Do dogs actually need some rest and relaxation? Don’t they just sleep the day away when the family’s not home? Nope! Normal for a dog is to be very playful, active and often pestering their owner to engage in the fun with them.
Most dog people would recognise a thunder phobic dog. The dog that just knows a storm is on its way, panting, agitated and pacing or frantically running. Owners of anxious dogs will readily put their hands up, easily able to identify the tell-tale signs of anxiety. These dogs definitely need some major chill time after an anxious episode, and perhaps the owner too.
But what about those of us that have the ultimate happy go lucky dog? A number of research papers during the last decade or so agree that the subtle signs of emotional arousal are often missed, or misinterpreted by owners (Kerswell, et al., 2009) (Mariti, et al., 2012). I will go out on limb and disagree … with the negative implication of the research conclusion. There is a bit of data collection flaw in the papers that isn’t reflected well in the conclusion. The hypothesis they were assessing was that owners can state discrete signs of emotional distress in their dog. This is premised on two things, that owner’s recall of specific signs when completing a questionnaire and that dogs are an open book in displaying those signs, from understated through to overt behaviours.
Gray areas don’t fit well with scientific research, and the best research methodology identifies those areas, the influence on current results and potential for future research. One gray area of this research is that dogs are masters of complex environmental cue collection, prioritising and responding to those cues, including us. The characteristic behavioural flexibility gives dogs an enormous capacity for adaptability, which can be a double edge sword, with regards to our capacity to identify early potential environmental overloads. (McGreevy, et al., 2017)
The practical approach to this information is to accept that dogs are very active physically and behaviourally and process a multitude of stimuli in any given day, or night. Their adaptability is that is after all, the reason why they make such good companions, able to fit into our lives so well. Now we work with them and strengthen their capacity to have a little R&R every day.
OFFER OPPORTUNITIES THAT ENABLE AND ENCOURAGE YOUR DOG TO ADAPT TO AND RECOVER FROM VARIOUS TYPES OF STRESS.
If you’re like me, I grew up with a pretty good idea of when our family dogs were happy and when they weren’t. Usually, happy was running around like a fruit loop, chasing a ball or hanging out with my Dad when he came back in after a day’s work. Unhappy was when they were yelled at to get out of the 240 gallon drums that were our rubbish bins at the back of the house paddock. But, in retrospect, I didn’t have a clue that dogs got stressed, and I certainly wasn’t aware that were two different types of stress, eustress and distress; the ubiquitous good and bad stress.
Thankfully for my animals, I am a dedicated student of theirs, so I am always learning about what makes them tick. Here’s a list that has some of my dogs collective ideas on R&R and a few that I’ve picked up chatting with other owners and animal care specialists that may work for you.
1) Sniffing the pee mail – did you know that the dog has a far more complex sense of smell than humans, in the region of 100 000 times stronger! As Paul McGreevy says in his book, A Modern Dog’s Life, “to sniff is to be canine”. That obstinate pulling on the lead when walking just to investigate a smell takes on a whole new meaning when you also consider the dog’s pheromone sensor is just behind their incisors in the roof of their mouth and is activated by flicking their tongue in and out of their mouth. So for dogs, the adage stop and smell the roses as a way to encouraging relaxation becomes stop and smell the pee mail!
2) Set up some simple nose work puzzles at home. These are one form of interactive brain games that have the double bonus of really focusing your dog on the task at hand, getting their brain ticking via their super sensitive nose to find and follow odour cues (the SEEKING part of the brain) and giving them a surge of ‘feel good’ hormones when they find the source (the REWARD part of the brain) (Gadbois & Reeve, 2014). Try a doggy version of the children’s treasure hunt game using your dog’s favourite, high value food and praise and reward when your dog finds the food. Create a ‘snuffle mat’ (easy instructions here) and scatter dry kibble into the folds.
3) Explore ‘free shaping’ as a means for your dog to create the puzzle. This does require you to be on the ball, firstly in allowing the dog to start the puzzle not relying on you to tell them what to do. Secondly, timeliness in marking a behaviour is the key to your dog developing the puzzle. This article provides some useful information about shaping success: https://www.clickertraining.com/shaping-success
4) Body work – this is as simple and as wondrous having your hands rest quietly on your dog with very little pressure, matching your breathing to theirs. You can lead in or alternate with some hand grooming. The technique Tellington Touch (TTouch) is one modality that gently develops the bond of touch between you and your dog and gives you another way to observe your dog’s body language. Check out a demo video here.
5) This article from Purdue University describes the role of environment enrichment using five types of stimuli with some more suggestions.
OBSERVE AND INTERACT WITH YOUR DOG, LEARN FROM THEM WHAT DISRUPTS THEIR HAPPY ACTIVE EQUILIBRIUM.
