Regardless of our opinions or feelings, the welfare needs of the animal do not change.
That realisation, for me, has always been a game changer. And it’s why we are so invested in developing skills in understanding how to measure welfare in animals, particularly companion dogs.
Welfare is a measure of how well the animal is coping with its environment, and that’s generally the set-up we provide and expose them to.
How do we do that? We ask the animal!
Behavioural observations provide one of the least invasive means of measuring how the animal feels about what we do to them, from their point of view.
No matter the conditions in which the dog lives, and no matter our opinions and feelings about that, the welfare needs of that dog remain unchanged.
Last week we talked about dogs’ needs, the things dogs must have to have a good dog-life. How this manifests for an individual dog will depend on a range of factors, that might include:
- genetic history: selection history and the behaviour of related individuals can help us predict the extent of this influence
- early rearing conditions: for dogs to become family dogs, they must be reared in an enrichment environment, exposed to the human world and learning to just be around humans, especially during their first weeks of life
- continued experience and exposure throughout adolescence: the teenage years will see a ton of behavioural development, brain change and body maturation making this period a most important stage in forming a healthy dog
- resilience and recovery from stress, self-calming and arousal control abilities: this is what dictates how well a dog will do in the human world and modifying these abilities is tricky as dogs age, and even not possible in some cases
- medical history: physical and behavioural health cannot really be separated
- training history: even without a structured training program in place, every interaction between the dog and its environment, which includes humans, will have an affect on behaviour
These factors combine, impacting the welfare needs requirements for that dog.
My job is largely helping and supporting dog owners in the provision of their dog’s welfare needs.
Modern life presents many challenges for the companion dog, and its owners and meeting a companion dog’s needs is harder than ever before.
Being a pet dog isn’t all it’s cracked up to be; a pet life isn’t necessarily welfare centric, just by virtue of us loving dogs or welcoming them into our families.
A sedentary ‘sofa’ life may not be the best dog-life for an individual even though that has become somewhat of a standard wish often stated on behalf of dogs.
Our opinions or feelings about what makes a good dog-life don’t change what the dog actually needs.
The dog is telling us; their behaviour provides us with feedback so that we know how well they are coping with the things we expect of them (or not).
Asking the dog is the easy part, we just have to listen to what they are telling us, and then do what we can to give them a good dog-life.
#100daysofenrichment helps you to learn to observe your dog and ask them what they need – it meets dogs needs by helping pet owners with ideas, plans and supports. Join in, dip in, have fun!