What Dogs Want!!
As the owner of 6 Golden Retrievers and several more who have passed on to the rainbow bridge I have learned a lot from my time with dogs. What I’ve learned in the span of 20 odd years or so is that dogs are simple creatures who do what works. They repeat behaviors that you pay attention to and stop behaviors you stop paying attention to. They have simple basic needs that if met mean they are easy to live with and content and if not met mean that they are going to be problematic.
A dog’s basic needs are simple and the more we can give them what they need the fewer problems there are, and the happier life is for everyone. Aside from the obvious basics of food, water and trips out to the bathroom there are psychological needs for stimulation, exercise, rest, learning ,play and chewing that give a better quality to a dogs life.
So what is the formula for a content dog? Put simply, a good quality life for a dog involves a balance of mental stimulation in the form of play, exercise and exploring, social time with people and other dogs, rest time, chew time, training and good quality socialization that will pay off for life.
Mental stimulation is often overlooked and in my experience many dogs suffer greatly from the lack of it. This may involve a play or training session, a walk in the park or around the neighborhood, a visit with friends, or playtime with another dog. The key here is something active that the dog can do where it can use it’s senses and enjoy being outside exploring and having fun.
Training and socialization is part of a good quality life. Dogs need training and socialization, without it they cannot function normally within society. If they are scared all the time or over energetic and don’t have any social manners they miss opportunities to spend time in public with their people. Dogs are happier when they can participate in life and be with us but they need the skills to be able to do that without incident.
Early socialization and training are the keys to raising a dog that can go anywhere and be comfortable. Missing out on this opportunity means they will struggle to get this need met throughout their life.
Exercise is another need that is essential for all dogs. Even the most laid back dogs need time to burn off some energy to run and play with other dogs or explore on their own. If your dog doesn’t come back reliably this will severely limit his freedom in public places and make it hard for him to get this need met. If he hasn’t been socialized with other dogs he won’t be able to meet his basic need for canine companionship and the joy of play with friends.
Chew time is often overlooked as a luxury but it is high in priority in a dog’s world. So many behavior problems could be solved by a few hours of high quality chew time on a real meaty bone. Chewing isn’t just fun for the dog it provides exercise for his jaws, builds muscle tone in his whole body and satisfies a deep need to work out stress and frustration. This is so much better than taking out that “need” on your furniture!
Lastly, the most overlooked need of dogs but the one they most crave is rest. Not the fall asleep for 15minutes before they go back to playing or the ½ hour here and there they catch during a busy day. I’m talking about the deep restorative sleep that a dog can only get from being alone in a quiet place all by himself. For puppies and adolescent dogs this should be in the form of a crated naptime. For older dogs it might simply mean short times alone while you run errands or do work in a different part of the house. Without proper rest a dog can’t inhibit their impulsiveness, listen when you tell him to stop or even remember well taught behaviors like down, sit or leave it. Everyone will be happier if your dog gets time for deep restful sleep.
So the secret to giving dogs a happy life isn’t rocket science but it is a tricky balance and though many people adore the company of dogs most don’t quite understand what they need. In my many years of practice as a dog trainer I have helped families resolve these imbalances with proper education of the other end of the leash. Once a dog gets what he needs many other things fall into place. Give your dog the highest quality life possible and you will reap the benefits of living with a dog that brings joy to you everyday.