Thursday, June 2, 2016

The ties that bind: giving familial dogs physical and mental space is essential for their emotional health

There's a point during our time together  — usually at the 5-to-7 day mark — when some of my canine charges start getting a little antsy with the change in their normal routine. That means I need to step things up a bit and adjust to keep them content. I'm all-too-happy to do what I can to make a companion animal comfortable while their people are away, and that can mean doing any number of things.In households with multiple dogs, this is something I need to be especially mindful of. 

We need not look much further than examining our own needs when it comes to thinking about how we can cultivate a sense of emotional well-being for our pets. Yes, as a species, dogs thrive on social bonds. But that doesn't mean they need to be immersed in contact with members of their own species constantly. It's all about balance. As someone who admittedly prizes alone time — something I know many of you can relate to — I can see its usefulness amongst the canines in my midst.

Unfortunately, there's so much emphasis on socialization and how familial dogs are buddies who so enjoy each other's company, the importance of their being individuals and having alone time can easily get brushed to the wayside. I find that not honoring that alone time for the pets who require it can create some real challenges for how well they fare and get along no matter if they are in their everyday schedule, if they're tagging along on a trip or if their family is away. 

It can be the similarities in our furry friend's personalities that can create tension — like their energy levels, their neediness, their play styles — that can make them feel a little squeezed mentally and physically when it comes to sharing their time and physical space. Ditto for sharing the humans in their lives. 

The same is true obviously when considering any differences. 

And though it's nothing new, it seems that more families are welcoming as many as 3 and 4 dogs into the fold. For some, especially newcomers who might have a little trouble adjusting to their new life, a little alone time can go a long way. There are few ways to approach it, and it's a matter of finding what fits. 

Don't underestimate the power of focused engagement

Giving dogs some of that valuable space can be as simple as taking a solo walk with them, or for a 10-minute game of fetch so that they have the ball all to themselves (or any favorite activity for that matter). The individual attention a dog gets from one of their humans —  this includes using one's voice, physical touch and eye contact — is vital.  I often take extra time for this with each of my charges, and I can tell you that it makes a huge difference in how they behave: they tend to focus better on listening and their happiness quotient increases dramatically. (I use a stuffed Kong to occupy the pets who aren't the center of my attention and might otherwise feel left out. As a positive distraction, this enhances the way they get to spend this time, too.)

Room to breathe 

There's something to be said for the benefits of dogs having that physical space that all of us crave now and again. I've a client with two dogs that-are very attached to each other. They're close in age, well-matched in athletic ability and activity levels, but in some ways, so very different. One is a little firecracker, with her non-stop desire to have in-your-face engagement and playtime with dogs and humans alike; the other, more reserved, stoic and quite happy to just sit and enjoy life from a quiet spot. Though they play well together, the latter really needs her alone time so that the former doesn't drive her crazy. That means separating them for periods during the day by putting them in different parts of the house. It's a strategy that works well for this and other families that I know. 

Loosening the ties that might bind 

In my experience, there are rare instances when two dogs are so bonded that they find it difficult to be away from each other, but even in this case alone time can be essential and easy to achieve. It's just a matter of perspective. Case in point: two of my canine charges would rather not be separated, but it's obvious that one of them has an appreciation for some alone time, and he plays well independently. He makes up games to entertain himself (I have to say I find it entertaining to watch), so while he's engaged in that, I keep his housemate — who is quite boisterous — occupied with some sort of activity on the other side of the room. This gives both animals a break from each other while not feeling the tension of being separated. 

While all of these strategies are useful all on their own, depending on your tribe's composition and needs, they can be used in conjunction with each other. However you can incorporate that feeling of freedom for your pets from being lumped together 24/7, you can be assured of a few positive benefits long term. 

Lorrie Shaw is a freelance writer and owner of Professional Pet Sitting. Shoot her an email, contact her at 734-904-7279 or follow her adventures on Twitter.