I am often called to a home to see a dog with behaviour problems of one sort or another: Anxiety, reactivity, aggression, destructive or annoying behaviours. Often, even though their owner is trying, the dog’s basic needs are not being met. When a dog’s needs aren’t being met, you will very likely have behaviour problems. And until those needs are met, addressing behaviour challenges can be an uphill battle.
Here are two things I routinely find missing in a dog’s life:
Sorry folks, doggy day care, wrestling with their best friend, and playing fetch don’t count. Neither does walking 5k on a 6′ leash. In fact, the more of these high intensity games your dog plays, the more he needs decompression walks. If you have a young dog that gets overexcited or anxious, that 5k walk around the neighbourhood, past the bus stop and the school might actually be doing more harm than good!
This is one of the most important pieces to having a mentally healthy dog. Many dogs living in towns don’t have the opportunity to use their bodies in a healthy, non-adrenalized way. Fetch and wrestling games are fun for many dogs, but too much and they create adrenaline junkies.
Any walks on a short (6′) leash often build tension rather than release it. Watch your dog’s gait walking on a street on a 6′ leash. Now watch them in a field on a 15′ leash. See the difference? Dogs require the ability to move freely through their gaits, choosing for themselves which gait to use, generally for an extended period of time.
Healthy movement for your dog is either off leash or on a long line (15’ – 30’) and trotting around sniffing and peeing and just ‘being a dog’ in nature.
Do you have a quiet country street, trail, logging road, or field where you can take your dog for decompression walks? As an adult, a good two hours doing this a few times a week is ideal. Evaluate your pup’s age and fitness level to decide how long you should walk for. When in doubt, ask your vet how long it is appropriate for your puppy to amble along beside you.
What has your dog done today that used his brain? Have you taught him a new trick? Practiced some obedience, nosework, or agility? Even old dogs need mental stimulation. A 1 year old border collie is going to need more than a 12 year old pug, but all dogs benefit from using their brains.
A simple way to add a little stimulation is to buy a set of food puzzles. Rather than feed your dog from a dish, use Kongs, Toppls, food puzzles, snuffle mats, or even sprinkle your dog’s meal in the grass for them to sniff out.
If you sat down every day and did the same crossword puzzle, it would cease being mental stimulation after a short time. Rotate your dog’s feeding toys to keep it fresh!