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5 Pillars of Dog Behavioral Health

Did you know there are 5 major factors that play a role in your dog’s behavior? 

Some of the most common behavior issues we discuss with our students include nipping, over-excitement, hyperactivity, leash pulling, and obsessive barking. The FIRST place we start when we see these behaviors is by looking at five areas of wellness for your dog and whether or not they are fully supported in these areas. 

If your dog is feeling unfulfilled in one of these crucial areas, it won’t matter how much training you do! You’ll just end up playing a game of whack-a-mole with different misbehaviors and you may even end up with more serious problems down the road.

If you feel like you are struggling with your dog, evaluate if you are using all 5 of these pillars and using them correctly:

1) Sleep/Rest
2) Play
3) Mental Stimulation
4) Physical Activity
5) Affection


1) Sleep!

This is the most commonly overlooked area of behavioral wellness. Did you know that puppies need 18-20 hours of sleep a day?!  When we tell this to puppy owners, the response is almost always “Seriously?!, Well my puppy isn’t getting nearly enough sleep!”

The next thing we hear from that same puppy owner after helping them with a sleep and nap routine is that half of their “issues”, if not all of their “issues”, are suddenly gone.

Sleep deprivation in puppies leads to inconsolable temper tantrums that look like a gremlin who is snappy, bitey, zoomey, and simply can’t relax. You know what it looks like! Your puppy is fine one minute and unhinged the next running like a banshee through the house.

Chronic sleep deprivation for older dogs leads to dysfunction in the nervous system and emotional system, and will most likely show up in their behavior as fearfulness, reactivity, aggressiveness, hyperactivity and the inability to relax. 


2) Play!

Play is another area of wellness that can easily get overlooked. We see this most often with dogs who only have one game. Maybe it's tug. Or maybe it's fetch. Having a diversity in games, activities, and paces is super important. It helps our dogs learn emotional flexibility and not turn into obsessive or neurotic behavior over one thing. We all know a dog that thinks “ball is life”, but that dog can also have a really hard time switching gears to other activities or even switching out of that state of mind. 

We like to mix things up in play. Some play activities are fast-paced and require lots of physical exercise and other play activities are slow and require less physical energy. 

Mixing these activities to the dog’s individual needs not only teaches them emotional flexibility but also helps their brains learn to regulate energetic intensity. These are FUNDAMENTAL concepts dogs should know if they are to operate well in our often hectic world and not need constant supervision or management. 


3) Mental Stimulation!

Puzzles, snuffle mats, brain games, walks in new areas, learning new tricks - these are all great ways to provide your dog with the mental stimulation they NEED! Every dog will be different and again, diversity is key. Having a well-rounded and dynamic routine of mental stimulation activities will not only curb obsessive barking, digging, and over-excitement - it supports clearer thought. 

When your dog can have a clearer and less muddled thought process, imagine how much easier it will be to teach them new things! It’s a complete game changer!


4) Physical Activity!

This absolutely applies to little dogs! Let me say that again - this absolutely applies to little dogs! They may require “less” physical exercise than other dogs but not less FREQUENT. 

Tug and fetch both require a lot of physical exertion from the dog and require the dog to be in a particular state of mind. Walking and Jogging, on the other hand, involve a much different state of mind. Purposefully walking really slowly, for example, requires your dog to learn how to “downshift” mentally. 

The importance is understanding what your dog’s physical needs are and ensuring that we are providing them healthy and diverse outlets. This prevents pent-up physical and emotional energy that certainly is a large influencer of their behavior. 


5) Affection!

Rolling on the floor with your dog, pets, massages, naps together, or just time for them to sit next to you should always be in the routine. Most of us don’t have difficulty here. Well, actually, many people are experiencing the imbalance in that we are giving our dogs far TOO much. 

I am a huge advocate of affection. My puppy gets lots of love and personal attention and affection from me. He is the apple of my eye. His name is Hiccup and I am super proud of him. But I don’t pet him every time he’s in my space and I don’t give him affection time every time he “asks’ for it. 

Mainly what we see happening is that all of the other areas of wellness are under-served and what we have left is just giving our dogs lots of affection and personal attention. 

When this happens, we often see “Velcro-Dog” or dogs that have difficulty in going and playing by themselves, They get up every time you do even if you’re just going to the bathroom. If left unaddressed for too long, you can end up in a relationship with a needy, clingy, insecure dog who is constantly seeking attention and approval but never actually overcoming anything. 

Again, I’m not saying don’t give your dog affection. Most often it’s a result of a lop-sided relationship with the other categories. So spend more time developing a rich wellness routine and watch things do a 180. 

The next time your dog displays a behavioral issue...

Be sure to check these five pillars first to see if there might be a need that hasn’t been met! Making sure that your pet is fully supported in these five areas of wellness will not only ensure a healthy, happy animal but will also make training and spending time with them that much easier and more enjoyable. 

Have any questions or concerns? Reach out to us and we’d be happy to talk through any issues you’re currently experiencing.

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