In these days of lockdown, we constantly hear about how the mental health of us humans can be affected.
Have you thought how many of our dogs live their lives all the time?
Eight-week-old puppies deprived company, many older dogs socially isolated for hours at a time, dogs socially distanced from their own species, denied choice where they go; unable to escape from things that scare them.
Isn’t the mental health and wellbeing of dogs what a behaviourist is for?
Where the vet, like a GP, is primarily to concerned with physical health whilst passing more targeted problems onto specialists, a behaviourist like myself is is one of those specialists.
I am primarily involved with a dog’s mental health and wellbeing. A bit like a human psychiatrist or counsellor.
If dog owners were more aware of the mental benefits to the dog of using a behaviourist as readily as they choose a trainer, many sad situations could be avoided.
This is the order in which people very often think of getting assistance for their dog:
I would change the order.
- Behaviourist. Quite rightly the vet is reluctant to prescribe meds unless the dog is having help from a behaviourist as well. The vet is needed as a number one to check there is no physical reason for the dog’s emotional state. The vet however, unless a veterinary behaviourist, isn’t usually experienced in behaviour work.
There is considerable overlap between each one of course.
Mental stability surely has to be more important than learning ‘commands’ or ‘cues’. Fortunately nowadays many trainers also double up with behaviour work as the importance of a dog’s mental wellbeing is increasingly recognised.
A dog is now accepted as a sentient being, not as a sort of slave to be dominated, commanded and controlled.
In the UK dog owners, and many vets, are very reluctant to use psychopharmacology on dogs. A dog is expected to suffer fear and anxiety in a way that would long ago have brought counselling and medication to a human. Meds are often prescribed as a very last resort, at a stage in the dog’s mental health where a human may even be either harming themselves or contemplating ending it all.
Thankfully ethics are becoming more and more important in the world of dog behaviour and training.
Here in the UK we now have the UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter https://ukdogcharter.org. ‘The UK Dog Behaviour and Training Charter provides assurance to the public and other professional bodies that the practitioner they employ has been checked, supported and monitored by a reputable accrediting member organisation’.
So – mental wellbeing for dogs.
I run a thriving dog-owner Facebook support group and am saddened by how few understand that, if they have a disturbed, scared or aggressive dog, it’s the emotions driving this behaviour that need working on with a behaviourist (me). Not correction and ‘training’.
Their first stop is usually, if searching the internet for free information doesn’t work, to look for a trainer or for classes.
I wish that people were better educated in the importance and relevance of general mental wellbeing for dogs. It’s so much more important than learning how to sit, high-five or spin which is a a bit like sending a child with acute anxiety to Saturday morning school to cure him.
A message to my Facebook group members and anyone else with a troubled dog: for your dog’s emotional wellbeing I can help wherever you live. An online consultation can be an eye-opener in your understanding of your dog’s needs.