The Twelve Days of Wellness Day Five: Balanced Behaviors

Balanced dog behavior

by Dr. Isla Fishburn (reprinted with author's permission)

Canine wellness.

Canine wellness is about physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of your dog. In order to maintain balance in your dog as a WHOLE organism, we have to observe and analyse several aspects of your dog’s life from before birth to present day. Over the next 12 days of wellness I will introduce you to some of the concepts of wellness, what these include and what we need to consider on a daily basis to optimise the health and longevity in our dogs.

Today, we are going to look at BALANCED BEHAVIOURS.

In the past, when a dog was said to have behavioural issues, it was the behaviour itself that a professional would focus on in an attempt to balance the behaviour that was being displayed. Today more and more are beginning to realise that in certain cases, looking solely at behaviour may not allow for that dog to return to homeostatic regulation (which we talked about yesterday).

Very briefly, any behaviour that your dog shows is a result of biochemical responses based on the given experience. Any and every experience can affect your dog’s biochemical response and, you guessed it, this all happens at a cellular level. Your dog’s cells receive information about an experience from one or more of its senses (e.g. sight, sound, smell, touch, taste) and this sends information to the cells about how they may need to produce a certain series of chemicals (and energy). It is these chemicals that then make your dog show a certain behavioural response. This is why we can always say with confidence that any dog is an honest dog – they can’t lie about how they feel because they are driven by these biochemical responses.

However, like I said before, any and every experience can change the biochemical reactions that are going on inside your dog’s body and we can’t just look at behaviour alone (well, sometimes we can) to support the dog in returning back to balance.

It is also important to note here that your dog is just that – a dog. There are certainly some instances where the behaviour being displayed in your dog is a result of your dog being a canine, a hunter and a social animal. There are some behaviours that some people may want to stop or who deem them as “problematic” when in reality your dog is showing very natural behaviour as a canine.

How your dog responds to experiences is largely through both your dog’s innate character as well as learning, either by watching what another dog does (or its parent), what we are showing the dog or learning on its own through trial and error.

Now, if you haven’t already guessed yet, here is where it gets really tricky because EACH DOG IS DIFFERENT! Yup! That’s right, no two dogs are the same so when we are looking at how to optimise your dog’s wellness, we have to recognise each of our dogs as unique and as individuals. This means that everything we do in terms of wellness looks at the dog as an individual and what s/he needs. Every dog will respond differently to every experience.

Still, what does stay the same in all dogs is the need for us to protect their wellness and ensure that balanced behaviours are exhibited. Of course, having balanced behaviours means that we have to ensure there are no imbalances in the dog’s WHOLE system.

Certainly, when you look at optimising you dog’s wellness, you must consider how elevated the nervous system is. Yesterday I talked about the need for your dog to have long periods of relaxation and this is because this is what the nervous system needs. The nervous system is very intricate and delicate and should only be exposed to short periods of stress and elevation. Too much elevation and activation (well, of the sympathetic nervous system anyway) will certainly lead to imbalances in your dog, emotionally, physically and spiritually.

For me, one of the biggest issues I see today in dogs that creates an imbalance is stress. When we think of stress we usually think of the dog being under emotional stress, perhaps as a result of fear, being too controlled, having too much exercise (yes! This can cause stress), or being hurt. Of course, emotional stress itself will certainly create an imbalance in the dog’s system and, in time, this can lead to physical imbalances.

When we think of stress and how this can cause imbalanced behaviours, many of us would immediately think that this is a result of emotional stress. Certainly it can be, but there other forms of stress that can also create behaviours to become imbalanced. For example, it is believed that, other than physical trauma, imbalances arise as a result of emotional, physical and/or nutritional stress that builds up within the body.

Your dog is exposed to many stressors including environmental stress, toxic stress, genetic stress, emotional stress (which also includes biochemical stress and trauma), physical stress (including pain), oxidative stress (imbalance between reactive oxygen in the environment and antioxidants that are used to detoxify them and repair any damaged caused), hormonal stress and nutritional stress (as we discussed on the second day of wellness, where by inappropriate diet creates imbalance and does not nourish the nervous system). Some of these stressors are harder to identify and resolve than others, but we must be aware of all of them when looking at balancing behaviours, rather than looking at behaviour alone. Whilst in some circumstances, we can see behaviours returning back to balance simply by looking at the behaviour itself. However, in many circumstances, we achieve a far greater result and sense of wellness when we consider the dog’s WHOLE system, what imbalances there may be throughout and how to remove these.

Of course, because each dog is unique, each dog will be exposed to, deal with and respond to all these stressors in a different way. So, it is not possible to apply just one method to all dogs to achieve balanced behaviours. Of course, what we can do is recognise how the different causes of wellness can be combined in an attempt to return your dog to balance or prevent your dog from having any imbalances occur.

Hopefully, by now, you can recognise the importance of wellness and how we have to recognise our dogs as WHOLE organisms to achieve balance in all of your dog’s systems.

On the sixth day of wellness, which is tomorrow, we will look at an activity that is essential for your dog’s whole body to experience in order to optimise his/her wellness.

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