Domestication has done wonderful things in producing an animal that likes to live with us and is pretty tolerant of us and our human ways.
Our dogs don’t have much choice in most of what happens to them – they don’t choose to be born, they don’t choose the human they go home with, they don’t choose to live a life of virtual social isolation while their humans work long hours or they are confined to kennel accommodation for chunks of time, they don’t choose to have such limited access to their world especially their olfactory world, they don’t choose a sedentary life; they don’t really get to choose too much of the things we expose them to in our human world.
Because of just how awesome dogs are, they appear pretty tolerant so we often assume they are living a good dog-life and that we are meeting their needs.
But, are we?
What is a good dog-life?
I often say that dogs are here for a good time, not for a long time. We can help them live every day to the fullest and have the best dog-life by prioritising their needs.
Before we can consider “obedience”, before we can achieve success working on behaviour ‘problems’ and before we can expect them to live up to our human ideals, we first consider the dog’s needs. No point going much further without this.
Dogs must have:
- social contact and interaction with humans. We have spent many many thousands upon thousands of years making dogs like us more than other dogs.
The best company for a dog is human company and it’s especially important for young dogs to just be around human life. That’s how they develop appropriate social skills, which is pretty tricky if they are socially isolated for much of the day.
- dogs need to be able to interact or not, having the time to choose, and have safe spaces for relief from interactions.
Humans often assume social interaction means contact and human-like contact such as hugs and petting. Dogs like to be close to their nearest and dearest and the ultimate in bonding is to lie in contact with you – no petting or hugging required!
- appropriate challenge through mental and physical enrichment is always our central focus – if you get that right, the rest of it falls into place
- functional spaces are important to dogs; they, like humans, prefer to have specific areas for feeding, sleeping, resting, hanging out, playing, toileting and so on.
They don’t need a “den”, because they aren’t denning animals but will appreciate their own space and choice to interact.
An enriched environment makes sure that the dog has access to and choice in functional space.
- predictability and controllability are the ultimate in stress busters; “I know what’s about to happen to me” AND “I have behavioural solutions to deal with it”
One or the other isn’t enough, for a stress-less life, your dog needs both.
Welfare is assessed from the animal’s point of view. Dogs have needs that we must meet and might have to make specific efforts to meet because these needs might not be a normal part of our human life, with which we expect our dogs to cope. Think dog so you can give your dog the best dog-life.
#100daysofenrichment does just this – it meets dogs needs by helping pet owners with ideas, plans and supports. Join in, dip in, have fun!