Friday, October 13, 2023

Changing Needs

 Finding Balance with Changing Needs

With Fall weather changes and winter rapidly approaching, it's a perfect time to look at our dog's needs and our abilities to meet those needs as best we can. In a perfect world, our dogs would be totally content to simply be with us and do what we were doing when we wanted to do that. Yet everyone knows we do not live in a perfect world. 

Perhaps we have to work at a job where our dog can't go with us and must stay home...
Perhaps we have a dog that is fearful and doesn't enjoy going out to new places or around strangers...
Perhaps we have a medical issue that is preventing us for doing our regular exercise routine with our dogs...
Perhaps we live in an area that really harsh winters making walking or other outdoor activities harder...

When we do not live in a perfect world and perhaps can't do the things we want to do with our dogs, we need to look at what do our dogs really need vs what can we really provide them to find a balance that helps everyone to stay as happy and healthy as possible.

What does your dog need?

I think we can all agree that dogs have physical, social, mental, and emotional needs. Dogs are unique individuals and their needs are just as individualized. I discussed this in another blog specifically on Understanding Your Dog's Needs. And you can learn about the Hierarchy of Canine Needs if you want to know more! For this post I want to focus on how needs may change with age, health, weather, environment, and other factors then take a look at how we can change our plan to better meet the needs of our individual dog.

Age, Health, & Physical Needs

As many of you know, Azul recently went through his neuter surgery at 3.5 yrs old. Generally Azul is a pretty laid back, calmer dog who is happy if he gets 30-60 minutes of sniff-a-bout time and 4-10 minutes of zoomies or play time in a day. Post surgery requirements called for 10 days of slow leash walks up to 20 minute walks. As with many dog owners, this was tough because Azul did not want to take things this slow and let his body heel! Plus we had a few additional hurdles of Azul's a Service Dog, used to going with me when I leave the house and we had to avoid stairs and jumps such as getting in/out of the car.

Finding Balance is all about meeting the dog where they are and adjusting the plan based on their individual needs. This means that I basically cleared my schedule so that I could stay home and sit on the couch with Azul as long as he needed that down time. Sure I could leave him home with dad, but Azul would have wanted to move a whole lot more without me home, so I made the commitment to stay home as long as Azul needed. (Thankfully I can do that since I work for myself!) 

Day 1 Azul was still impacted by anesthesia and struggled to walk up right. This means if he stood up, so did I and I pretty much followed him to get a drink, to go outside, etc. We spent most of the time resting on his bed near the couch, but he also wanted to spend time outside so I put a bed on the porch for him too where we could sit and soak in fresh air. The walk down into the backyard was exhausting so once he went potty, he laid down to take a nap in the backyard which had me sitting in the grass beside him while he snoozed, then we went back inside when Azul was ready.

After Day 1 was when it really started to get tough to meet Azul's needs. Day 2 he wanted to live in the backyard although he still wasn't moving real fast. However, with his stitches, I really didn't want him laying on the ground, which means we had to find ways to meet Azul's needs indoors. Thankful his appetite was returning so we fed all his means in fun enrichment ways; his topples, find it games, lickmats, etc. By Day 3, Azul wanted to run and a certain chipmunk enemy was trying to hangout in the backyard. Instead we took multiple longline walks up around the barn, in the front yard, around the apple orchard, all places on our property or neighboring properties where Azul likes to go slow and sniff every blade of grass. We did 20 min sniff-a-bouts and rest for about 2-3 hrs on repeat all day. 

On Day 4 I let Azul have about 10 min to run in the backyard to check for his chippy enemy along with some short sniff-a-bouts. At this point Azul was pulling more on the leash and so I had to weigh the risk of what would potentially hurt his stitches more, a leash walk with pulling or a few minutes of free run in his quiet backyard. Sure Azul has great leash manners most of the time, but if his other needs are not being met or if his environment is too distracting, those manners struggle a bit. I knew by Azul's pulling that he needed a bit more movement in his day.

Don't get me wrong! I'm not telling you to go against your Veterinarian's advice when it comes to health related issues! I'm saying you have to find a balance between the general advice given to all dogs based on a health issue with your dog's specific needs based on their breed, age, and speed of recovery. Different ailments might require you to stick to the bed rest, leash walks only plan and also require additional Veterinary monitoring. But in Azul's case I was able to slowly increase his exercise needs based on the improvement he was showing me, the environment we had to work with, and my ability to add in distractions slowly. By day 7 Azul was back to his normal routines for exercise with just some mile adjustments to prevent jumping, pulling, and over-excitement.

Depending on where you live, climate often plays a role in being able to meet your dog's physical needs. For my clients in the south, they really struggle in the summer with intense heat so often find it most challenging to meet their dog's physical needs in the summer without risk of heatstroke. For those in north, like Azul and I, winter becomes much more challenging. Snow sometimes prevents us from getting in/out of the driveway, icy sidewalks and parking lots can reduce our ability to go on walks and many of our sniff-a-bout spots are inaccessible in the winter. This can make it really challenging to meet Azul's physical needs. To help, we change up where we walk! Sometimes it's easier to walk in town where we can walk down the center of slower roads. We also have access to snowmobile trails and frozen lakes that can make for nice sniff-a-bouts. With walks being more challenging and dangerous for people with balance issues, like me, we search out lots of fenced in areas for off leash time. Our backyard is great for off leash time, but it tends to get boring for Azul because the scents simply don't change enough therefore we try to find a few extra fenced in areas that can be off leash sniff zones.

