If you break it down to the basics, dogs actually only need 11 things from us humans. The rest of it? Is for us! We’re the ones who want to dress dogs up, buy them dozens of toys, and so on. While I don’t think you should stop doing those things – after all, I get a lot of fun out of buying Janice and Leroy new toys from time to time – I do think it’s good to stop on occasion and consider what it is that your dog really does need.
(1) Quality Dog Food and Water
When I say “high-quality dog food”, be aware that that’s a broad category. Long-time readers of the blog will know that I feed Janice and Leroy a store brand, at the recommendation of my vet. I looked for a store brand with meat ingredients first, without any weird chemical ingredients that I couldn’t pronounce tacked on to the end. Many dog owners prefer to look a little deeper, looking for food that doesn’t include unnecessary binders and grains, foods that contain higher protein levels, and more. The key, I think, is just to take your time and actually research the food you are feeding your dog.
Dogs also need you to make sure that they are getting the right amount of food. Dogs will often overeat if you allow them to, and obesity in dogs can cause serious medical issues. This includes their treats as well – those count towards their daily calorie intake! Don’t give your dog a full serving of dog food, plus a treat every single day, and then wonder why they are starting to look a little heavy.
Finally, of course, dogs need fresh water around all the time. They don’t sweat like we do, so they are very susceptible to overheating. One way they combat this is by drinking water, so always be sure your dog has clean and fresh water out.
Yep, dogs need plenty of sleep and rest. It can be hard for some dogs to get good, deep sleep if they don’t feel that they have their own space, however. Some dogs are more than happy to claim a corner of the couch; others may get better rest if you give them their own dog bed. Adult dogs need up to 14 hours of sleep per day, so if they sleep 8 hours every night with you, don’t be too concerned by the fact that they’ll get in another long nap during your work day – just be prepared to handle their energetic hours when you come home. A puppy needs far more sleep, as much as 20 hours per day broken up into smaller segments.
Speaking of a dog’s energetic hours, one thing all dogs desperately need more of from most dog owners is exercise. There are definitely some breeds out there that are very low energy and don’t require a ton of walking or playing. But most breeds fall somewhere in the middle to the upper end of the energy scale. All dogs need at least a short daily walk to keep their weight maintained and keep them moving.
Most dogs need more than this, however. In addition to a daily walk or run, dogs will be much healthier and happier with some active play time every day – meaning chasing a ball, fetching a disc, or playing tug of war.
Some dogs who fall on the higher end of the energy scale need even more than this. They’ll need plenty of time to run in secured areas, as well as play time. These dogs would do well with owners who are willing to get them involved in something like lure coursing or other canine sporting events.
(4) Mental Stimulation
In addition to exercising their bodies, all dogs need their brains to be occupied some as well. Dogs that get bored are dogs that get destructive. If you don’t want your shoes chewed, you need to teach your dog early to enjoy mentally stimulating toys and games. This could mean playing hide and seek with your dog or teaching your dog some tricks. Any type of training, including regular obedience training, is good mental stimulation for a dog and will help him stay occupied.
Another solution for busy dog owners is to feed your dog part of his daily meal in a puzzle toy, such as a KONG. Your dog will have to figure out how to get the food out, which keeps him both motivated and occupied. There are many other puzzle toys out there that involve giving your dog food or treats to find in the toy, and those work great for a dog that gets bored while you are at work.
(5) Attention and Affection
The next thing your dog needs from you is some attention and affection every single day. Dogs are pack animals and are not at all meant to live or be alone often. Even dogs with independent personalities do need attention from their chosen person. Remember that we created the domesticated dog to be a companion animalfor humans; they didn’t really exist in the wild, not as we know them today, so they don’t have anything that they know other than being pals with humans.
Dogs can suffer anxiety from separation very easily, and most dogs spend all day separated from their human already due to working hours. So it’s vital that you find ways to make time for your dog every day.
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(6) Rules and Leadership
You may have heard before that having a dog is a lot like having a toddler because science has discovered that most dogs have the intelligence level of a human toddler. Just like toddlers need to know their boundaries in order to stay safe and form context for the world around them, so do dogs. Having rules, and knowing who to turn to for instruction, is very important for a dog’s mental state. As a pack animal, a dog is always trying to understand how he fits into the dynamic. If you establish yourself as his leader, he knows that you are someone he is bonded to, and that’s a key part of a good dog-human relationship.
Additionally, dogs need rules to keep them safe. Chewing up furniture could lead to painful splinters in a dog’s gums, for example. So don’t be afraid to be firm with your training from day one. Being firm doesn’t mean being harsh. Positive training is much more effective than punishment. But do choose a method, whether it is clicker training or something else, and stick to it.
Like all living beings, dogs need shelter from the elements. I see far too many dogs tied up in yards with no way to escape the sun or rain as the day goes on. If your dog must stay outside, please give him a dog house, or at least put him near a shady tree that he can nap under.
When your dog is inside your home, you may need a place where you can cordon him off when you have guests over, or to clean or for any other reason. One thing that all dogs can be trained to love is having a kennel that is all their own. Dogs do actually like having a safe space that is just theirs. If you start crate training early, you can make that part of their need for shelter.
There are some breeds that need very minimal if any grooming – but most dogs need at least a bit of basic grooming. In addition to keeping their coats washed and trimmed, to avoid painful tangles or dirt falling off them into your home, most dogs will need their nails trimmed and their teeth brushed.
Nails that get too long can rip and cause a lot of pain and bleeding for a dog. Getting a good pair of nail clippers, or taking your dog to a professional groomer, can stop this from happening.
A dog’s oral health care is very important for their overall health. Unhealthy gums can lead to very serious problems like heart issues and cancer. Brushing a dog’s teeth is one of the best things that you can do for their lifespan as a pet owner. I recommend getting a set that includes a toothbrush and a finger brush so that you can try out both and see which your dog is willing to tolerate.
(9) Health Care
The next thing your dog needs is quality health care. As puppies, dogs need vaccinations, just like human babies, against certain diseases that have been known to wipe out puppies very easily. Puppies often need to be de-wormed, and then comes the issue of spaying and neutering. This is a controversial issue, and you readers know that I breed Janice and Leroy, but I will say that for the most part, I advocate for spaying and neutering. Unless you intend to be a responsible breeder and devote yourself to that role, I wouldn’t risk any unplanned litters.
As dogs get older, they’ll need a yearly rabies vaccination to keep them safe from wild animals, as well as regular dental check-ups and overall physical check-ups. It’s a great idea to get a healthy dog’s teeth professionally cleaned once per year, to ensure that they don’t have a lot of plaque building up under the gum line. And of course, in the event that your dog gets sick or injured, you’ll need to see a vet.
Here’s something that many dog owners don’t realize: your dog needs routine. Knowing how each day is going to go, to a certain extent, is very important for a dog’s mental health. Keep in mind that they don’t get the same information that you do. They don’t understand the difference between a weekday and a weekend; they don’t know that a vacation isn’t a forever change; they don’t understand that a baby is going to grow into a fun kid in just a few years. Changes to a dog’s day signal only danger to them, because dogs are hardwired to be wary of the unknown.
So having as much routine as you can with a dog is a very good thing to provide. This will help them stay calm and collected when there are necessary changes that have to be made.
The last thing that a dog needs from you is trust – dogs need to trust that you will provide for their needs, or else they are apt to wander, looking for other places to get those needs met. Dogs also need to trust that you are his buddy, just like he is yours. Remember, he’s built for companionship, so when you act in a way that is mean towards him, he feels betrayed by his closest friend. By earning a dog’s trust, you’ll ensure that he feels safe – a very big part of his needs.