Over the past few years, research into the cognitive and emotional capacities of our canine friends has skyrocketed. We’ve only truly just begun to start understanding their emotional capacity and levels of intelligence. As this information begins to trickle down, people are finally starting to wake up and realize that a dog is not “just a dog” that has minimal care requirements, but a complex being that has just as many needs as humans do. According to the “Hierarchy of Dog Needs” by Linda Michaels, their needs are broken down into 5 categories: Biological Needs (which most people tend to understand the most of), Emotional Needs, Social Needs, Force-Free Training Needs, and Cognitive Needs. While I do see a lot of changes happening in the world around me as far as canine care goes, where I see humanity improving the most, is within their understanding the dog’s emotional needs and striving to meet them.
It’s 2019 and science has come a LONG way in proving how emotionally similar to humans, dogs are. Although we don’t need science to tell us that our dogs have feelings. With pet ownership in the USA tripling since the 70’s, more and more people are not only welcoming dogs into their lives but sharing them more intimately and having deeper relationships with them. 90% of American dog owners even consider them a part of the family. It’s no longer as widely accepted to just get a dog and toss him in the yard with a little food and call it a day. People are realizing that emotional health is just as important for our dogs as their physical health.
While humans and dogs so share many of the same emotional needs, the actual emotions are processed slightly different. Since their cerebral cortex is smaller, they don’t tend to internalize and overthink as much as we do. So, their emotions are processed in a less complicated manner, with less convolution. Meaning a dog’s emotion is more wholesome and genuine, much like a young human child. And just like children, dogs are similar in that they need to feel loved, safe and secure, and to be able to trust those in their life.
They also need compassionate guidance and consistency in their lives. It is vital to successfully raising an emotionally healthy child and an emotionally healthy dog. Like us, they are heavily influenced by early experience, abusive or physically brutal experiences, frightening situations and lack of security and consistency at a young age causes overwhelming stress preventing proper emotional development leading to an animal that has difficulties forming bonds, trusting people, and in general coping with every day life in our world.
We’ve taken it upon ourselves, humans, to essentially, make these creatures our life companions and chosen favorite partners. We’ve domesticated them and evolved with them by our side for thousands of years, so it is also our responsibility to raise them properly, teaching them that the world is an ok place to be. Like us, they are very social beings and they have a need to feel loved and safe in their environment. They need to feel like they belong and that they can trust the people in their lives. Without this, they are unable to establish and maintain healthy relationships with us. And in this world we live in, that is not acceptable for a dog. Nor is it fair.
This also relates to their need for consistency and compassionate, caring guidance. Its important that we learn to understand them and the way they communicate, so that we can better recognize their emotions in order to make sure they are secure in their environment and to teach them how to trust. Canine or Human, we are the same in that emotion drives our behaviors. A dog that doesn’t trust, that doesn’t feel secure, loved, without any consistency in his life or a gentle leader, creates an emotionally unbalanced dog that will develop behavioral issues.
Fearful experiences are not easily forgotten. Think of the things that scare you the most and why? Often, it’s likely stemming from a traumatic experience in your past. It is very difficult to erase those memories and alleviate those fears because they are deeply rooted. Reactivity, Aggression, Destructive behavior, separation anxiety, hyperactivity, and many other behavioral problems are just negative coping mechanisms due to their emotional needs not being met. A happy, healthy, mentally stable dog does not need nor desire to display those types of behaviors.