Is Your Dog Happy? Part 2: Creating Activities for Your Dog

Is Your Dog Happy? Part 2: Creating Activities for Your Dog

Understanding your dog’s precursors to his or her “fight or flight” reaction is crucial to building a trusting relationship between you two. As simple as this sounds, if you don’t understand these “precursors,” often dogs will appoint themselves with the task of assigning behavioural actions they deem best. Ultimately, they want to be assured that you know what is best for them and will keep them safe.

So what happens if we miss these “precursors?”

Last week we discussed in "Is Your Dog Happy: Part 1" the body signals your dog could exhibit if he/she is stressed. And stress can cause an animal to act out in a self-preservation mode by turning to aggressive behaviours or fleeing in fear. Before a dog reaches one of these two extremes, he/she will give body signals to try and diffuse the situation before it reaches fight or flight level. If we miss these of all, we can actually be the cause of a behavioural outburst.

Here’s a recap from last week’s blog:

Calming Signals

  • licking the lips

  • a low, wagging tail

  • crouching low

  • avoiding eye contact

  • yawning

  • showing the teeth (smiling) -different than aggression! Usually displayed alongside other submissive behaviours listed above

  • raised hackles

Other stress-related behaviours

  • overexcited wiggling and whining (anxiety)

  • growling

  • destructive behaviour

  • hyperactivity

  • hiding

  • aggression

  • over grooming

  • submissive urination

The first thing to ask yourself is if you're providing the right type of mental enrichment for the type of dog that you have. What breed is your dog? What was he bred to do?

Knowing what their genetic “drive” is can help you out immensely with picking activities that will be fun and engaging for your dog. For example, if you have a shepherd, a “working” breed”, who is a problem solver, trainable, and high energy, you’ll know he's going to need a job! And if you don’t provide him one he may assign one to himself - and that might not be a job that is beneficial to either of you. For example, he could be charging the fence and barking, acting out with leash aggression, or herding the neighbours’ children. If you have a working breed, you need to give him/her some assigned work!

Don’t discount Fluffy the pomeranian’s nature though. Non-working/companion dogs, like chihuahuas and pugs, need activities too. Without activities, they both can become bored and protective of their owners. Without socialization and exercise, different situations can cause unnecessary stress which results in unhappy pets and decreasing physical health. And the cycle is self-perpetuating.

Try some of these activities listed below to help you build a strong confident type of relationship with your dog. These activities will reduce the stress in your dog’s life by teaching them how to deal with it in a logical way, plus they will teach you how your dog responds to those “precursors” we mentioned earlier. Together you will build a new communication style that will inform you both on what’s the best way to manage stress.

Some suggestions:

  • scent work

  • clicker training

  • agility

  • trail walks

  • flyball

  • obedience training

  • swimming or dock diving

  • running or biking with your dog

  • hiking

  • trick training

All these activities give your dog focus and purpose, AND they strengthen the relationship you have with your dog. The more you interact and exercise with him, the more trust your dog will have for you. The more trust he has, the more likely he is to follow your lead in stressful situations. So make sure you're confident and unafraid! Your dog will follow suit.

If you're having trouble implementing new training techniques or interpreting your dog’s body language, find a dog behaviourist who can help identify problem areas and teach you both how to learn from one another.

A mentally happy dog is one of the key pieces of holistic pet care. Besides, it’s the fun part of having a dog!

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