The mental health of our Dogs is something all Dog owners need to be thinking about. We consider them part of our family and make sure that we provide them with what they need to be healthy with regards to their bodies. The mental life of our Dogs has not had as much attention- probably because it is hard to assess and address. But we are learning about the mental health of humans, other animals and Dogs all the time and we know there are things that we can do. So here are 4 things worth considering and implementing for your Dog.
1. Meet your Dog’s physical needs.
That is provide healthy nutritious food in suitable amounts. Feed to your Dog’s body condition- have a chat to your veterinary nurse about body condition scoring charts. These can help you assess if your Dog is plump or too thin. Provide clean fresh water in abundance. If you have ever been thirsty, you know how uncomfortable it can be. Look after their coats- especially if they have very long or very thick coats. Knots and itches are uncomfortable. Chronic skin problems lower the ability of the Dog to cope in general- it is hard to feel happy when you are itchy. Provide suitable levels of exercise for your Dog. Exercising feels good- those feel endorphins happen for Dogs too.
So that is all the physical stuff out of the way. It is obvious but it is worth stating. It feels good to be comfortably tired, cosy, well fed and watered and clean. Knowing these things are reliably going to happen reduces stress.
2. Provide social interactions for your Dog.
Dogs are social creatures. They have evolved to be social because it helps them survive better- just like humans- we work better as a group than alone. But this is where the nuance comes in- not every Dog likes the same amount of social interaction. They are just like us in this regard. We recognise that some people are introverts- they are not overly fond of company and are happy with close family and friends and being alone. Some Dogs are like this too. They prefer a quiet one on one walk or training than a day out at a Dog day care centre. Some Dogs prefer humans over the company of Dogs while others prefer Dogs over unfamiliar humans. Meet your Dogs needs. If you work long hours and have an extravert, group Dog walks and Dog day care are great. But if your Dog is an introvert- perhaps a one-on-one Dog walk would be better. And when you are home- make time for your Dog doing stuff they like.
3. Send your Dog to work.
Some of you may laugh at this heading. Dogs need to do stuff. They are a hunting- scavenging animal so evolved to spend their days fossicking around looking for stuff to eat. It may have taken some digging or tearing to get to the food. Nowadays, many Dogs live in a small space and food is easy to get- it falls into a bowl once or twice a day. So what is a Dog to do? Without fingers they can’t learn to knit or work the computer gaming controls. Ideas for work may be training. This may be training for organised Dog sports or activities such as visiting elderly people or hospitals or it might be learning useful, helpful tasks around the house (picking up socks, finding the remote, helping carry prunings in the garden and, of course, fetching the paper). It may also be learning cute and fun tricks. The skies the limit and the internet has lots of fun and instructional videos- just match the tricks to your Dog’s abilities.
4. Dog hobbies are something else.
These are activities your Dog does because they enjoy them. Many Dogs enjoy digging and tearing stuff up. So provide safe environments where your Dog can legitimately undertake these activities. Perhaps a digging pit (use woodchips rather than sand- much easier to clean up). Provide cardboard boxes with and without treats and toys inside for your Dog to tear up. Give them bones and other chewing items for those who like to chew. Watch what your Dog likes to do and see if you can provide them opportunities to do these things. Your Dog will think you are a great human.
Dr Jacqui Ley is a Registered Specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine – that is she is a veterinarian who works with animalswho have mental health disorders.