A Lesson With Laura – What does your dog REALLY need?
By Ash Tree Vets | 31st May 2019
This month I am encouraging you to think about what your dog really needs to be a happy well balanced canine.
There are certain things that all dogs need, and if we were to make a list of any dogs daily needs we would likely think of the most obvious things such as food, a walk, and the company of humans and / or other dogs. These things are very important for dogs and quite rightly should be on any list of ‘what a dog needs’. However, just like people not all dogs are the same and the needs of one dog can differ greatly from the needs of another. This variation in the needs of one dog compared to another can alter not only between breeds or types of dogs, but also between individuals of the same breed.
Whenever I am working with a new dog I always try to find out which of the ‘needs’ is most important for that dog. Putting food aside; because all dogs require food to survive (although some dogs love food more than others!) this is the list of needs that I am considering:
- Physical exercise eg. going for a walk every day, agility training, running off lead
- Mental stimulation eg. trick training, obedience training, hide and seek games, activity feeders, play.
- Environmental eg. going to new places, taking different routes when walking, car rides, trips to the pet shop, visiting family.
- Social eg. spending quality time with owners, greeting other people or dogs on walks, doggy day care, having company during the day.
Once I have assessed the dogs personality, it’s likes and dislikes, I can prioritise the list above to ensure that the dog is receiving exactly what it needs as an individual and not just what we think it needs.
Let’s take the example of my own dogs and how I prioritise their needs (because who doesn’t love talking about their own dogs!)
My 10.5 year old Labrador
- Physical exercise. Without a doubt physical exercise is at the top of the list for my Labrador, who despite being nearly 11 years old loves a long walk and finds it difficult to settle unless she has been out for a leg stretch and a sniff. This priority has never changed and although we don’t walk as far as we used to we still go out for a walk at least once every day without fail.
- Environmental / social. These two are equally important! She loves going to new places for walks, LOVES people (will lick anybody to death), enjoys walks with dogs she knows well and loves a car ride. My dog would be truly miserable if she never interacted with other people or if we went for the same walk every day.
- Mental stimulation. Although she enjoys training sessions she is a bit of an old hat at this now and can get bored easily so we keep training sessions short and sweet. Being a Labrador she still enjoys anything to do with food so most of her mental stimulation comes from enrichment feeding using activity feeders like the ones we sell in reception.
My 5 year old Miniature Dachshund
- Mental stimulation. Without daily mental stimulation this guy makes bad choices and invests time in inappropriate behaviours. I prioritise mental stimulation for this dog which means that he doesn’t always get a walk every day, which is fine as long as he gets plenty of brain work. Clicker training sessions, scent work and enrichment feeding are just a few of the things that we try to cram in to each day to ensure that he gets what he needs. He also LOVES to play with toys and so has an ample supply of toys to chase, chew, shred and carry around.
- Physical exercise. Despite his little legs he does enjoy a lengthy walk, as long as we are somewhere quiet and familiar (see below). He would be happy with four to five walks a week though rather than every day.
- Social. For this dog social means being around us and other familiar people, he is unfortunately very nervous of strangers and can be reactive towards people he doesn’t know. Taking him to busy places with lots of people and other dogs would be far too stressful for him. He loves nothing more than a snuggle on the sofa before bedtime though!
- Environmental. As he becomes anxious in new places and the car isn’t his favourite place (although we are working on this!), we tend to do the same familiar walks and don’t take him anywhere that he doesn’t need to go.
As you can see, although they live together, both of my dogs are very different and so require very different lifestyles.
Understandably this can be difficult in a multi- dog household, especially when time is limited due to work or other commitments but if we take a moment to really think about what our dogs need and prioritise the things they need most we can ensure that they stay as happy and healthy for as long as possible.
It is important to remember that your dog’s needs may change during their lifetime, older dogs may require less physical exercise but need more mental stimulation, so it is important to reassess your dog’s needs regularly.
I’d love to hear about some of your dogs and the lists you come up with!
Email me at email@example.com or post your list and a photo to our facebook page