As a species, dogs share many things in common that help us understand their basic needs. However, it is essential to recognize that each dog is an individual. It is important to consider when we set out to meet the dogs’ needs in our household. For instance, a puppy has very different nutritional and exercise needs than a senior dog. If you provide the same food and activity to both, you will end up with a frustrated puppy lacking exercise or an overtired old dog struggling to keep up. So how do we find the balance?
Sarah Stremming of The Cognitive Canine explains it best in her Four Steps to Behavior Wellness- Exercise, Enrichment, Nutrition, and Communication. You can hear her talk about it in her podcast Cog Dog Radio. In the future, we will dive deeper into each of these topics to give you a better understanding and teach you how you can easily improve your dog’s behavior wellness. In the meantime, we are just going to provide you with a taste of what’s to come.
As mentioned above, each dog has different exercise needs. These needs can vary between walking and running, environmental exploration and physical therapy, and playing or stretching. When designing an exercise regimen for the dog in front of us, it is crucial to consider the dog’s physical abilities, activity, duration/distance, and environment. A puppy, whose body is still developing, needs to focus on environmental exploration at their own pace so they can learn how to navigate the world. A fully grown adult will move at a steadier rate and make a great walking, running, or hiking companion. And a senior dog, who may be arthritic, needs to move slower and often through a more comfortable environment.
Enrichment is my favorite of the Four Steps to Behavior Wellness as it’s where we get to sit back and watch our dogs be dogs! We provide them with activities that encourage them to practice healthy dog behaviors like sniffing, chewing, digging, and scavenging. There are thousands of ways to provide enrichment for our dogs, but we have to consider the dog in front of us, just like everything else. While I find that puppies will happily partake in almost any type of enrichment, adult dogs seem to develop specific interests. And while all enrichment can be fun, some activities can lead to an over-stimulated dog, which is not the endgame we are after. We should provide activities that will put our dogs into a restful state and avoid activities that amp our dogs up and leave them looking for more.
There is no doubt that what we put in our bodies affects the way we feel, and the same is true for dogs. Did you know that we often study the dog’s nutritional health to learn more about our nutritional health? Like people, every dog has its own dietary needs and will thrive on a diet designed just for them. When we take a more in-depth look into nutrition, we will be focusing primarily on how it affects our dogs’ behavior.
Communication is my primary area of expertise. I often say that I am an interspecies communication specialist because, after all, my job is to teach humans how to communicate effectively with their dogs. Training is all about communication and learning how to work together as a team. When communication pathways are clear between us and our dogs’ we can be successful at living and adventuring together.
I have talked a lot about meeting your dog’s needs as an individual throughout this post, but another area I would like to focus on is you, the human caring for the dog. We can work hard to make sure that we are meeting our dog’s needs, but if it isn’t easy for us to accomplish, we will undoubtedly fail. So as we go on this journey together, please know that I am thinking about your needs. I want to give you ways to improve your dog’s well-being that are easy for you to accomplish. As we explore each of these topics, I hope you will keep your own behavior wellness in mind. We humans have a terrible habit of putting those we love first and ourselves last.
I look forward to exploring each of the 4 Steps to Behavior Wellness with you in more detail in the coming weeks!
Amber Todd, CPDT-KA, UW-AAB