Monday, June 15, 2015

What do dogs really need?

Could you meet this Italian greyhound's needs?

Environmental enrichment is a term often used to describe what we expect zoos to be doing, but the concept applies to companion animals as well. We don't tend to think about companion animals as captive animals, which is one reason why there have been few guidelines on how they should be kept. But the literature around companion animal husbandry is growing.

Enrichment of a captive animal’s environment – be it a zoo, a laboratory or a home – is about improving the animal’s quality of life by making it more rewarding or meaningful(Heath and Wilson, 2014). The aim is to facilitate natural behaviour, provide choices (and a sense of control), enhance mental and physical development of young animals, and maintain welfare of older animals by providing “a complex environment that meets all their behavioural needs”(Heath and Wilson, 2014).

A good toilet spot - or several - is important. It isn't just about saving your carpet - its about making sure your dog's needs are met.
So what does that mean when it comes to dogs? 

  • Social activity: The most important factor for dogs is their social environment. There should be plenty of opportunity for physical and mental stimulation and social activity.
  • Space: There’s no standard for keeping companion dogs, but according to behaviour vets Sarah Heath and Clare Wilson, dogs should be given access to the largest (safe) area possible, with the ability to choose where they go within that space.
  • Company: There’s no standard to determine for how long we can or should leave dogs alone, but Heath and Wilson recommend this should be “the minimum that is realistically achievable”(Heath and Wilson, 2014).
  • Play: …with people, other dogs and toys – is very important, even with older dogs although they may not approach the task with as much vigour.
  • Food: Dogs evolved alongside humans as scavengers of human scraps. Food enrichment can be provided – as it is in zoos – by scattering food around so dogs have to find it.
  • A decent bathroom: House-trained dogs need regular toilet breaks. If they’re used to you being away eight hours a day they may well be used to holding on for this amount of time. But if after-work drinks or overtime extend your day by an hour or two, this can be pretty distressing. Dogs need access to a toilet or area where they feel comfortable toileting.
  • Freedom from fear and distress: certain environments, including those associated with unpredictable loud noises such as building sites, human behaviour and even interactions with other animals can lead to fear and distress. Some dogs do suffer from anxiety. These issues should be taken seriously and dealt with as early as possible on a case-by-case basis.
  • Training: this provides mental stimulation, social interaction and often exercise. If done appropriately in a suitable environment it can be beneficial to the welfare of dogs.

Time spent alone should be minimised.
If you’re interested in finding out what cats need, check our previous post here.