A FULL LIFE?

What constitutes a full life for a dog?  

As someone who has a lot of dogs, I get asked frequently this question:  “How
do you give enough attention to each dog?”  It’s a bit hard to explain to folks who haven’t lived with dogs ranging from near 15 years old to not even a year old and everything in-between.  And all related.  At the moment, there’s four generations living here, a lovely rich tapestry of genetics.

Easy to get lost in the technicalities of how I handle the grand old dame Otter as well as her great-granddaughter Spider.  Suffice it to say they have different needs.

The deeper, far more important question is how to know what is "enough."

To define what we consider "enough” we have to ask the dog himself if his life is working for him.  And really listen to his answer.  This requires that we put aside what we think is an ideal life for a dog and ask your specific dog what he has to say about things.

I recently had a client who was making herself and her dog literally physically ill from the stress of trying to live a full life, and give this dog “enough.”  The dog did NOT like going
out into the rather overwhelming world.  Fearful, anxious, reactive, this dog had a hard time coping with strangers and a lot of activity.  She was only really, truly happy, playful and relaxed only at home.  She also enjoyed private herding and agility lessons where she did not have to worry about strange people and strange dogs.

Attending group classes, agility trials, herding lessons & obedience four to five times a week took its toll on this dog.  As a result, a lot of unhappy & unpleasant behavior problems were surfacing.

I asked the woman why she felt all this activity was necessary.  Why couldn't the dog just stay home and enjoy her small family and activities she did enjoy?  There was a very, very long pause.

Her answer, "I don't know. I thought that for a dog to be really happy, her life had to be full of fun stuff to do."

I pointed out gently that if she had a friend who hated parties, hated travel and hated group activities, thinking that the friend "needed" such things in order to have a happy life would just end up with her friend being miserable.  No one had ever suggested that she take a look at the dog’s reaction to the “good life” and see what it was really doing.  She admitted that after an agility trial, the dog typically crashed and slept for 2 days to recover from the stress.  And we talked about further details, she could suddenly see that the dog who stood in that seminar setting, anxious, unsure, vigilant was not the carefree, joyful, bouncy dog full of sparkle that she saw at home.

So, she took the dog out of the group activities, stopped trialing her, and scaled it down to private agility & herding lessons which the dog adored.  She gave herself and the dog permission to create their own version of what a "happy life" should be.

If in doubt, ask your dogs - they'll let you know whether things are working for them or not. Balancing ages, personalities, your goals and your ideas of what constitutes a full life for a dog all become very personal.  Just be sure the dog’s needs are at the center of all you decide for them.