Posted on: November 4, 2022 Posted by: Petsynse Comments: 0

A few weeks ago, after reviewing piles of books, papers, and countless emails to complete a forthcoming book, I unconsciously began putting together a list of ways to give dogs the best lives possible, many of which apply both to homed and free-ranging dogs. There are numerous simple ways based on solid science and common sense to ensure that dogs have high-quality lives even if they spend a good deal of time inside being held “captive” and being “helicoptered” and constantly being told what not to do.

Many post-pandemic dogs who had a lot of time with their humans during the pandemic and enjoyed their company now have a hard time being home alone. Numerous dogs feel abandoned and are bored and anxious because they’re lonely with nothing to do or because they have no one with whom to hang out, and leaving the TV or radio on doesn’t cut it. They need you, and TV, radio, and music aren’t substitutes for human interaction.

Simple ways to improve a dog’s quality of life: The power of praise and play

Here are some suggestions I bounced off a few people who found them “very useful” and “easy to do.” There’s no particular order other than perhaps for the first three because bringing a dog into your life is a huge responsibility and the least you can do is learn how they communicate what they want and need and respect each and every dog as the particular individual they are. I realize most people are doing the best they can, so it’s important to be fair to right-minded dog guardians and realize that “being for” dogs means different things to different people.

  • Think deeply about what it means to bring a dog into your life. It’s a huge responsibility that continues from the “cradle”—when you first get a dog—to the grave.
  • Become fluent in “dog”—what different actions and vocalizations mean—what they’re telling you or asking of you.
  • Know each dog as the individual they are; different personalities have different needs.
  • If you need a dog trainer, only use a person who offers positive, force-free methods.2
  • Don’t yank their leash while they’re sampling odors and sounds and looking around to see what’s happening. It can harm them, and for humans, excluding dog bites, being pulled over when walking a tethered dog is the second-most common cause of non-fatal dog-related injuries in the UK.1
  • Provide opportunities for them to express their personal dogness and reveal their “otherness”—they’re not simply furry humans or dumbed-down wolves.
  • Give them every opportunity to tell you who they are and what they need.
  • Let them do dog-appropriate behaviors whenever possible, including chewing, sniffing butts, perhaps mounting and humping, and simply taking the time to take in sights, sounds, and smells.
  • Let them know you care deeply about them and will let them express themselves and give them as much control and choice (agency) as possible while protecting them from any harm that might come their way.
  • Don’t helicopter them to death and have them lose their canine spirit.
  • Tell them “good dog” even if they’re doing nothing to “deserve” it.
  • Never use tough love; they have no idea what’s happening. Dogs aren’t unconditional lovers, and they can get confused when they’re treated as if you don’t really appreciate them for who they are. The idea that dogs unconditionally love and unwind us are misleading memes.
  • Say “goodbye” when you leave them and “hello” when you reunite. Suggestions to the contrary are ill-founded.
  • Be patient. Sometimes it takes a dog a while to understand and agree with what you want them to do, and when they don’t do something, it doesn’t mean they can’t do it—maybe they’re bored or distracted or telling you that they simply don’t want to do what you’re asking of them.
  • If they enjoy playing with other dogs, let them do so to their heart’s content.
  • Allow them to work out their differences; rough-and-tumble play only very rarely escalates into real aggression because dogs (and other animals) follow the “golden rules” of fair play.
  • Enrich their lives and allow them to express their playfulness, curiosity, and creativity. Challenge them in positive ways. Positive eustress can challenge dogs and break up the monotonous same old, same old.
  • Having an “easy” life doesn’t mean having a “better” life. Some dogs enjoy working for food (“counter-freeloading”), having varied meal plans, or solving puzzles.
  • Let your dog have time alone when they need it. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you, and in most instances, when dogs ask for some downtime, it’s not about you. When a dog says, “I’ve had enough of you,” there’s no reason to take it personally or to feel snubbed.
  • When they apologize for having done something “wrong”—at least you think so—forgive them.
  • Unleash them whenever you can.

The Ten Freedoms for dogs

In Unleashing Your Dog Jessica Pierce and I adapted and expanded the original Five Freedoms into Ten Freedoms that should guide our interactions with dogs.3 Freedoms one to five focus on freedoms from uncomfortable or aversive experiences, while freedoms six to ten focus on freedoms to be dogs.

Like all animals, dogs need the following:

  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from pain
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from fear and distress
  • Freedom from avoidable or treatable illness and disability
  • Freedom to be themselves
  • Freedom to express normal behavior
  • Freedom to exercise choice and control
  • Freedom to frolic and have fun
  • Freedom to have privacy and “safe zones”

“Unleashing your dog” is both literal—dogs need more time off leash—and metaphorical. We need to continually work toward increasing the freedoms that our dogs experience, thereby unleashing their potential to live their lives to the fullest.

Our relationships with dogs must incorporate give-and-take and be steeped in ongoing negotiations between them and us, mutual respect and tolerance, and lots of love. There’s no reason to bring another living being into the equation when it’s likely you won’t get what you need from them, and they won’t get what they need from you. This is a lose-lose situation, bad for all involved. All players need support and love, so a “good life” means that what’s good for you is also good for your dog. Many dogs would be fine without us.

Unleashing dogs is an excellent way to give them more freedom and allow them to express who they truly are in a world where humans run the show. Science and common sense provide excellent reasons for allowing dogs to be as free as possible. It’s good for them, good for us, and good for developing strong and enduring bonds that incorporate reciprocal trust and respect.