What exactly is it that dogs need to reach their full potential as canine companions?
I’m sure we all have a different answer to this question. I’ll share with you the “recipe for a good dog” that creates the foundation for my work with my own dogs and those belonging to my clients.
- Species-appropriate nutrition – despite the fact that many dogs enjoy various fruits and veggies, a quick look at your dog’s teeth will lead you to the obvious conclusion – dogs are carnivore. The best diets for dogs are high in protein, and low in carbohydrates. To learn more about commercially available diets for dogs, visit www.dogfoodproject.com or Dogster’s Food and Nutrition forum. If you’re interested in preparing a diet of fresh, healthy, food for your dog at home, visit the Raw Food Diet forum and the Home Prepared Food and Recipes forum.
- Appropriate veterinary care – Behavioral health and physical health are interconnected. How social, friendly, and able to relax are you when you don’t feel well? We generally are not on our “best behavior” when we are sick or in pain. It is important to keep your veterinarian informed of dramatic and sudden changes in behavior. Regular veterinary check-ups are as important to your dog’s behavior as they are to his body.
- Physical exercise – Many behavior professionals impart the following well-known maxim to their clients, “A tired dog is a well-behaved dog.” Dogs require regular and consistent physical exercise to be well-behaved. Talk to your vet to find out what might be appropriate types of exercise for your dog. Behaviorist Ali Brown of Great Companions, at a reactive dog seminar last year, said she advises her clients to try to get their dog at least three exercise sessions per day. Ali emphasized the importance of variety in an exercise regimen, recommending that each of these sessions be a different type of exercise. Various types of exercise include, but are not limited to: leash walking, off leash play/running, fetch, tug, herding, carting, swimming, backpacking, biking, jogging, agility, and hiking.
- Mental stimulation – Remember, a “tired dog is a good dog.” Many dogs get plenty of physical exercise and relatively little mental stimulation. If you are able to “tire out” your dog’s body and brain, you are well on your way to good behavior. Mental stimulation can include training sessions, taking a new route for your daily walk, attending a training class, social stimulation (more on that below), enrichment toys, or nosework and tracking games.
- Social stimulation – While the belief that dogs are pack animals is debatable, there is no doubt that dogs are social creatures. Providing plenty of well-managed, appropriate social interactions with compatible dogs and a variety of new people provides opportunities to cover three of our “ingredients” at once – physical exercise, mental stimulation, and social stimulation. “Appropriate” is really the operative term in the previous sentence; it is counterproductive to expose your dog to social situations which surpass his threshold (tolerance level).
Managing these social situations well requires an understanding of dog body language and some common sense. Here is a great list of canine body language resources to help you learn more. As for common sense, if your dog has killed a number of squirrels, introducing him to the family rabbit may not be the most prudent decision, at least not without a significant amount of appropriate training. If your dog growls at, snaps at, or has bitten children, an elementary school playground is not the ideal place for socialization.
Combine all ingredients. Mix well. Enjoy the dog you’ve always wanted!