What Dogs Need

by Mary Jane Checchi

Dinah the dogI once asked a class of first and second graders, "What does a dog need?" Almost everyone raised a hand, and in just a few moments the children listed:

  • Food
  • A Home
  • A Doctor
  • Baths
  • Play
  • Love and Attention
  • Exercise

I was impressed and pleasantly surprised. In short order, these young children created a better list than some adults would.

Most owners recognize that a well cared for dog needs shelter, a healthy diet, and veterinary care that includes spaying or neutering, check-ups and appropriate vaccinations. Most also know, or quickly learn, that grooming is important to canine health as well as appearance. Less obvious, but equally important, is a dog's need for social interaction - what the children called play, love and attention.

Dogs are descended from wolves and, like wolves, are highly social animals. Wolves bond with their pack; dogs bond with their individual owner or family. The owner is viewed as the leader of the pack, the "alpha dog" - a built in advantage when it comes to training.

Because dogs naturally want to belong to a pack and obey their leader, owners who socialize and train their dog will have a companion who is obedient, loyal and well behaved.

A dog who has been banished to the yard, basement, or garage has been deprived of the opportunity to form this important attachment. This is a hardship for the dog and a loss for the human pack. Dogs that are isolated for long periods of time become bored and destructive (these are the ones who bark incessantly, chew on everything, dig holes) and possibly even anti-social and dangerous.

The children were right to name "exercise" as an important need, as well. It is important for both health and behavior. Dogs who lack adequate exercise also can become bored, destructive and difficult to handle.

Too many owners view outdoor time as merely an opportunity for their pet to relieve him or herself. A walk around the block twice a day does not equal exercise, nor does putting a dog alone in a fenced-in yard. Except for those sad creatures who have become so neurotic that they rush back and forth along the fence all day, barking at every rustling leaf (a behavior so annoying that the dog is universally hated), dogs in yards are usually quite sedentary.

The solutions to these potential problems are simple and go to the heart of the human-canine relationship: Train your dog for obedience, play with him, take her for at least one long daily walk or jog (all but the very oldest and frailest dogs need substantial daily exercise). Give affection with lots of pats, rubs, ear scratches.

In return for giving their pets education, exercise and attention, owners will be richly rewarded with unconditional love and the companionship of a well adjusted pet.