This is a very common quote for anyone who lives with dogs! The old school thinking was that if you keep a puppy busy, they won't destroy your house. The problem with this is that busy is not always healthy. If you are or have been a parent of school aged kids, you know what it's like to try to fit in school, homework, sports, family time and everything else into your week only to hit the weekend and be too exhausted to do anything fun with your family. Eventually you start eliminating the things in your busy week that seem less important to you, whether that is sports, music, family dinner time...we all fade out the things that are not as high priority in an attempt to be able to survive the week without being so exhausted at the end of the week. As parents of children or dogs we know how mentally draining it can be to run in exhaustion mode for too long. That is true for our dogs too!
Puppies are not pre-programed to be able to self sooth and take a nap when they are tired. Adolescent dogs that play a high speed game of ball every day (or 2-3 times a day) become super athletes that then then need that exercise every day in order for their brain to function normally. If you make it your goal in your day to day life with your dog to keep them tired with activities and exercise, they begin to need more and more and more. While exercise is important, it's not the end all, be all that our dogs need most every day!
Our dogs need exercise for sure, but they also need naps, challenging brain work in the form of games and training, bonding or social time with their family and friends. Meeting our dog's needs are way more important to creating a happy dog then keeping them physically exhausted all the time. This image of the Hierarchy of Dog Needs is a great example of what it takes to meet our dog's needs for more then just exercise.
In this chart, we start at the bottom of the pyramid with biological needs. This is something most of us take care of automatically with some of the basics; food, water, shelter a place to potty. But this also includes exercise, feeling safe, grooming, and veterinary care. Many dog owners tend to get stuck at this level, often feeling overwhelmed by trying to meet these basic needs and then move into response mode dealing with the challenges that present themselves in the form of behaviors we don't like. This leaves us on the human end of the leash always living in reaction mode or searching for ways to correct the "bad" behaviors.
The easiest way to get rid of those pesky behaviors is to make our way up the pyramid to take care of our dog's other needs. So let's move into the blue section to see if we are meeting all of our dog's emotional needs. To meet our dog's emotional needs we have to first make sure they can feel safe and secure in the environments we are asking them to be in. If they don't feel safe, they are not going to be a mental state to learn. We also have to work towards teaching them to love and trust their person or handler, which is easy for most dogs unless they have a history of abuse or living alone away from people. If you have a fearful or untrusting dog, you really need to work one on one with a Certified Behavior Consultant, like myself, to help you create a plan designed specifically for your dog. For the average dog, I build love and trust in the games I play during training sessions to help develop that handler/dog bond. The last thing our dogs need on an emotional level is some consistency or routine that allows them to learn what we as people of expect of them in certain situations. For more on understanding emotions, check out this blog post "Understanding K-9 emotions and how emotions can effect your dog's behaviors." and this video in our FAD Workshop from March: "Understanding Emotions Better!"
Moving up into the dark blue section, we can learn about our dog's social needs. This one becomes more challenging because this is more on a dog by dog as an individual case basis. All dogs have social needs, but those needs vary from dog to dog. Some dogs really only desire to be social with their immediate family and a select a favorite person they want to be with most. Other dogs like to socialize with other dogs but not people or vice versa, they like to socialize with people but not other dogs. We have to learn what our dog enjoys most in order to understand and provide for their social needs. Azul needs to play with his doggy friends about a once a week to take care of his canine social needs and is happy to interact with people but doesn't seem to need to interact with people as much as he did when he was younger.
Next up is the red section, Force Free Training needs. It's common for us owners to think that if our dog is doing something that we don't like, then we need to spend more time training. But it's also important to remember that we need to make sure all of their other needs are met before we enter a training session. We can accomplish more during that training session if our dogs are feeling safe, calm, and happy when start the session. Creating fun, force free training sessions often encourages our dogs to engage with us fully which is what we want when we are trying to train a new behavior or expand on a previously learned behavior.
The last section, in purple, is cognitive needs and probably the one thing, we as owners tend to forget about when we are frustrated that our dog just did "...." yet again. Often you can address their cognitive or mental needs while doing other activities that satisfy other sections in the pyramid. If you are providing a snuffle mat or snuffle box for meal time, you can take care of a biological need along with a cognitive need. The games that I like to play during training sessions, often take care of this need as well. And on a rainy day, or day you don't feel good, a game of Find It can be a great mental challenge that will help your dog to relax more easily after.
So before you decide to take your dog for a 5 mile jog every day or chuck a tennis ball for 30 min, 3 times a day, consider if you are meeting their other needs first. Meeting your dog's daily needs is the quickest way to getting a dog that is happy to be with and do more of the behaviors you really want them to do!