When it comes to your dog mental health is just as important as physical health. How can you tell if your dog is mentally healthy? Just like people dogs need to have a purpose in life. Dogs also have needs that vary from the needs of humans. Teaching your dog how to do simple things from puppyhood is the best way to give their life purpose. Sometimes just knowing what their owner expects from them will help. Things like walking on a leash without pulling, knowing how to sit and lie down, having a routine and knowing where their place is in the pack. For many dogs these things can really help contribute to good mental health.
There are some dogs that need a bit more. Herding dogs for example have such a strong instinct to herd that simply having manners and knowing their place in the pack is not quite enough. When a dogs needs are not met then you have the signs that they are not mentally healthy such as destructive behavior and OCD just to name a few, and since their needs vary from the needs of their human owners it is crucial to consider their breed when trying to determine how to meet these needs. OCD can be displayed in many ways like constant pacing around the house or yard or rolling food around with their nose before they eat. Even constantly licking one or more body parts or guarding an appliance like the dishwasher can be a display of OCD in your dog.
The first step to ensuring your dog’s mental health is to stop treating them like a human. Assuming that keeping your dog off the couch is going to “hurt their feelings” or that crate training is cruel are both ways that we humanize our pets. These beliefs also deny their instincts and inherited needs. Having rules is actually very beneficial. In your dogs mind if you let them up on the furniture or sleep in your bed you are elevating them to your status in the pack, the leader. This is very confusing to dogs and can cause anxiety or even worse, aggression. Humans should always be the leader in the pack as this prevents aggressive behavior such as hyper vigilant guarding of the house, growling or biting guests, etc.
Crate training is also essential to have a well balanced dog. Dogs are cave dwelling creatures and a crate mocks this natural behavior. Providing stimulus that mocks natural behavior is soothing to dogs. If you have a very active dog then your job as an owner is to provide as much exercise and stimulation as possible to prevent coming home to a house that is destroyed. Visit a local feed store such as Dale’s Town and Country in Surprise and check out the wide variety of interactive toys. Toys that you can fill with food or treats that your dog has to work at to get them out. Having to roll around a toy will offer mental stimulation much like doing a crossword puzzle for us. They also offer a positive reward for their hard work in the form of a tasty snack.
Try thinking of your dog as a dog and not a little person on four legs. You will be amazed at how much happier they will be. This does not mean you can’t spoil your pet from time to time, just try establishing a good exercise routine, having rules in the pack like staying off the furniture and offering lots of positive mental stimulation before you run out to the doggie bakery and lavish them with special treats.