When guardians come to me for help with improving their dog’s behavior, the first thing I always ask is whether the guardian is meeting the dog's needs. What exactly do I mean by “Meeting a dog’s needs?” One of the easiest ways to look at meeting a dog’s needs is through the lens of the Five Freedoms.
Rosie enjoying a dip in the Colorado River.
What are the Five Freedoms?
The Five Freedoms originated with ensuring the welfare of farm animals, then expanded to companion animals in 1965 when the Association of Shelter Veterinarians adapted them. They seek to outline the basic care that all animals are entitled to just by virtue of being living, sentient beings.
Freedom from hunger and thirst:
This one feels like an easy win, right? Of course you give your dog food and water. But it can be more complicated than that. Sure, you give your dog food, but is it food that they enjoy, and that gives them the energy they need to go about their day with vigor? I’m not a veterinarian or canine nutritionist, so I will never advise you on what exactly to feed your dog, but if they don’t eat with gusto and have plentiful energy, this is an area to investigate.
Freedom from discomfort:
One of the best ways to give your dog freedom from discomfort is to utilize positive reinforcement-based training methods. Teaching your dog what you want them to do, and giving them something they like when they do it, is much more enjoyable for your dog than punishing them when they do something that you don't want them to do. One of the cool things about our current age of scientific research is that dogs are a much greater focus of studies than in days of old, so we have an increasing number of peer-reviewed studies that demonstrate that positive reinforcement training improves dogs' welfare and reduces their stress.
Freedom from pain, injury, and disease:
This is one of the most important to consider at the start of a behavioral training plan, because a large number of dogs with “behavioral problems” have an underlying medical issue that is causing or contributing to the behavior. Think about it, when you don’t feel well or are in pain, aren’t you more likely to be short-tempered and snap at those around you? The same can occur with dogs. This is why I will always talk to guardians about working with their veterinary professionals to ensure that their dog is free of pain before we embark on a behavioral modification plan.
Ally wearing a cone as part of her vet's effort to give her freedom from injury while treating her allergies.
Freedom to express normal behavior:
This is where I often see the most opportunity for improvement. Many people in the United States are socialized to expect dogs to be “well-behaved” at all times, and this often means expecting them to be quiet, calm, and obedient at all times and in all settings. However, this is not realistic, or optimal for your dog’s wellbeing. Normal dog behavior includes running, jumping, barking, shredding, digging, and other behaviors that many people consider unsavory. Providing your dog with a safe, appropriate outlet for these behaviors will help minimize the “problematic” expression of the same behaviors. For example, providing a designated area of the yard for your dog to dig can be part of the overall plan for teaching them not to dig in your prized roses.
Daisy displays a normal dog behavior - scavenging.
Freedom from fear and distress:
This is where evidence-based, welfare-focused positive reinforcement training like mine can really help! Being afraid of things that your dog has to encounter in their daily life can be a big source of stress, but proper training, focusing on sub-threshold desensitization and counter-conditioning, can help your dog change their feelings about these scary things.
If you have questions about meeting your dog's needs, including how you can use the five freedoms as a framework for assessing your dog's current quality of life, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.