But my dog looks sad…

Dogs have split from their wolf ancestors and evolved over the last hundred thousand years. During those thousands of years dogs had to use high-level problem solving skills to survive. It is unknown whether or not humans domesticated wolves or if wolves sought out humans, but as we grew together humans began breeding for specific traits. As human needs have changed over the centuries we have bred dogs to be more proficient at certain task, thus creating diverse specie of no less than 150 different breeds. Over the last 15,000 years or so humans have found constructive uses for their dog’s abilities such as hunting, clearing rodents, herding, providing early warning, or helping haul heavy items. However, in the modern era dogs have come to be viewed as companions to humans rather than trusted worker. Compare dogs previous work habits to today’s dogs that wear clothes for fashion and stay indoors most of the day.  The difference is stark, however, dogs basic needs have not changed; dogs need shelter, food, water, and to work. Dogs are beings that have worked throughout generations because it is in their genetics to do so.

Dog trainers all too often hear this phrase, “but my dog looks sad.”  This is a misinterpretation of the dog’s body language which leads to misplaced empathy. The reason people think their dog is unhappy is because humans and dogs are different species and thus interpret actions in different ways. Humans can easily reason with other humans but the same is not true with dogs. Humans can visually see what dogs see but the perception between the two species, most often, is not the same. People misinterpret a well balanced personality by thinking a hyper dog is a happy dog. Usually a hyper dog has a lack of structure and leadership in the home, which owners (knowingly or unknowingly) encourage. However, a high energy dog can be taught how to control its impulses and follow commands depending on how dedicated its owner is in managing that dog’s behavior.

Dogs left to their own devices will start developing behavioral issues. When they are bored they will find inappropriate activities to keep them occupied. Dogs can destroy entire rooms due to boredom, lack of structure, or neuroticism so we need to fill a dog’s innate need for purpose with structure and work. When your dog is only physically exerted you are increasing its stamina to do even more damage when left to its own devices.

We need to give dogs tasks to accomplish throughout the day and every day. Obedience training is one way to provide dogs with that sense of accomplishment they need. Not only does obedience training increase the dogs self esteem and confidence, but also creates a well-behaved dog that is receptive to their owner commands. Dog obedience training also provides dogs’ owners with the knowledge to keep dogs well balance by providing work. Long walks offer outdoor distraction while demanding your dog’s attention with a variety of different commands used in an unpredictable pattern.

Working commands around distractions are great exercises in self restraint and it provides great mental stimulation. Distraction training increases your dog’s reliability and its ability to hold commands in real life situations. Finding exercises that are tailored to your dog’s breed will fulfill your dog’s sense of purpose. Agility training for retrievers, shepherds and terriers is a great workout physically and mentally. Swimming is a great physical and mental workout for many dogs including retrievers. Laying out a scent track is fun for you and keeps your hound on its toes.

Food puzzles are fun for any dog. Often times, dogs food is either left out the entire day or just given to them without your dog working for its sustenance. Owners can make the activity of your dog eating more interesting for them by hiding the food or using toys to distribute the food. Boomer Balls or Busta Cubes or Kongs are great toys that offer difficult ways for your dog to work for its food. Boomer Balls are balls with holes in them that distribute food, Busta Cubes have drawers which the dog has to learn to open to attain its food, and Kong offers a variety of toys that have holes or compartments for food that your dogs has to work for to be able to eat.

Getting your dog out and about is a nice way to keep them occupied. Take your dog to classes like Therapy Dog, Reading Dog, scent training, soft mouth retrieval, agility or trick training. Classes can offer your dog distractions during training, mental stimulation from learning something new and socialization with other properly socialized dogs. Take your dog with you while you run errands. Have your dog get the mail and have them bring it back to you. Weekly field trips to the pet stores can also provide distraction during training, social interaction and mental stimulation.

Dogs are problem solvers and opportunists. If dogs are left to their own devices misbehaviors will develop and escalate unless humans step in to be their leaders. Just having a dog around is not in the dog’s best interest. You must be willing to be a part of your dog’s life by providing social interactions, obedience training, and mental stimulation along with the basic needs of life.

References:

The History and Evolution of Dogs. 3/5/2013 http://www.dog-names.org.uk/history-evolution-dogs.htm

Mental Stimulation for Dogs. Lisa Giroux, Ontario. 3/7/2013 http://www.k9station.com/mentalstim.htm

Opinion: We Didn’t Domesticate Dogs. They Domesticated Us. Dr Brian Hare and Vanessa Woods. 3/3/2013 http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/03/130302-dog-domestic-evolution-science-wolf-wolves-human/

Evolution of the Dog. 3/5/2013 http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/library/01/5/1_015_02.html

Mental Stimulation for Your Dog. Dr. Nicholas Dodman. 3/7/2013 http://www.petplace.com/dogs/mental-stimulation-for-your-dog/page1.aspx

Evolution of Dogs. 3/5/2013 http://pug.com/dog-history/evolution-of-dogs.html