All animal species have certain behaviours that are driven by a strong intrinsic motivation. The need to perform these behaviours arises from within the animal because it is naturally satisfying to do so. In regards to welfare these type of behaviours can become behavioural needs when:
In example, research has shown that female pigs (sows) need to be able to perform nest building behaviour when they are pregnant. If this opportunity is taken away from them, they eventually become less fertile, which can be one of many side effects from compromised welfare.
Dogs are also born with behavioural needs. More research has to be done on this subject, but you can imagine that the breeding that humans have done with dogs could also have impacted these needs, creating specific breed differences.
In this article I will focus on behavioural needs which are very likely to benefit dog welfare.
Research has shown that offering an enriched, mentally stimulating environment during the first six months of a dogs life, can decrease the risk of developing problem behaviours later in life.
Puppies need close guidance, but they also need to learn to self adapt, cope and to problem solve independently. Exploring, sniffing, chewing, all on their own pace, will help grow their confidence and decrease their chances of developing separation related problems.
Provide dogs with plenty of opportunities to explore the environment (sniffing is extremely important). Let them solve food puzzles (stuffed Kongs are also highly recommended) or just search for scattered food on the ground. This stimulates foraging behaviour, which is a natural behavior to dogs who once evolved from being scavengers to in home companions.
It is important to also consider the emotional needs during these type of activities (think about avoiding frustration and keeping the dog in the ‘seeking’ mode) and the biological needs (safety, without the risk of getting injured). Sometimes guidance needs to be given to insure safety and pleasure and these needs may differ per dog.
This is not necessarily a behavioural need for dogs, but because dogs live in such close proximity to humans, it is vital for their welfare that their human guardians are aware of their needs. Dog guardians will need to learn about welfare based dog training, using rewards and avoiding punishment. Dog training should always serve dog welfare. Building trust, strengthening the emotional bond, offering safety as well as physical and mental stimulation.
Though these needs will differ per individual (and age), every dog guardian should be aware of the exercise needs and temperament of their dog(s), before they decide to share their lives together. An important question to aks before bringing a dog to share your home and life with is: “Does your lifestyle and available time match with the welfare needs of this dog?”.
Do your welfare needs match with the welfare needs of your dog?
Most dogs (very average, it differs per dog type and age) will need one long walk and numerous short walks per day. Being able to run free and release built up energy will also benefit a dog's welfare greatly.
Dogs are highly social animals who (again, taking individual differences into account) are able to form social bonds fairly quickly and humans have selected them to behave extremely social towards humans.
Social interactions are a behavioural need for dogs. When dogs are left alone for 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, this can compromise their welfare and result in depression (reduced activity, reduced food intake, unresponsiveness) and illness (in the case of chronic stress).
© LotsDogs | Written by Liselot Boersma, dog welfare & behaviour consultant (PgDip CABW) and owner of LotsDogs, may 2016; translated in 2020. Copy paste of images or text is forbidden. Sharing the URL of this website is very much appreciated. Many thanks in advance.
Based in the Netherlands, Westbeemster
Dog Welfare & Behaviour consultant