Behavior Wellness: Who Is Responsible?
By Teena Patel
Far from jargon, behavior wellness is an approach where an owner is proactive in the outcome of a dog’s behavior. The goals of a behavioral wellness plan is to help an animal respond in a healthy and predictable manner; favorable to his/her lifestyle. The core of healthy behavior is indicative of an animal’s emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing, and should be long lasting.
People can relate better to the term “medical wellness” than perhaps the term behavioral wellness. Medical wellness exams for pets have the goal to identify significant and concerning changes to the physical body (internal and external) that could potentially yield to bigger health problems. An extreme finding in the medical health of an animal could be life threatening.
Behavioral wellness identifies individual responses and the development of behavior patterns that potentially could escalate over time to bigger problems such as extremes of: social inaptness, aggression, fear and anxiety. Behavioral wellness plans seek to determine the triggers of these behavior traits and they aid to actively alter an animal’s behavior to induce and strengthen healthier reactions.
A restricted companion dog’s quality of life is dictated by the owner’s understanding and decision making for the experiences and outcomes the owner puts their dogs in. Without a proactive plan, such “experiments” are conducted by some professional dog groomers, trainers, dog daycare owners and staff, including veterinarians; becoming a “trial by fire” experiment.
Consequently, much of today’s lifestyle for companion dogs hinder healthy behavior rather than enable and enrich healthy behavior, especially when the experiences the dog has are as a result of situations that could be better managed if the dog was in the careful hands of good professionals.
Our companion dogs today are forced to reside in very challenging environments. For example, in the average companion dog home, the dog lives with more than one person. Having multiple “pet parents” creates a conflict to the innate instinct of many working breeds to obey one handler. Sometimes pet parents have a faulty demand and expectation for their dog’s social life. For example, a pet parent may want their dog to play nicely with any other dog that they encounter in their every day lives. Nevertheless, this faulty need often results in behavior dysfunction and expulsion from daycares.
In today’s world, companion dogs are living in fast paced, ever changing, confined and restricted environments. Very frequently, a dog seeks to conserve energy and avoid conflict or danger, rather than confront it. Forced restriction to environments that poise severe challenges are a major source of behavior problems because the animal is bound and unable to move or free from them.
To achieve behavior wellness, we must create environments that lead to experiences that allow dogs to thrive. Hence, our involvement and participation is imperative, especially in domains created to cater to multi-dog and multi-breed populations.
Starting from the outside by focusing on the elements within these domains and progressing towards the inside by looking at a dog’s innate characteristics makes for optimal management of the dogs’ reaction. This combination allows the dog to build a rock solid behavior history from which the dog can draw from in later experiences in life.
A dog that thrives in behavioral wellness has the best possible environment at home, in daycare, boarding, vet care, and grooming. His/her training becomes relevant to all these experiences, enabling the dog for favorable outcomes, and in turn, the dog’s lifestyle is enriching and behavioral wellness is in play.