Admittedly, I don’t think I will ever master my dog’s diverse vocabulary. But, I am in awe of the depth of communication skills she has and am constantly looking for ways to open my mind further as to what might be important for her and how she chooses to tell me. At the same time, don’t overwhelm yourself with trying to learn a language that has at least 100 times the complications of the English language. Trust your dog and take some time to be ‘in the moment’ with them every day, sit and enjoy your first cuppa for the day and watch them take their first wake-up walk, run, dawdle outside. Happiness started the day for my ‘inherited’ geriatric cavalier, George, with a walk of the backyard perimeter religiously every morning and that meant through every garden bed, under every branch keeping the fence almost glued to his left shoulder.
There are a plethora of websites and you-tube videos that have examples of different interpretations of the language of dogs. I wouldn’t rely on them solely has the definitive guide to your dog. Think of them as clues only, then mentally put that seeking system of your own in park and just hang with and be guided by your dog.
Take some time after being with your dog to jot down a few of your dog’s behaviours. You could even get creative and write some short stories of some of the clown moments! At the very least, keep a living record of what is normal for your dog, so you can have better insight into what they do and when things change. Looking for some pointers on what to note and where? I’ve already done that guide for you! Just click here to download the FREE ebook Healthy Dog Lifestyles Through Healthy Dog Ownership.
Some select pearls of wisdom:
- A Modern Dog’s Life, Paul McGreevy
- Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers, Bonnie V.G. Beaver
- At the time of writing this article, the Australian Veterinary Associations behaviour web page has a link to a EBSCOhost search engine at the bottom if you are like me and have been caught by the behaviour bug and need to dig deeper.
DRAW ON SPECIALIST SUPPORT TO UNRAVEL THE CURLY TWISTS THAT REMAIN.
There are a number of different training methods people use to engage a dog’s nose each with a valuable objective and certain limitations to achieve the objective. For R&R, I recommend a method that focuses on the dog being responsible for developing their seeking system and has the closest tie of their reward system to the seeking system. Ownership and timing of reward are critical for the dog in this becoming an awesome a method of their R&R, and the simplest for you to plan, coordinate and initiate. Various research data indicates that companion dogs are not using their noses to their capacity, which means that benefits of activating the seek and reward systems are just waiting for you show your dog the way, one odour at a time (Gadbois & Reeve, 2014). Help them learn switch on in order to learn switch off and enhance your skill when you need by utilising of these great resources.
General intro to nose work
K9 Nose Work in Australia
Caninology is a training organisation that is fully aligned within the American training and qualifications system. Something that is unfortunately not the case for most of the course you may come across in Australia. It has the dual benefit of have both structured and content that is peer reviewed by tertiary qualified specialists and maintaining currency with both hands on techniques and scientific developments is fundamentally inherent within the program.
Training directed by understanding dog behaviour
Pet Professional Guild Australia is an not-for-profit organisation with a primary focus on providing educational resources to pet care providers and the public.
The Animal Training Academy offers free online animal training developed on principles of Behavioural Science and Applied Behaviour Analysis.
https://www.animaltrainingacademy.com/podcast/training-tidbits/animal-training-success/ – this is a podcast between Dr Kat Gregory, Creative Animal Solutions, and Ryan Cartilage, Animal Training Academy, discussing training with a behaviour focus.
Some general info
Australian veterinarians use the term ‘behaviour veterinarian’ to identify veterinarians who have a special interest and expertise in the field of animal behaviour and may be members of the veterinary behaviour chapter of the Australian and New Zealand College of Veterinary Scientists.
American veterinarians use the term ‘veterinary behaviorist’ to identify veterinarians who have a special interest and have qualified under the American qualification system in the field animal behaviour.
WHEN YOUR SEEKING SYSTEM OVERLOADS
Don’t forget, there is an internet bursting with loads of information, some good, some bad. If you’re struggling to find the time to make sense of what will be right for you and your dog, let’s chat! We can work out a strategy that works for you and your animal in a FREE 20 minutes session, click >>here. I’ve done the seeking, now for you to get the rewards with your dog!
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Gadbois, S. & Reeve, C., 2014. Canine Olfaction: Scent, Sign, and Situation. In: Domestic Dog Cognition and Behaviour. Berline: Springer, pp. 3-29.
Kerswell, K. J., Bennett, P. J., Butler, K. L. & Hemsworth, P. H., 2009. Self-Reported Comprehension Ratings of Dog Behavior by Puppy Owners. Anthrozoös, 22(2), pp. 183-193.
Mariti, C. et al., 2012. Perception of dogs’ stress by their owners. Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, 7(4), pp. 213-219.
McGreevy, P. D. et al., 2017. An overview of the dog-human dyad and ethograms within it. Journal of Veterianry Behaviour, Volume 7, pp. 103-117.