Are You Good for Your Dog's Mental Health and Wellbeing?

Some recent research has suggested that your dog's mental health may be suffering due to their domestic lifestyles with you their owner. Some recent research has suggested that domestic dogs have begun to earn their tags as 'Dumb Dog' because they have become so reliant on their owners that they perform badly with simply problem solving and intelligence tests. Domestication and our effect on their training and behaviour has meant that they have lost many of the skill of wild dogs.

In a recent study Bradley Smith, an Australian psychologist, did some experiments with dingoes (Australia's wild dog) kept at the Dingo Discovery Centre, in Victoria, Australia (Source: The good life is dumbing down our pampered pooches) and found that dingoes, even those who had contact with humans, were significantly quicker at solving problems and were more intelligent than domestic dogs. He set up some challenges for dingoes and domestic dogs and compared their responses.

When the dingoes were set a challenge of having to travel around a transparent wall to get to the food they could see, all reached the food in about 10 seconds. It took domestic dogs from 20 to 40 seconds and some help from a human to work out how to get around the barrier. Some did is even more quickly by finding trapdoors underneath the barrier. But many domestic dogs presented with the same challenge failed to find a way around the barrier to get to the food bowl. Some of these dogs scratched at the fence, tried to dig under it or barked for their owners to help them. Many of these dogs looked confused, being unfamiliar with such challenges. Closing the trapdoors that provided a shot-cut made the dogs even more confused. It appeared that domestic dogs were not able to quickly adapt to a changes in their environment.

In other challenges, the dogs and wolves had been taught to retrieve food by pulling on a rope or opening a bin. After the test was changed so that the rope could not be pulled and the bin could not be opened the dogs and wolves responded differently. Most of the dogs (7 out of 9) looked back at their owners standing behind them, while the domesticated wolves ignored their owners and tried to find a solution. Only two of the seven wolves looked back at their owners, instead attempting to solve the task on their own.

Lyn Watson, the director of the Dingo Discovery and Research Centre in Victoria, has more than 20 years experience working with dingoes. She said in an interview that the results showed that dingoes are very smart animals. She related an instance where a dingo would knock a barrel over in its enclosure and then roll it against the fence so that it could look over and see what was happening. Bradley Smith, a PhD student, who ran the tests said that domestic dogs appeared to have lost the skills that dingoes need to survive in the wild. Domestic dogs tend to rely on their owners to do everything for them now.

This research raises some interesting issues about the mental health of dogs and their owner's responsibility. A happy dog is a healthy dog, but what keeps dogs happy? Most dog owners assume that physical health and a good diet are the key things to worry about until problems develop. But keeping a mentally healthy dog is very important for your dog's physical health as well.

Do dogs suffer from Depression?

The first signs of depression in dogs are known to be quite similar to those that occur in depressed human beings. Dogs appear to have poor days and can have bad moods just like we do. When your dog seems to be unusually lethargic or appears to be moping around your yard, it may be that your dog is feeling depressed if there is no obvious cause.

Symptoms of canine depression can include:

Separation anxiety for Dogs

Separation anxiety is a known problem with many pets that can become extremely destructive while their owners are away. Usually the signs of separation anxiety occur soon after the owner leaves the house and may be completely unknown to the owner. These symptoms may include howling or barking, attempting to follow the owner, urinating in the house or destructive activities. My own dog suffered from this and the neighbours used to complain about the howling. When it stopped and didn't return for several months I asked the neighbour who told me that unknown to me the dog had a secret passage through the fence and used to visit the neighbour when I was away.

The Importance of a Stimulating Walk for Dogs Well Being

Does love to walk and they will pester you endlessly, especially if they miss out on regular exercise. My local vet once told me that it is not the exercise on a walk that is really important. Putting a dog on a tread-mill does not provide what dogs need. What's more important is the mental stimulation they get on a walk. Unlike humans, dogs have an extremely well developed sense of smell. It is the kaleidoscope 'sniffs' they get on their walk which is important. They also retain waste and do their 'business' when they walk. Walks also provide a chance to interact with their fellow 4-legged creatures - other dogs. It is the mental stimulation of walks that is perhaps far more important than the exercise itself. It is probably true for humans as well - a walk through the park is more stimulating that an hour on the treadmill - but dog don't have iPods!! In this regard a long walk for an hour or so through an interesting location is what is required to check out the new smells and provide some mental stimulation. Fetch is a great way for your dog to work out and be given a challenge. If there is enough space you can practice your tennis shots, using your tennis racket to hit balls around the park. This will also help satisfy their natural instinct to chase and retrieve.

