How to meet your dog's welfare needs
Meeting your dog's welfare needs goes far beyond just providing food and walks. At Guide Dogs, we're passionate about taking a holistic, dog-centred approach to a dog’s everyday care that considers their emotional, behavioural, and physical health needs.
A dog's everyday care can be broken down into five key welfare areas:
- Mental state
Every dog deserves the best possible care and neglecting any of these areas can harm your dog's overall quality of life. That's why we've created the following guide to help you understand your dog's individual needs so you can tailor their care and ensure they're living their best life possible.
One of the most important aspects of caring for your dog is providing a diet balanced to suit their age, size, health, and activity level. As your dog ages, or their lifestyle or health changes, it's important to review their diet to ensure it still meets their needs.
Good nutrition also includes water, and your dog should have constant access to daily clean fresh water. Water should be offered regularly when your dog is exercising, especially in hot weather.
Food can also help to keep your dog's mind active. You can make mealtimes more challenging by feeding some of their meals in different ways. For example, try using a puzzle feeder to encourage your dog to use their brain to work out how to access their food. Alternatively, use food during training exercises to promote and reinforce the behaviour you want to see.
If you're concerned about your dog's diet or your dog is gaining or losing weight, please get in touch with your vet. Lots of practices have vet nurses trained in nutrition who can work with you and your vet to help you understand the cause and provide practical steps to improve your dog's health and diet.
Here at Guide Dogs, we work with chosen food suppliers to ensure our guide dogs receive a nutritious diet at each stage of their lives.
Creating a safe space for your dog is essential for their wellbeing and comfort. Dogs, like people, need downtime and a suitable place to feel secure and relaxed. This space can be their bed or crate, ideally in a quiet corner where they won't be disturbed, away from the hustle and bustle of daily life. It’s a good idea to encourage your family members and particularly children, to avoid touching or interacting with your dog when they're in their safe space.
Some dogs like to stretch out while they rest, while others prefer to curl up, and their bed should reflect this individual preference. On average, dog's need around 14 - 18 hours of sleep a day, however this can vary and change as your dog ages. It’s also worth being aware that as dogs get older, their needs will change, and they might like some extra space or padding to keep them comfortable.
When your dog isn't resting, providing them with appropriate enrichment activities, such as toys and brain games, will keep them engaged and stimulated. Many enrichment toys are made for dogs of different ages, personalities, and sizes, so make sure you choose toys that suit your dog and always supervise playtimes!
You should provide a designated area for your dog to use for toileting (Guide Dogs refer to this as a ‘spending area’). The area should have a surface your dog prefers, whether concrete, gravel, or grass. Keeping this area clean and promptly disposing of waste is also essential for maintaining a healthy environment.
When visiting other households or environments, remember your dog’s needs too. If you’re seeing friends or taking your dog to work, ensure they have a safe resting area, access to water, and plenty of opportunities to stretch their legs and engage in some fun!
Sometimes, a particular environment or activity isn't suitable for your dog. Even the most well-socialised dog may feel uncomfortable or distressed in noisy or crowded public places – remember, a dog's hearing is much more sensitive than ours! In such cases, it's best to consider leaving them at home or with a trusted friend or family member.
A healthy dog is a happy dog. Providing enough exercise for your dog is crucial for their physical and mental wellbeing. The amount of activity your dog needs will depend on their age, breed, size, and overall health. However, in general, this can range from 30 minutes to two hours of exercise daily in the form of on or off-lead activities.
Signs of too little exercise could include weight gain, lethargy, restlessness, and behavioural issues such as excessive barking, destructive behaviour or chewing. Symptoms of over-exercise could include limping, stiffness, reluctance to move, and excessive panting. By monitoring your dog's behaviour during and after exercise, you should get to know what is right for them, and if you are concerned by anything you see, contact your vet for advice.
You'll also need to carry out regular healthcare checks so you understand what is normal for your dog to ensure good physical shape. and avoid health problems. It’s essential to brush and groom your dog regularly, keeping their coat clean and nails trimmed. You should also check their teeth and ears as part of the grooming process. Don’t forget to watch out for any unusual behaviour, like excessive scratching or licking that might indicate something’s amiss.
Your dog's vaccinations need to be kept up to date, and they should have a check-up with your vet at least once a year. Keeping up with regular veterinary-prescribed preventative flea and worming treatment is important for maintaining good health.
Dogs need to be dogs! Dogs are happiest when they can be themselves, which is why it's important to let them exhibit their natural behaviour and to create as many positive experiences as possible in different environments.
Most dogs enjoy interacting with people and other dogs in a variety of situations, but each dog is an individual with their own likes and dislikes, and some may prefer less interaction than others. Understanding your dog’s preferences is key to keeping them happy and healthy.
You might want to try:
- Giving your dog the freedom to choose what they want to do at home, like playing, grooming, or resting
- Mixing up your daily physical activities - try brain games, training exercises, going for off-lead exercise, or taking a lead walk – remember variety is the spice of life!
- Exploring new places so your dog can experience different smells, textures, and sounds and allow them time for socialisation with new people and their dogs, if this is something your dog enjoys
- Providing regular opportunities to engage in activities like sniffing and chasing - you can play games or use toys that encourage an outlet for their energy and natural instincts
Every dog is different, and exercise levels will depend on your dog’s age, health, and fitness level - so if your dog requires more, or slightly less than recommended to keep them fit, healthy and happy, that’s ok!
Remember - your dog will need to be taught and reminded what behaviours are expected of them. Teach your dog using reward based methods, and make sure you're consistent with your expectations. Always aim to reward your dog for desired behaviours, instead of punishing them if they don't get something right.
Your dog's mental wellbeing is just as important as their physical health. Keeping them mentally stimulated and happy will also strengthen your bond with them.
Encouraging your dog to learn or use their brain is called cognitive, or mental, enrichment. It challenges your dog's ability to think, learn, and remember. Activities include:
- Problem-solving exercises
- Training or learning new tricks or behaviour
- Exploring new environments
These brain games are not only a great way to challenge your dog’s abilities and keep their brain active and engaged, but are also helpful for older dogs, as it can slow down age-related cognitive decline. It's also beneficial for dogs as keeping them mentally active can help with boredom and anxiety.
By ensuring your dog has positive experiences and all care needs are met in these five welfare areas - nutrition, physical health, environment, behaviour, and mental state - you can feel confident that you’re providing a happy and enjoyable life for your dog and their minds are as healthy as their paws.
Who to contact if you need advice or guidance
If you're a guide dog owner, and you have any non-urgent queries on your guide dog’s health and wellbeing, please don't hesitate to get in touch via Guide Line - we're here to help. Please contact the emergency line on 0345 143 0217 if anything happens outside of office hours.
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