Are the activities you do with your dog really meeting both your needs?
Both you and your dog are social beings. You have socialization and intellectual stimulation needs that you have the power to fulfill. But we often make mistakes about how to socialize our dogs and the engagement that we have with them.
In this post, I’m talking about two topics. The first is how to meet your dog’s social needs in real-life situations. And the second is around over-arousal and how to balance the activities you do with your dog. These concepts are part of a class segment available in the Brilliant Partners Academy.
How to meet your dog’s needs
I talk a lot about expressing heartfelt appreciation for your dog, but I’m not talking about what we traditionally call “praise”. By this I mean, the transactional response of a job-well-done – like a treat. When you move into a partnership, this appreciation comes in the form of something much deeper and meets your dog’s need to belong, as a social mammal.
For your partnership to truly thrive, both yours and your dog’s needs have to be met. There may be compromise or even imbalance on the path to achieving this, but you want to make sure that, as much as you can, everyone’s needs are being met. This gets easier over time!
Here are some things to think about when it comes to meeting your dog’s needs…
“We’re looking to love our dogs’ choices authentically from our heart, at every opportunity.”
Create appropriate social opportunities
One of the biggest mistakes I think dog owners make is to not create well-matched social opportunities for their dogs. This applies to us too. Just like people, dogs have a unique personality and might be an extroverted social butterfly, or quieter and more introverted, or somewhere in-between. They may feel replenished or depleted by social engagement, so you may want to consider what your dog really wants from socialization.
Think about your dog’s play style. Do they like to chase or play with toys? Perhaps they have one best friend that they enjoy playing with or they like playing with lots of different dogs. Whatever their preferences are, you want to look for opportunities for your dog that match what makes them happy.
But there’s also a human part of this equation. A lot of our social opportunities are created because of our dogs, however there can be a misalignment here. You may be highly social and want spend time with friends and their dogs, but your dog may be more of an introvert. So, consider how you can balance this. Maybe there’s a compromise that suits both of your social needs.
Be a contributing family member
The other thing you want to think about to meet your dog’s needs is to honor their social intelligence. As social animals, both us and our dogs need to feel like we contribute to our family.
Now, for us humans, we have no problem giving ourselves things to do! But we sometimes neglect our dogs in this way. By giving your dog a job, it will help them express their personality, release physical, mental, and emotional energy, and give a sense of purpose.
My advice is to brainstorm some jobs appropriate for your dog and experiment with them. Most dogs really love this, and you can mix it up over time too.
Make space for fun and exercise
The final thing I want to talk about when it comes to meeting your dog’s needs is fun and exercise. What’s cool about our relationship with fun and exercise is that it changes when you have a dog, even though both humans and dogs need these two things. Having a dog provides us with new opportunities to exercise and have fun that we wouldn’t have without them. For example, you may be more motivated to go for a walk with your dog than you would be if you didn’t have them.
Fun and exercise benefit us on a multitude of levels, including physical, emotional, and mental. So, oftentimes, you may think you’re taking your dog for a walk to help them, but it’s actually helping you too.
Build a framework
You want your dog to have an enriched life, so consider creating a framework that allows for balance in all these different areas. Think about how you’re going to enhance their abilities to be flexible physically, mentally, and emotionally and also build in activities that challenge your dog physically and mentally.
Everyone’s framework will be different depending on their dog’s personality, age, preferences, and existing abilities. But it’s important to make learning opportunities happen. This is vital for all living creatures, especially socially intelligent beings like you and your dog. So, these activities actually serve both of you!
However, when you build this framework, I want you to think carefully about your dog’s arousal balance. There’s a lot of incorrect thinking around how we structure activities and exercise for our dogs. For example, these kinds of thoughts “I have a high-energy dog, so I need to tire them out.” This kind of thinking can quickly get us into trouble.
The problems with high arousal
If you’re always engaging with your dog in a way that encourages them into a state of high arousal, they can associate you with this feeling. In other words, if you’re always running, playing, or exciting your dog in some way, they will default to these aroused behaviors around you for even the most everyday activities. Suddenly just reaching for their leash will send them jumping up and down with excitement.
If your dog believes that engaging with you means being in this constant state of high arousal, it can cause an imbalance in your partnership and also for your dog. Think about it, if everything you do requires you to expend a lot of energy, you’re going to burn out. Being highly aroused for a sustained period leads to adrenal fatigue, exhaustion, impaired decision-making, and stress. That’s when we get outbursts, meltdowns, or go into total shutdown.
So high arousal can cause this cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol, which builds up in your dog’s system. This takes time to work its way out. If there are no new stressors, then it can take up to 36 hours for these hormones to fully dissipate from your dog’s body.
“You want to do your best to consider both yours and your dog’s needs when you look for your social activities.”
How to plan activities with intention
The solution here is to be intentional about your dog’s activities. Now, if your dog is very naturally balanced and not reactive, you may not need to put a lot of thought into this. But if your dog has lots of triggers, gets easily aroused, or shows excessive fear and anxiety, introducing a structure can help build a successful partnership.
My recommended framework for managing your dog’s arousal breaks the day up into three sections. 10-15% of your dog’s day is for high arousal activities, 30-40% of the day for low-medium arousal activities, and 50% of the day with no or very little arousal.
I want you to think about what your dog’s day looks like at the moment. What percentage of the day are they spending in a state of high arousal? If it’s more than 10-15%, how can you reduce this?
Say your dog gets highly aroused barking at the neighbor’s dog through the yard fence. This might be happening really frequently but isn’t a valuable way for them to expend this energy. Instead, could you find a way to stop this from happening so often. Then, you can look to replace this with a new activity such as learning a trick.
Bear in mind that what one dog finds highly arousing, another dog may not. It’s up to you to understand your dog’s energy and design a framework that suits them.
Now, it’s time to put this into practice! I want you to create an activity chart for your dog. First, identify which categories your usual activities fall into (high, medium, low, or no arousal). Next, organize them so that your day reaches the suggested percentages. This tool is going to effectively support you and your dog on your journey to a brilliant partnership.
If you’d like to work with me and learn how to create a partnership lifestyle for you and your dog, you can request an invitation to join us in the Brilliant Partners Academy when the doors open for the next enrollment!
You can listen to everything I talked about in this blog post over on my podcast – Enlightened By Dogs. It’s episode 154, which you can listen to here.