Canine emotional well-being: making dogs' lives the best they can be
The second post in our week-long series to mark Love Your Pet day - all about different aspects of the emotional well-being of dogs by canine behaviour expert, Penel Malby. Over to Penel ...
We all want to make our dogs' lives better - more enriched, more fun and less stressful. In times gone by, long, long ago, when I was a kid in the 1970s, our dogs could control many aspects of their lives – many of them came and went as they pleased.
Latchkey dogs were the norm not so many years ago! Anyone remember this must watch tv series from the 80s? Dogs would wander & socialise as they pleased, completely unsupervised by humans. Since then, life has really changed for our much loved companions.
The reality is that most of us have to have some kind of routine for our dogs, which involves controlling many aspects of their lives. What they eat, where they sleep, when they sleep, when they exercise, where they exercise, who they interact with, what they wear (or not). If your dog could choose, what would they choose to do more of, or less of? More walks, more cafe, more friends (human and / or dog), more sniffing?
My approach to my own dogs is to try my hardest to give them an enriched, balanced life. They can mostly choose what they like to eat, if they don’t like something, I usually offer them something else. I wouldn't want to eat the same food day after day! I feed them foods that they like because I want them to be happy with their food. I don't see it as fussy although I know many people would – there's usually a reason they want to eat something else. This has to be within reason of course as, given the choice, Hobson would have a burger every day!
Giving a dog some variety in their diet is an easy change that will enrich their life and make meal times more interesting. You can add something like a sardine, a boiled or a raw egg, a spoonful of yoghurt (we like goats yoghurt), some cooked fresh meat (sliced roast beef?), some roasted veggies, fresh fruit, a bit of goats cheese. Put the 'new' food separate to their regular food so you can really be sure they like it, and if they don't like it, they can leave it.
If you're having a roast dinner, save some for the dog, they will love it! Be sure to avoid any foods that are harmful to dogs - Battersea has a useful list of common foods that are toxic for dogs.
Years ago we would bump into a lovely chap walking his dog who wore wellies every single day even in the hot summer. He would let his little dog choose where they walked every day - literally let the dog walk in front and the man would follow the little dog.
Letting your dog lead your walk together is an enormous freedom for them, a release from the structure that we impose on their natural instinct to explore, be sure it's safe to do so - common dog sense must prevail!
I vary my dog walks so although the dogs don't choose whether it's the beach or the woods (because I drive the car!), I hope the variety enriches their lives. Even if you do the same walk on most days, simple changes such as doing the walk anti-clockwise instead of clockwise can make the walk more interesting.
Hugely important to dogs is SNIFFING - it's so, so important. Please let your dog sniff! Sniffing is their primary way to communicate with the world - it's their social media! If you change one thing after reading this, let it be the prolonged sniff! Sniffing tells our dogs who has been there before them, it's like reading another dog's bio.
Birdie (my Labrador) adores Scentwork (also known as Nose Work), so I take her to a Scentwork class once a week and we practise at home. Sniffing is hugely beneficial to dogs on all kinds of levels. Charley Chau wrote a blog on New Year's resolutions - five ideas for you and your dog and it includes a quick introductory video to starting Scentwork at home.
When my dogs are on the lead, I don't insist on one side or the other, unless we are walking next to a road in which case I try to keep them on my inside furthest away from the road. Better to vary it so that they are more physically balanced – those of you who do Pilates or Yoga, will know we always do everything on both sides – well it's the same with dogs. Also, I am perfectly happy with them walking in front of me, as long as I'm not getting dragged along!
While we're on the subject of walking, have a think about the 'equipment' your dog wears.
Does your dog like wearing their collar or harness? Or do they move away when you try to put it on them? If they move away, have a think why and is there anything you can do to change the association from bad to good.
If you have a dog who needs to wear a coat or jumper to keep warm, do they like wearing it, do they like having it put on? If not, why not? Do they really need to wear it? Our little Whippet Cross, Gracie, needed to wear a jumper in winter or she'd freeze, but my English Setters would be absolutely boiling hot if I made them wear a jumper or a coat. Yes, they get a bit muddy but we have a warm outdoor hose which they willingly stand still for untethered (in exchange for a treat) feet washing.
Hobson & Elmo (my Setters) are very bird driven, they love to set (stalk) birds on the beach or in the woods, so I make sure we let them do that several times a week. Hobson is a therapy dog, so once a week we do that too. I try to meet all their needs as individuals as well as group activities like walking together. Anything that increases their happiness is good!
Hopefully these things will help you consider what you could do to make their lives even better than they already are, let us know what you think, we'd love to hear about the changes you're making.
© Penel Malby 2023
Look out tomorrow for another insightful blog from Penel in this series on canine emotional well-being to mark Love Your Pet Day!
Penel Malby is canine behaviour expert, writer, phoographer, and all round dog enthusiast who lives in Norfolk with her husband and English Setters Hobson and Elmo, and Birdie the Labrador. Penel trained dogs and cats on movie sets for the first 10 years of her career as a dog trainer and behaviourist, before co-founding a renowned dog training and behaviour company in Surrey as a member of PACT and the ABTC. Many dog lovers have seen some of Penel's other dog-related work as she was the cover photographer for Dogs Today and Dogs Monthly magazines for many years. Penel writes on many subjects to do with dogs with the intention of making both the lives of dogs and their owners better.
Usually found walking with her dogs along the beaches and through the woods of Norfolk near her home, Penel runs an English Setter training group on Facebook and you can follow Penel and her gang at The Daily Hobson.