Does a Dog have Emotional Needs?
Asking whether a dog has emotional needs has elicited a wide range of responses from people I have talked with. A few rebuff the mere notion that dogs have a set of emotions akin to our own. "There's just dogs" is something I have heard a few times.
Dog owners, or anyone that spends a large amount of time with dogs, will often acknowledge seeing a wider range of emotions than non-dog owners. It is great that these are recognised.
They are typically the common emotions that food, play and discipline produce. Namely, excitement, impatience, and feeling sorry for themselves. All expressed in different ways depending on the dog. Charlie, my in-laws Bichon-Frise is a very vocal chap.
However, most people are unaware of exactly how sensory a dog is. And, just how much their environment and daily interactions can affect their emotional well-being.
Dogs are extremely social animals and have a strong desire to belong. They want to feel part of the family. They need the care and company of their owners, otherwise they can become unhappy and even depressed. Regular walks, play, petting and even talking to your pet pooch will keep your dog content. This does not have to be constant attention, after all dogs will sleep an average 18 hours a day.
Most dogs love nothing better than to play and run with other dogs. Some are not as sociable as others. Each has their own boundaries that owners should learn, and be aware of. Racing greyhounds generally do not socialise with other breeds during their careers. My adopted retiree is social awkward.
Forcing a dog into a situation he or she is extremely uncomfortable with is not a good approach. If a dog is more introverted socially, a gradual introduction process should be carefully thought out.
Read more on useful introduction methods.
Giving a dog plenty of opportunities to socialise with others is not only great for their physical fitness. They will also enjoy mental stimulation and continue to grow their social skills and confidence.
A Safe Space
Besides affection, physical exercise and food; another important consideration is their rest area or bed. All dogs need a calm space where they can go to feel safe and sleep. Dogs are den animals. They retreat to a den area in the wild when they want to relax, rest and rear young.
This is also an excellent space an owner can place their dog if they become over-excited and need to calm down. It is worth bearing in mind this should never be treated as a punishment. A dog will become confused associating the space with negative feelings.
Crates are a good option, especially covered with a blanket to make the inside dark. Really, anywhere they can go which is quiet and free from unexpected intruders works just fine.
Maintaining a Routine
Routines, training and positive reinforcement are all part of what goes into making a happy dog. Being a dog owner myself, my greyhound’s body clock has become attuned to the routines that we have around walks, dinner time and even remote working schedule.
Tipps, my grey, starts to whine when he knows I am close to finishing work for the day. He knows he will get cuddles on the sofa before I start cooking the evening meal. When I have a job which is taking me longer than normal to complete, Tipps will let me know that he is not impressed. He has been waiting patiently until now to get my attention and now it is his turn.
The routine works for both of us. Since we adopted our retiree from his rehoming centre he has become familiar with his meals times. He is no longer desperate to claim any food that is around regardless to whether it is his or not. The first week he came home every crumb was a opportunity, but he soon relaxed knowing regular feeds were part of life.
Recognising a Happy Hound
Recognising that your dog is happy is relatively easy. Much in the same way we recognise happiness in people, it is obvious just by looking at them. It is evident in their bright eyes, glossy coats and wagging tails.
A healthy body generally leads to a healthy mind. Being physically in good shape is a responsibility that an owner should take seriously. Many people unknowingly overfeed their pets, some even think a chubby companion is cute.
However, extra weight can have a big impact of a dog’s ability to move around and play, which reduces the amount of mental stimulation they have daily. Being bored and overweight is not fun for anyone and this is true for a dog too.
Relaxed and content dogs have a relaxed posture, loose muscles rather than tight or stiff. Their eyes are a dead give away as to how they are feeling.
Chilled out dogs will look around or directly as a person with a soft gaze, instead of narrowed eyes and a hard stare. Their ears will be loose and floppy, some may be pricked which shows signs of interest but not stress. And their mouths will often show those great big smiles that we all fall in love with.
Recognising a Un-happy Hound
Recognising that your dog is unhappy can be a little more trickier. Some may think that a dog is just being quiet or even worse, disobedient.
However dogs can shows sign of fear and distress in many ways. Understanding that a dog has emotional needs and what to look out for is key to a happy home for both dog and owner.
Most dogs are not naughty, many are (without a doubt) cheeky but they can all be trained. In fact, the majority will thoroughly enjoy the training process when it is conducted with structure and positive reinforcement.
Training that focusing on punishment as a way to deter a behaviour can be successful but it can cause long term emotional problems. Fear is a very powerful emotion and should not be used to make an animal, or person, behave in a certain way.
Understanding Why Your Dog is un-happy
It is not just the obvious cases of abuse that can make a dog demonstrate characteristics associated with being unhappy. Changes in the home environment can have a large impact on a dog. The home is where they feel most safe and if this becomes tense or unwelcoming it will make your dog unhappy.
Moving home can be an unsettling experience for a dog and if a new arrival to the family, either human or animal, is introduced they may need a little reassurance that they are just as loved as ever. Being ignored or neglected is probably one of the worse feeling that a dog can experience due to that strong need to be included and belong to a family unit.
Signs To Look For
If your dog is feeling unhappy, insecure or fearful they will exhibit signs such as cringing, body tension, shrinking back and avoiding all eye contact. A dog will become withdrawn. They can be reluctant to eat or lose interest in play.
Typically when scared, you might also see ears being pinned back to the head, bared teeth and narrowed eyes with an intent stare.
When a dog is bored or has a lack of mental stimulation they will often display signs that are commonly mistaken for bad behaviour. Chewing, destructive behaviour, whining and even barking. In some extreme cases dogs will start urinating in the home.
Past puppy training, this is a clear indicator that something is wrong as dogs are clean animals and will typically not go to the toilet in their own home. Owners should always consider the amount of mental stimulation their dogs has daily.
Dogs that have a high play drive can be left with interactive toys to keep them busy and mentally engaged when home alone. It is incredible what a difference these can make.
Always Check for Medical Conditions
If a dog is showing any of the above mentioned signs and there is no obvious reason why, a visit to the vets could be necessary.
Even when we know a dog has emotional needs and are these are being met. Dogs that are unwell will change their habits and probably act out in ways that they wouldn't normally.
Please read A guide to dog parasites for more information on common parasites that can be treated easily at home.
If all medical results come back negative seeking out the help of experts in Canine Behaviour and Canine Training is a good next step. Owners do not know what they do not know, and some basic changes could have a dramatic effect of the quality of life for both dog and owner.