something as simple as scattering his kibble over the grass for him to sniff out, provides great mental stimulation.
#2: Freedom from Discomfort
The ASPCA is referring to a shelter to sleep in and a dry bed. But when it comes to a much-loved family dog, they most likely sleep on the sofa or your bed! No problem there then.
However, this can still be distressing for some dogs that need a quiet spot to sleep or some ‘me-time’ away from the hubbub of noisy kids. Everyone needs time and space to themselves, and dogs are no different.
Being part of a busy household is stressful for many dogs, and a den (such as a crate) can give them a safe place to withdraw to. Set a house rule not to disturb the dog in his den, and this help manage stress without snapping or growling.
#3: Freedom from Pain, Injury, and Disease
You take your dog’s health seriously, but even then, things get overlooked. Chew on the following points:
• Do you Brush Your Dog’s Teeth Daily? Not to do so leads to plaque, tartar, gum recession and dental abscesses. You brush your teeth every day, and your dog should be no different.
• Deworming: Did you know most dogs are born with a worm burden, passed from the mother via the placenta into the puppy in the womb? Those worm larvae hatch out over the dog’s lifetime making regular worming essential. Soooo…when did you last worm the dog? It should be 2 – 4 times a year.
• Does your Older Dog Limp? Limping is a sign of discomfort. Arthritis is common in older dogs and is just as painful for a four-legger as for us. If your dog limps, don’t just chalk it up to old age but instead seek a vet’s advice about pain relief.
#4: Freedom to Express Normal Behavior
For the vast majority of dogs, a vital ‘normal’ behavior means getting plenty of exercise and a chance to sniff. If this need isn’t met the dog makes his own entertainment, by barking, chewing, digging or any number of antisocial activities.
Take time to ensure your dog gets plenty of physical and mental exercise. From twice daily runs to one-to-one training, your dog will thrive on having to use his body and mind (and behave better as a consequence.)
Provide outlets for normal behaviors such as chewing. Your dog needs to exercise his teeth and jaws, so rather than telling him off for destroying shoes, give him satisfying chew sticks and lots of praise for chewing on them.
#5: Freedom from Fear and Distress
Fear and distress come in many forms, such as the dog that’s anxious when visitors call, to the dog trained using old-fashioned dominance methods.
Help your dog to have the best life possible by:
• Socialization: As a pup give them plenty of positive experiences so that they can greet the wider world with confidence.
• Reward-based Training: Teach your dog with empathy and understanding, rather than have him behave out of fear of you.
• Recognize Distress: Believe it or not, many dogs don’t like being hugged tightly. Learn what signs your dog gives off when outside his comfort zone, such as showing the whites of his eyes, yawning, or licking his lips. Respect his un-ease and cuddle him less tightly.
• Know When Not to Comfort: When you sooth an anxious dog, you’re rewarding his fearful behavior. Beef up your knowledge of dog psychology so know how to act around a stressed pet. Counter-intuitively, this often means overlooking his distress and acting as normal, so he reads from your body language that there’s nothing to worry about.
Power drill or diamond ring: How well do you meet your dog’s needs? Moving forward, keep a dog’s eye view on his needs and be sure to meet them for a truly waggy tail all day and every day.