Keeping our dog healthy, safe and happy is so much more than piling them in the car once or twice a year for their checkups at the Veterinarian. Yes, those checkups are essential to our dog's overall health, but what do we do the rest of the days of the year? Just like humans, dogs have various needs that contribute to their quality of life. Your dog relies on you to provide the care and safety they need to live a happy, well balanced companion.
Developed by Linda Michaels, M. A., Psychology and adapted from Maslow's Hierarchy of (human) Needs, the Hierarchy of Dog Needs show here is a great tool for ensuring that you are meeting ALL your dog's needs. It is not enough that we take care of their biological needs! While important for survival, these are just the basics.
Before I touch on the other needs, I want to take a moment to talk about one biological need that, in my experience, many people don't fully realize...sleep! Did you know that dogs tend to need MORE sleep than humans in a 24 hour period? Sleep needs differ based on age, breed, activity level, and individual which is probably why there is such variety when it comes to the literature. For adult dogs, sleep requirements can be as low as 8 hours and as high as 16. There does seem to be agreement that puppies and seniors require more (18-20hrs). Making sure that your dog is getting the sleep and rest that they need can prevent unwanted behaviors. Just like humans, dogs can get irritable and unpredictable when they are sleep deprived.
In addition to biological needs, our beloved dogs have other needs. My goal is that my dogs do more than just survive, I want them to thrive! For dogs, structure is very beneficial. You get to pick what structure means for your family and then BE CONSISTENT. A simple example is feeding.
One way of being consistent is to feed at particular times in the day...no matter what, when 7am rolls around, bowls go down. However, consistency is also achieved if meals are dictated by some kind of personal routine. For example, breakfast is served after you have your first cup of coffee and dinner happens once you come home from work and get into your comfy clothes. These things may not happen at the same time every day, but they follow a consistent routine that the dog can recognize.
Dogs are social creatures and need to be included in a social group. Some dogs are all about their humans (or maybe any human) and others are all about other dogs. Once you determine what species your dog likes to spend time with, make sure you fill that need. Play dates, dog parks, doggy day care, hikes, camping, fetch, snuggles snuggles on the couch, just being in the same room...it matters to your dog. When your pup comes up to you and nudges your hand for some love, remember that they are coming to you because they need that comfort and social interaction.
I talk about training needs a lot, so I am not going to go into too much here. Check out the chart! The bottom line is that dogs need us to teach them how to live with us harmoniously. Through training, they learn what they need to know to live harmoniously with us. But remember, we start at the BASE of the Hierarchy and go up the pyramid. So every level must also fulfill the levels below it. If your training is not consistent, erodes your bond, causes your dog to feel unsafe, or opposes any other of the needs in previous levels, you may want to reassess!
Remember to give your pup choices and expose them to new and fun (not scary) things! Ask them which toy they want to play with or which chew they would like. If they don't have to come inside because you have to leave, why not ask them if they WANT to come inside? Sometimes we can't give them choices...yes, you have to get your shots/no, you can not chase the cat...but many times we can. Try it! You might be surprised at what your dog chooses.
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