Monday, September 21, 2009

Fulfilling Your Dog’s Needs and Developing a Good Relationship With Your Dog

In addition to doing training, it's very important to fulfill your dog’s physical and mental needs on a daily basis. Dogs need more than just companionship and love. In much the same way, humans feel more fulfilled if we have a purpose in life (career, volunteer work, hobby, etc.), and we feel healthier if we get regular exercise, whether it’s going to the gym or going surfing. When we’re not working or exercising, we like to hang out with friends, read books, watch TV, etc. to stimulate our minds. Dogs are the same way. When dogs get bored and frustrated from lack of mental stimulation and exercise, many problems can surface, including hyperactivity, destruction of household items, aggression and obsessive compulsiveness.

It's also important to develop a good relationship with your dog, so that you trust each other and want to do everything possible to make each other happy. If your dog doesn’t trust you and doesn’t see you as his guardian, then it is going to very hard for him to listen to you. On the other hand, if your dog LOVES you and his needs are regularly fulfilled by you, then he will listen to you more and follow your lead.

Below is a checklist of things that will promote the well-being and happiness of most pet dogs:

* Exercise – Running, walking, swimming, etc. For untrained dogs, it's a good idea to provide structured walks in addition to unstructured exercise such as off-leash hikes and walking on the beach.  If you need help with loose leash walking, see my Dog Walking blog entry.

* Mental stimulation and/or challenges – Give your dog a job or games to play, such as hide and seek, tracking and nose work, agility, flyball, enrichment toys such as stuffed Kongs, etc. See my blog Give A Dog A Job for ideas on clicker training service-dog type tasks.  See the Star Advertiser article on nose work about the workshops we hosted.

* Play – Activities include fetch, tug, playing with other dogs, chasing a flirt pole, etc. Different dogs have different preferences so figure out what your dog likes!

Although I've listed exercise, mental stimulation and play separately above, they can be combined in some activities such as agility and nose work.

Above: Dogs playing on the beach.

* Love and attention – This is an easy one for most of us to provide! Just remember to give your dog attention only when he is calm and well-mannered.

* Quality time spent together – Dogs are social animals that have an inherent need to be around their pack, whether it’s other dogs or humans. If possible, don’t make your dog an outdoors-only dog, or he may develop behavioral problems stemming from boredom and loneliness. Take your dog with you whenever you can. There are lots of places out there where you can take your dog, including restaurants with outdoor seating and dog-friendly stores.

Above: Dogs hanging out with us at a friend's BBQ.

* Reinforce good behavior and extinguish bad behavior – Dogs are born into the human world, and don’t automatically know what is expected of them. It’s our responsibility as their guardians to guide them towards socially acceptable behavior. Remember that rewarding good behavior is a lot more effective than punishing bad behavior. For more info, read my blog entry on Reinforcing Calm Behavior.

* Clear and consistent rules about what is allowed and what is not allowed.

* Socialization with other friendly and balanced dogs - It’s not always easy to set up play dates with other dogs, but you can always take your dog with you when you visit friends who have dogs. It’s easy for us humans to forget that our dog is a dog, and that most dogs love to be around other members of their own species. (Note: If your dog is not comfortable with other dogs, there's no reason to force him to hang out with other dogs.  If your dog likes other dogs, you should still avoid pushy or aggressive dogs, because it can make your dog dislike dogs in general.)

Above: Dogs socializing with each other at the dog park.

* Exposure to and positive experiences with common aspects of daily life, such as strangers (men & women), children, babies, stairs, bicycles, vacuum cleaners, ocean, bathing, riding cars, nail-clipping, ear cleaning, etc. Early exposure to these things in a positive way will prevent fearfulness and anxiety in the future. See my blog entry on socialization for more info.

Above: Little grom playing with dog.


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