Dogs have been known as man’s best friend for centuries now, and it easy to see why. They are loyal, loving and devoted companions.
Like humans, dogs are at their happiest, and healthiest, when all their essential needs are being met. Staying happy and healthy increases their, and our, chances of living longer.
A dog’s basic needs are the same as our own. They are; food and water, shelter and comfort, exercise and play, a sense of belonging and, of course, love and affection. All these needs should be met by dog owners daily.
Whilst the aforementioned are a generic set of needs, each dog will have their own individual levels or specific requirements. And on top of this, they will have personal wants and desires.
Food and Water
All creatures need food and water to survive. Domesticated dogs rely on their owners to be the providers of a healthy, well-balanced diet.
We know that eating fast food regularly can have a negative impact on our bodies. We see this in our skin, hair, weight and overall well being. It is the same for dogs.
Taking the time to put together a nutritious, and delicious source of food is essential for a happy hound. A dog who eats regularly; enjoys their food; and is fed a varied and balanced diet will be healthy in both mind and body.
Their skin will be in good condition and their coats shiny. They will be bright-eyed and have clean, well-maintained teeth. Their weight will be optimal for their breed and height. Energy levels will be good and they will have an infectious thirst for life.
Most adult dogs should be fed twice a day, once in the morning and again in the evening. Two feeds, rather than one, is better for a stable metabolism and aids with digestion. It can be a strain on the digestive system to go 24hrs between meals.
Dogs love routine. They will quickly pick up on scheduled meal times and will feel safe in the knowledge that they will be fed again.
Always ensure there is fresh, clean water available. Refresh the water bowl each morning and evening, even if the water has not been drunk – drinking stale water is not nice.
Shelter and Comfort
All dogs need shelter. They need a space where they will be shielded from the elements and where they can feel safe.
I am a firm believer that dogs should be kept in the family home, rather than outside. This is because dogs are extremely social and are happier when in the company of their human family.
My personal opinion is that forcing a dog to live outside in its own mental isolation is physiologically damaging. However, I know there are owners who believe a dog belongs outside. The most important thing is that they have properly provided for, whatever the home set up.
Some breeds are more stout than others. My greyhound is extremely sensitive. He feels the cold and is uncomfortable on hard surfaces for prolonged periods of time. He needs warm, soft bedding and if I don’t provide it then I am likely to lose any chance of a seat on the sofa.
It is important for dogs that live inside the family home, to have a private space that is their “safe haven”. Crates, kennels and beds should be kept in a quiet area where a dog can retreat to.
We all need our own space from time to time and the same is true for dogs. When snuggled away, their peaceful sanctuary should not be intruded. It should be respected and they should be left alone to enjoy their nap-time.
A dog’s bed or crate should not be used as a form of punishment for bad behaviour. Dogs will start to form negative connections with their bedding area if used in this way. They will start to feel unsettled and become reluctant to go there.
Some owners may confuse their unwillingness to go to bed, settle and sleep as disobedience when actually they are just worried. Always use a separate area for banishment or punishment.
Exercise & Play
Regular exercise and mental stimulation through physical play is important for dogs. Adequate exercise has an extensive list of benefits and is essential for well-being and social skills.
Failure to maintain a good routine of exercise can lead to a host of health issues such as obesity, muscle degeneration, arthritis and heart disease, to name a few.
The above-mentioned conditions are obvious consequences to a lack of exercise, but interestingly, behavioural issues also come from an inactive lifestyle and are often not considered. A bored dog is quite often a disruptive dog, or even worse, a depressed dog.
Dedicating some time and effort to “playtime” will reduce behavioural problems and result in a happy healthy dog. Being ignored and left to sit around all day with little or no interaction with others would not be enjoyable for a child, or us, and it is exactly the same for a dog.
Interactive toys are also good mental stimulation for dogs when owners may not have the time they want to interact, or are away from the house.
Some dogs will sleep the day away, whereas some breeds are more active and demanding. All need exercise and play. Generally, the more that is provided, the more harmonious home life with a dog will be.
Sense of Belonging
Dogs have a natural urge to want to belong to a family unit.
When in the wild, most will remain with their parents and siblings until the time comes to mate and have their own family.
Even when born straight into domesticated life this sense of belonging is still strong.
The loyalty and love that makes dog “man’s best friend” is genuine and unwavering. Anyone who has ever owed a dog can attest to that.
They have the capacity for the kind of unconditional love that is otherwise only seen between humans and their children. Dogs do not just see their owners as just their source of food and occasion playmate they see them as their parents and companions through life.
Studies have shown that people are happiest when they feel connected to social groups and have good connections with others around them. The feeling of not belonging or being lonely leads to unhappiness and depression.
This is the same for dogs. They thrive, as humans do, from interaction, attention and feeling wanted and liked. Our dogs feel a lot of the same emotions we do, I think this is why they understand us so well.
Love and Affection
Every dog craves love and affection! It’s been scientifically proven. Studies have shown that when dogs are in physical contact with their owners or families, their brains release the ‘pleasure chemical’ dopamine in exactly the same way as our human brains do when we feel happy and relaxed and with the people we love.
The love and adoration I feel for my greyhound Tipps goes beyond a mere fondness for my walking companion. I worry about him, do all I can to ensure his comfort and take pleasure in seeing him happy and content. We all know that humans are capable of love but are dogs?
Some argue that dogs do not have the emotional awareness to really love. The proof, they say, is that if a pet dog were to be handed to new owners they would transfer their emotions of “love” to the new family and be just as content if treated the same way. I find this argument rather ridiculous.
Do people not endure failed relationships but learn to love again? Thankfully, we see adopted children love a new family and lead happy lives. Comparing dogs to humans works both ways. Yes, they would eventually grow to love their new owners. However, I am convinced they will pine for their old family before moving on and mourn their loss of their people they loved.
It is with this belief that I know Tipps loves me too, He worries about me and wants to protect me. Granted, he probably isn’t as keen to give up his spot on the sofa for my comfort, but we have a bond based on love for one another.
I understand him like no other and he can read my feelings. It is similar to that of my human partner. If a dog can love than they undoubtedly need love and affection in their lives.