As humans, we often place a great deal of concern on our mental well being due to the impact it has on our overall performance. That said, have you ever given thought to the mental health of your dog?
In our role as pet owners, we make sure that our dogs:
- eat right
- are properly vaccinated
- are physically healthy
Dogs, being the living creatures that they are, also have their mental health that affects their performance. Behavioral patterns and problems that present themselves in dogs are often linked to their mental state.
Canines need the freedom to express their natural behavior. Drawing on instinct from their ancestors, dogs are creatures that are meant to roam and explore their surroundings, much like the wolves they descended from. Due to modern society, however, the space needed for canines to roam properly isn’t exactly easy to attain in most places. As pet caretakers, we must find substitutes that can keep our canine companions happy and stimulated.
Finding out and understanding your dog’s emotions and behaviors are the key to discovering what works best for them. Granting your dog the freedom it desires to be itself and behave naturally will lead to a positive response.
The Psychology of Dogs
Temple Grandin, a renowned expert and authority on animal welfare, outlines the emotions that animals are born within her book Animals Make Us Human. These emotions dubbed the “Four Blue Ribbon Emotions” are: seeking, rage, fear, and panic. Rage, fear, and panic are the emotions you do not want to stimulate in your dog. Doing so will only produce negative results for both the pet and pet owner.
Rather than the negative emotions, we wish to elicit that seeking within our pets. When it comes to dogs, seeking refers to the basic impulse to search, investigate, and make sense of one’s environment. Dogs naturally have a strong desire and need to stimulate the seeking emotion within them: enabling this will lead to positive mental health in your canine.
The seeking sense in a dog is comprised of a few different emotions and behaviors: wanting something, looking forward to getting something, and curiosity.
Every dog needs to play and seek, regardless of its behavioral temperament. Playing games with your dog will activate that seeking desire and instinct within them.
Here are some ways you can stimulate that seeking desire within your dog:
- The key to playing with your dog is to keep it exciting and fun! Whether you buy toys or make toys, it’s good to have a variety of them on hand and rotate them around. Old toys get boring for them; new toys are fun and exciting! Play with them every day if possible; it can be anything from chasing balls to a game of tug-of-war.
- Take long walks with your dog. The focus here should be more on exploration than on marching along with your canine companion. Exploring new locations and sniffing to their heart’s content is an exciting adventure for dogs; it helps them understand the new environment they find themselves in a while supplementing that desire to seek. If possible, you should also create opportunists for your dog to explore off-leash. This gives them full control over their exploration, generating a more natural seeking for them.
- Teach your dog new tricks! Doing so will exercise their mind and activate their desire to seek.
Ways to Provide Activity for your Dog
As pet caretakers, we have to generate opportunities for our dogs to stimulate their seeking emotion. If you’re at a loss for ideas, here are a few things I do with my dog:
- We play a game called “Find It.” I take a special treat (one with a distinct smell), not one of her usual biscuits, and show it to her before saying, “We’re going to play find it!” She knows the phrase by now and sits in a position waiting for me to hide it around the house. Once I hide the treat, I walk back to my dog and tell her “Find it!” She then dashes off around the house in a happy frenzy, sniffing everything until she picks up on the treat’s scent before finally locating it.
- Snuffle Mats. These are toys made of fleece material, strips of fabric are attached to a mat and interact as a bunch of flaps. They serve as a hindrance while hiding the treat beneath the fabric strips, giving your dog an interactive meal, and providing a challenge. Snuffle mats are both mentally stimulating and an easy way to kick-start that seeking sense in your dog.
- Puzzle toys. One such toy I use with my dog is a wooden puzzle with knobs that can slide, revealing a hole beneath it. The objective here is to set out treats in select holes and have your dog move the knobs across the board to find the treat. Activities such as these are extremely easy to set up and help provide stimulation for your dog’s mind.
Regardless of where you are, how much space you have, or financial limitations, there are ways for you to provide positive stimulation for your dog. By helping your canine companion fulfill its desire to seek, you are generating a positive emotion that will help to reinforce its mental health.
Be the caretaker your dogs deserve and help them live their best lives.