Kind Corner: Behavioural Wellness
We begin our Kind Corner guest series with a post by Christina Young, owner and trainer at Positive Dogs. Christina explains the importance of behavioural wellness in dogs, and what we can do to support it.
Let’s get reading!
What is Behavioural Wellness?
The term “behavioural wellness” refers to an approach to health that involves the mental, physical, social, and emotional well-being of individuals.
Our dogs have needs other than food, water and shelter in order to be mentally balanced. If their needs are not met, even a well-thought-out basic training or behaviour modiﬁcation plan, may not be successful. By meeting all of our dogs’ needs, we help them be in a mental and physical state where they CAN learn. Nutrition and veterinary care are also important, but your veterinarian will be able to guide you best in those areas.
Dogs evolved by following nomads’ camps scavenging for food, and evading larger predators. As we domesticated them, we gave them jobs such as hunting, herding, retrieving, and guarding. In today’s western world, most dogs no longer have a job and no longer have to scavenge for food or avoid predators. This leaves our dogs with busy, intelligent brains that are often underused.
We meet our dog’s needs by providing behaviour opportunities.
Food puzzles are one of many ways to provide opportunities for your dog to use their natural behaviours, but be sure to keep the challenges fresh. Puzzles that a dog knows how to solve are no longer mental stimulating. ‘Keep Busy’ exercises are often confused with mental stimulation; consider the diﬀerences in human mental stimulation between scrolling social media versus taking an online course.
Dogs require freedom of movement where they can choose to walk, sniﬀ, trot or run. This is not the same as wrestling with their buddies, fetching, going for a run alongside a bike, or walking around the neighbourhood on a leash. Those activities have their own merits, but they don’t satisfy the dog in the same way that free-movement exercise does.
Requirements for decompression exercise:
- Ideally, oﬀ-leash, but on a long line if oﬀ-leash isn’t feasible. Any exercise on a 6’ or shorter leash simply does not count as decompression exercise.
- Natural setting. Forest trails are great, so are school ﬁelds, quiet country roads clear of barking dogs and cars, etc. A dog that lives in the city and is easily stimulated may need to be driven to ﬁnd suitable locations.
- Duration. For many dogs, decompression walks can be 2 to 3 hours. A good rule is if a dog is wild at the start of the walk, how long does it take for them to settle down and just ‘go for a walk’? However long that takes, it is halfway. If it takes 45 minutes for a dog to stop being a wild child, the walk could be 90 minutes.
- Frequency. As often as possible. This varies by dog. Some dogs beneﬁt from this daily; others ﬁnd twice a week suﬃcient. A dog that has not had their decompression needs met over a long period will need more. As a dog becomes satiated (and this could take months), your dog will require less. Once the dog’s needs are satisﬁed over a period of time, we can move to a less frequent ‘maintenance’ exercise schedule.
Dogs need a lot of sleep. A LOT. Many dogs aren’t resting well either through the day or even through the night. Be sure a dog has adequate downtime in a quiet area of the home. Without adequate rest, a dog is not prepared to face the challenges of day-to-day life.
If a dog has a heightened startle response that prevents them from getting the rest they need, a veterinarian can be consulted to discuss pharmaceutical help.
Dogs are social creatures and need time with their people. In multiple dog homes, be sure that each dog is given their special time and that a pushier dog isn’t limiting the other’s access to human contact. Sometimes an insecure dog might appear as though they like solitude when they are actually anxious about the other pets, children, sounds, etc., in the vicinity.
A lifestyle that promotes behavioural wellness is a rewarding experience for our dogs and an opportunity for us to share quality time with them.
Behavioural wellness involves providing them with opportunities for mental stimulation, decompression exercise, rest and social contact. Give it a try!
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