Importance of Routines for Dogs

Like small children, dogs like routines and they get anxious if you change things.
Dogs are indeed man's and woman's best friend and it pays to keep them both healthy and happy!

Dog Intelligence - The 10 Most Intelligent Dogs

Some breeds, especially working sheep and cattle dogs have been bred selectively for several hundreds or perhaps thousands of years - many so that they can learning quickly. The capacity to learn obedience, simple and complicated behaviours, while well developed in some breeds is inherent in all dogs. Some owners must simply work more patiently with some dog breeds than with others. Some breeds also have inherited behaviour and skills, or can quickly learn, but this inherited ability is not necessarily a sign of intelligence. For example, sheep herding dog breed, like the mush loved Border Collie, learn how to herd sheep very quickly and some can also do an excellent job or part of it with little training. However it is hard to train Border Collies to 'point and retrieve' game. A special breed such as Pointer will often start pointing to game instinctively as pups. Pointers also naturally retrieve game without damaging it, but training a sheep dog or another breed to do this would be difficult, as their hunting instincts take over.

The concept of "intelligence" when applied to all animals, not only dogs in general, is difficult to define. Some people test dog ability to solve problems, and others test the ability of the dog to learn in comparison to other breeds of dog of the same age. But is the ability to learn quickly a sign of intelligence or could it simply be interpreted as the opposite being a sign of a simple desire to please and blind subservience. In contrast, many dogs that do learn quickly may have many other useful talents. Some breeds appear not to be interested in pleasing their owners. Siberian Huskies for example will explore myriads of ways for escaping from yards or for catching small animals. But they are hard to train to do simple tasks. Dogs such as Labradors that can be trained as Blind Dogs or general Assistance dogs are required to be obedient at all times and to react appropriately to all threats and situations that may develop. This requires a special type of dog. Hounds, (such as Bloodhounds, Beagles and Basset Hounds), are often ranked as having poor intelligence but have highly develop sense of smell and well developed tracking instincts.

Similar to humans, there is a wide range of opinions as to what makes a dog "intelligent", but there are good examples to support their learning abilities. A recent paper in Science showed that a particular Border Collie, had learned over 200 words, and could retain this memory for more than four weeks. The collie named, Rico, could remember phases such as "fetch the sock", rather than single words. In 2008, another Border Collie, Betsy, appeared on the cover of National Geographic Magazine. Betsy knew over 340 words and was able to recognize objects from photographs.

There are many studies that rank the intelligence of various breeds of dog. The generally accepted list is shown below.

Most Intelligent Dogs

1 Border Collie
2 Poodle
3 German Shepherd Dog
4 Golden Retriever
5 Dobermann
6 Shetland Sheepdog
7 Labrador Retriever
8 Papillon and Phalene
9 Rottweiler
10 Australian Cattle Dog

Small dogs aim to please their owners
Small dogs aim to please their owners
       Source: By Portraitlady4306 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Look into my eyes. Many dogs have very powerful eyes that seem to burn into your brain with suggestions and queries
Look into my eyes. Many dogs have very powerful eyes that seem to burn into your brain with suggestions and queries
       Source: psyberartist [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
What did you Say? Surely Not!
What did you Say? Surely Not!
       Source: By Uusijani (Own work) [Public Domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Many dogs have great personalities and are full of fun and games
Many dogs have great personalities and are full of fun and games
       Source: By amonja [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Some breed are more intelligent and perceptive than others. The Australian cattle dog is one of the smartest
Some breed are more intelligent and perceptive than others. The Australian cattle dog is one of the smartest
       Source: By Eva holderegger walser [CC BY-SA 3.0 ], via Wikimedia Commons
Jack Russels are good at listening and trying to understand what you are saying
Jack Russels are good at listening and trying to understand what you are saying
       Source: By Radosław Drożdżewski (Zwiadowca21) (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons