October is National Pet Wellness Month and it's the perfect time to talk about what wellness means when it comes to your pets.
Merriam Webster's definition of wellness is The quality or state of being in good health, especially as an actively sought goal.
To me, wellness is the means in which you take to achieve a sense of well-being. A sense of well-being is how you feel physically and mentally.
As humans, we have to use our best guess as to what a sense of well-being is to our pets. One way we can be sure we are addressing all aspects of wellness for our pets is by using something called the dimensions of wellness that is used when referring to human wellness. I have simplified it using a pet's perspective below. After each one, you will find a tip to help improve that area of wellness for your pet.
We can argue about what emotions dogs actually feel, but there's no arguing that they do feel emotions. For instance, when you find garbage strewn throughout the house and your dog is looking at you sheepishly with squinting eyes and tucked-under tail, you’re pretty confident your pet is feeling guilt.
Behaviorists have explained why the human perspective of pet emotions isn't correct, but it doesn't matter that we don't know exactly what they feel. It matters that we have an awareness that they have positive and negative emotions, and it's important that we do our best to provide them with what makes them emotionally stable.
Rachel’s Tip: Get to know what your dog's body language really means. This has got to be one of the most loving things you can do for your dog. Rather than assume and project your perspective of their feelings onto them, do a little research or pick a trainer's brain. This will allow you to communicate better with your pet which creates more emotional stability and less struggle with behavioral issues.
Boredom sucks. You know what it feels like, and so does your dog. Just like us, they have natural instincts for what they were built for. We can become depressed when we aren't getting the creative outlets that we need to make us feel useful and content. They can, too.
Rachel’s Tip: Behavioral issues often stem from boredom or suppression of natural instincts. Think about being chained to a desk job if you are the type of person that thrives on physical work. Get to know what your particular dog's breed is innately driven to do and find a way to stimulate that. A great example would be if you have a scent hound. They are made to sniff things out. Come up with games that challenge the nose.
This one is the most talked about and probably the most obvious. However, it isn’t any more important than the other aspects. Ignoring the other aspects can and will affect your pet's physical health just like it affects yours.
Physical wellness includes nutrition, exercise, rest, disease prevention, medical intervention, and musculoskeletal support (proper sleeping, leashes, and harnesses that support proper biomechanics).
Rachel’s Tip: There is no one perfect path to physical wellness for your dog. Finding practitioners that work with you and your dog as a unique duo and are not rigid in a protocol is the key to your sanity and your dog's health. Don't forget that if you are stressed out, that creates a stressful environment for your dog. A stressful environment does not create a sense of well-being.
This is a big one because it affects all of the others. Their environment is where they live, sleep, eat, play and what they play with.
Rachel’s Tip: Something that is most often overlooked in pet wellness is rest. Dogs need 14-18 hours of rest per day. The majority of dog beds do not support their skeletal system and even worse, they are made of materials that can off-gas toxic chemicals that are absorbed through the skin and lungs. I created a dog bed called the Sydney Sleep Mattress specifically with my own pet's wellness in mind. It's made of hemp and it is truly orthopedic. I urge you to evaluate your dog's sleeping environment. If they don't have their very own space, that's the first place to start. They need their very own piece of real estate in your home.
Your pet's sense of security and well-being is often determined by knowing their place in their pack. They need social interaction just like we do. Knowing their boundaries and where they stand prevents anxiety.
Rachel’s Tip: The usual tip would be to take your dog to a dog park. The best tip I can give you is this: Dog parks can be dangerous. You cannot prevent something terrible from happening with so little control of an environment. Most people need to spend more time learning what their dog's body language really means, and the vast majority do not communicate well enough with their own dog to prevent something from happening to your beloved dog. You never want to be in a situation where your dog is attacked, but you also need to be serious about learning their language unbiased by your human perspective. All dogs are good dogs. Sometimes we muck up the communication between them and it results in trauma. A great place to start socialization with your dog is under the watchful eye of a behaviorist. Have your dog evaluated in a basic training class or a consultation before taking on something like a dog park.
Check back for upcoming posts where I will dive deeper into each of the aspects of wellness to help your pets feel their best, both physically and mentally.