Thinking Beyond Obedience... Addressing the Physical, Mental, and Emotional States in Dogs

Dec 22, 2023

Dogs are physically gifted and complex creatures with rich emotional lives and intricate cognitive abilities. To truly understand and train our dogs, it's essential to move beyond teaching a set of skills and recognize the distinctions between their physical, mental, and emotional states. Each of these aspects contribute significantly to a dog's overall well-being, behavior, and the bond they share with the families they live with.

The physical state of a dog is something we see on a daily basis. That being said we often fail to take into account all of the elements that impact their wellbeing. Your dog’s physical state includes their overall health, fitness, and bodily functions. Dogs, like humans, require regular exercise, a balanced diet, and proper medical care to maintain optimal physical health.  

A well-balanced diet is the foundation of a dog's physical health. Providing high-quality dog food tailored to their specific age, size, and breed is essential.  Since I am a NAVC Certified Pet Nutrition Coach, the discussion on what we feed our dogs is a big part of the Foundations program.

Regular exercise is vital for a dog's physical health. It not only keeps their muscles toned but also helps in maintaining a healthy weight. Activities like walking, running, and playing fetch are excellent ways to ensure dogs get the physical activity they need. We need to also take into account their age and make sure the exercise is appropriate for that.  Another passion of mine is the role of physical handling through massage and cooperative care with our dogs.  Over the past couple of years I have been able to dive pretty deep into understanding the role of movement, exercise and appropriate bodywork can keep our dogs physically and behaviorally sound.

Regular check-ups with your veterinarian are crucial to monitor a dog's physical health. Vaccinations, dental care, and preventative treatments for the threats from parasites like ticks and fleas are essential components of routine healthcare. I am blessed in that my training location is on the grounds of Barbour Lane Animal Hospital. I make an effort to let all my clients know the importance of keeping our dog's health a priority.

When we look at a dog's mental state we are referring to their cognitive abilities, intelligence, and capacity to learn. Mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise, as it helps keep a dog's brain active and engaged. During the evaluation we highlight the importance of motivation. Getting the dog engaged and willing to learn is a foundation to success.

Science is amazing and we are learning so much about who our dogs really are. We know they are intelligent animals with problem-solving skills. Appropriate mental stimulation activities, such as puzzle toys and interactive games as part of an overall approach can challenge their cognitive abilities, prevent boredom and encourage learning. All of those work together to set the stage for success in the training program.

Training the whole dog is not just about teaching commands.  In fact, for most dogs I only teach a fraction of what I used to.  Instead we have to engage a dog's mental faculties. Motivational techniques, where dogs are rewarded for good behavior and encouraged to think independently without the need for commands in most situations can enhance the learning experience and strengthen the bond between the dog and its owner.

When possible I teach lessons outside and only use my training space when there is inclement weather or a dog needs a less distracting environment. Dogs perceive the world through their senses of smell, sight, hearing, taste, and touch. Enriching their environment with different textures, scents, and sounds stimulates their senses, providing mental enrichment. This enriched environment outside is our daily classroom!

Since it’s a fact that dogs can experience a wide range of emotions similar to humans we have to take that into account when we are working with them. Truly understanding their emotional state is essential to fostering a strong bond. Using a holistic approach acknowledges the deep emotional bond you have with your dog and is solely focused on enhancing that. This bond provides us and them with a sense of security and belonging. Spending quality time, offering affection, and creating positive experiences with our dogs strengthens this bond.

Dogs can experience a wide range of emotions such as happiness, fear, anxiety, excitement, and contentment. A program that understands and takes this into account building on positive interactions, socialization, and a stable routine contributes to a dog's emotional well-being. Working to limit traumatic experiences and helping them navigate them when necessary is crucial to success. We cannot completely remove stress and fear but can help build a dog that is able to navigate these emotions successfully.

Dogs exhibit empathy and social behavior, understanding the emotions of both humans and other animals. This is something we discuss and my goal is to help clients understand how the human can play a role in helping or hurting. Dogs can sense their owner's feelings and respond with affection and comfort, showcasing their emotional intelligence but can also suffer from separation anxiety or distress when they are unable to successfully cope with these same emotions.

My program addresses the "whole" dog and moves beyond typical dog training. It is the culmination of the years I have spent living, learning and working with thousands of dogs and their owners and recognizes as well as respects the complex elements of the physical, mental, and emotional states of the dogs we share our lives with. 

This allows our canine companions to thrive physically, mentally, and emotionally, leading to a happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives together!

As always thanks for hanging out and digging into the world of dog training with me!

My goal with the Top Dog Blog is to bring a mix of science, old-school wisdom, a craftsmanship focus, and the pure joy that comes from working with dogs and helping clients. This almost 30 year journey from problem dogs to hobby trainer to the past decade as a career has been and continues to be a blast, and I'm really honored you've taken the time to read this.

So take what you've learned, try it out with your own pup, and find the joy in working with dogs. I've got more ideas coming your way in the next blog, so keep your eyes peeled.

Until then, enjoy the adventures with our dogs and the simple joy that comes from truly understanding them.


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