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Is your dog’s lifestyle the cause of their behavioural struggles?

Keep your dog in mind while you read through the following...

Studies show that if we regularly fail to get enough sleep, our ability to regulate emotions is compromised. Sleep deprived people typically struggle with anger, frustration, irritability, and anxiety.


Studies show that children with regular routines have better self-regulation skills.  The absence of structured routines can lead to stress, anxiety, frustration, confusion, and a need to seek control in other areas.     


We know that eating a varied and balanced diet can help to regulate mood, energy, and our ability to concentrate.  We know that the wrong eating habits can result in irritability, anxiety, tiredness, and poor sleep quality.  We also know that there is a strong connection between the gut and the brain.  Emotions can trigger symptoms in the gut, and vice versa, so if you want a healthy gut, you need to take care of your brain, and if you want a healthy brain, you need to take care of your gut.    


We know that physical activity can improve our memory, our ability to concentrate and problem-solve, and it can help to balance emotions, and reduce anxiety and depression.


Having a purpose - something that motivates us and gives us a fulfilling job to focus on – has been shown to lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression, and increase cognitive function, sleep quality, and generally improve mental health and happiness.


As a social species, our need for connection is as important as food and water.  Social isolation has been linked to a decline in cognitive function and an increase in depression, anxiety, negative affect, and social cravings. 

All these factors have the power to make physical changes to our brain, and therefore our emotions and behaviour. 


Of course, I’m talking about humans and our needs, but dogs have similar social and emotional brains. 

They may not have the same amount of neural infrastructure as we do, but they share the same brain structures. 


Therefore, if their basic needs are not being met, it’s fair to say that this is going to have an equally huge impact on their brain which will present itself in behaviour that we find problematic and difficult to manage. 


A huge percentage of dogs that I meet are described as over-excited, over-stimulated, out of control, with boundless energy. 


What I actually see when I meet them is high levels of stress, anxiety, frustration, and confusion.


Don’t get me wrong, this is not because people are not trying to do their very best for their dog.  Most people I meet absolutely are. 


But often the things we do with the best intentions mean that our dog’s fundamental needs are not being met. 


For example...


A dog that has constant company and an endless supply of attention is often not getting enough sleep.


A dog that has free access to everywhere and everything constantly is often without boundaries, structure and routine, and can lack essential coping skills for the reality of daily life. 


A dog who is being fed the “best food” as recommended by the local pet shop is often on a highly processed diet rather than a species appropriate, fresh and natural diet.


A dog who is being walked on a short lead every day is unable to get the exercise they require, or have their needs met as a species, and as a breed. 


A dog who has nothing other than walks included in their day has no fulfilling job to focus on.  Every dog needs a purpose, but a working breed without a job will not do well. 


A dog who does not have a small circle of friends will not be getting their social needs met if they do enjoy the company of other dogs. 


One of the many reasons that I choose to avoid training with corrections and punishment is because this approach often just aims to squash a behaviour, regardless of it being a symptom of emotional turmoil and struggle.


Surely, modifying our dog’s behaviour for OUR benefit, needs to come AFTER ensuring their needs are being met so they can be their best selves.   


For the sake of our dog’s wellbeing and our own sanity... is essential that we look beyond the behaviour, beyond blaming the dog, and really ask ourselves...

...are they getting what they need from the lifestyle we are giving them? 


Liz Whelan GTA-AD 020 ABTC-ATI

Owner of DogScentric

Accredited Instructor with the Gundog Trainers Academy (GTA-AD 020)

Accredited Animal Training Instructor with the ABTC (ABTC-ATI)

FdSc Canine Behaviour and Training (Hull University)





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