Emotional & Social Needs

This is something that varies so much based your individual dog!  Some dogs need to play with friends or desire to make new friends more often, while some dogs would prefer to avoid making new friends or being in areas with unknown dogs. Most dogs need some social time with their owners and some emotional support from their owners every day. If your changing environments for your physical exercise based on weather related challenges, your dog might need a bit more emotional support to adapt. If your exercise abilities are decreasing due to weather, your dog might have an increase in social needs during this time.

Azul has pretty low emotional and social needs for a dog. I believe this is due to his husky traits of independence and contentment with watching the world go by.  Azul's emotional needs are met with lots of praise, belly rubs, and silly games. And Azul's social needs are met mostly by changing scenery; some time spent at home, some time at the office, with occasional trips to a store or other business. Azul doesn't need to directly interact with lots of people or dogs, but he needs to observe them from a distance or enough that he can "watch the world go by!" We throw in an occasional playdate with one of his doggie friends and Azul is a pretty happy boy. However, if I'm extra busy with other dogs or spending extra time with one dog, Azul has a bit of a low emotionally and may need some extra cuddle time to make up for absence. Thankfully, with the Training Center, Azul can hang out in the office while I work with other dogs and I can sneak in and cuddle him a bit throughout the day so his social needs can be more regulated without going super low. 

Dogs that spend a lot of time home alone, would more likely have greater social needs in the evening or when family is home because they've spent so much time alone. I was lucky enough to have Oy, one of my GSD clients for a whole day and since he is typically used to being alone while his parents work and then being the star of the show when his parents are home, he struggles a bit when full attention is not him. This is when you see behaviors such as counter surfing, raiding the trash, dumping the water bowl, and other challenging behaviors begin. When dog's social needs are not being met, they will take negative attention vs no attention in an attempt to get the interaction they so greatly desire. This is where we need to find a balance of giving the dog as much positive attention when we can and teaching the dog to calmly settle when we can't be giving them attention.

Mental Needs

To me this is one of the most important, yet often last to consider needs for dogs! When we think about our dog's mental needs, we have to remember that dogs are basically hardwired to explore, learn about things in their environment, learn how to get the things they want and need. This can include a need to explore new scents, scavenge for food, build on skills, and perhaps even become better at their job.

There is a new philosophy going around in the dog trainer communities about "not training" your dog. The basic premise is teaching your dog how to exist in their world, learning the rules of social etiquette for your family, but not teaching them to follow human cues/commands or do silly tricks. While I'm all about teaching the dog how to exist in their world and the rules of co-existence with human families, I also think spending time in training sessions is imperative to meeting the dog's needs. I don't really care what cues a human wants to teach their dog, but the act of developing the skills of teamwork that happen with training using positive reinforcement methods is a top priority for me. 

Perhaps clients want to focus on competitive sports such as agility, scentwork, flyball, barn hunts. 
Perhaps clients want to focus on having fun with confidence building skills like canine parkour, performing silly parlor tricks, or doing some freestyle movements together. 
Perhaps clients that want to train for a specific job such as service dog or therapy dog training. 

Of course some dogs find certain activities more enjoyable than others making it important to look at the individual dog's desire to participate in training. But my philosophy is any training based on teamwork that encourages the dog and owner to work together to accomplish a goal should be a priority in meeting that dog's mental needs.

Here is a fun training session I had with Oy!

Then there are other ways to meet additional mental needs. For dogs that really struggle with needing attention all the time when owners are present, adding in some mental challenges or doggie puzzles can really help meet their mental needs of that day while giving owners a few minutes to focus on something else while their dog is enjoying the challenge. It's my experience though, that I tend to sit back and watch my dog enjoying the puzzle I've game them because that is filling my emotional and social needs to see my dog be happy. I do have a ton of information in this blog about enrichment and puzzles if you want to learn how to build some puzzles at home.

Fall Special!

Since many owners are facing a change in routine due to weather I'm holding a Fall Special based on helping owners Find Balance in Meeting Your Dog's Needs. This special package includes one 60 minute planning session where we will look at your individual needs and your dog's individual needs to create a plan to help you restore balance in home where everyone's needs are being met. Then 2-4 weeks after your planning session we will do 30 min follow up session to look for areas where your plan may need to be adjusted. 

This package is open to both my in-person and virtual clients! Sessions can take place at the Training Center or via Zoom.

This special package will be available through Dec. 31st at a cost of $75 which covers both sessions. Additional review sessions can be purchased for $30 if needed. 

If you are not sure whether virtual dog training will work for you or not, check out this blog post from last October that covers some of the benefits of virtual training via zoom and online classes.

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