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Learning About Dog's Needs Can Help Understanding of Behaviors

Updated: Feb 17

a dog on a mountain
A White Pyrenees on a Mountain Watching her herd

Owning my first dog was so simple. I went to the shelter, picked out the cutest puppy, then stopped by the pet store for some food and a leash. I wanted a puppy, so I got Sam. I loved that dog, and I still miss him today. I have days of sadness and regret. I wish I could have shared my current sharing-life-with-dog mindset with him. I think he would have loved it!

He was my companion, I walked him, played with him and snuggled him. He had a good life. So what would have been different? My focus. I did the things I liked with Sam, and I didn’t consider life from his perspective. I was so happy with him that I assumed he was happy. I wish I had a do-over to consider his needs.

What I Have Learned

Dogs have needs too, and there is not a do-this-and-needs-are-met recipe. Each dog is an individual and has a range of needs to consider.

Enter - corny metaphor: The Range of Needs

an image of mountains
Dogs have a range of needs

Stay with me for a minute and let me explore why this metaphor may not be as corny as it seems.

Let’s look at two of my current dogs, Luke and Obi. Luke is a rescue - he is a parvo-surviving, found-in-a-field-alone herding mixed breed. This guy is needy. He needs to be doing something at all times - sitting in my lap, running, chewing something, playing with our other dogs, sniffing, etc. Obi is a lazy poodle mix who loves to cuddle but is just fine spending the day napping. Obi has lower needs overall than Luke.

comparison of dogs needs using mountains
Each dog's needs are different than others dogs

Let’s now expand this view to consider all my dogs. Just like different mountain ranges, they each have their own unique range of needs. And, the ranges look different! And, while they do look similar day to day - there is a baseline - daily conditions influence my dogs’ needs just like the weather influences the picture of a mountain range. Luke may need more physical exercise, Obi more cuddle time, Leia more interactive play, etc.

dog needs comparison
Some dog's needs can be very different from other dogs

So, from a macro perspective there is a range that allows us to better understand our dogs' differences. We can also drill down within each individual dog's needs too.

Now let’s focus on Luke. When we think about his range, some of his needs are higher than others. His physical exercise needs are really high. When this need is not met, we definitely see some unwanted behaviors - more on this in a minute.

Dog needs image
An individual dog's needs can be varied

Here is an example of what physical exercise needs might look like across some different breeds:

image of a dog's needs for exercise
Dog needs for exercise

Here’s Luke:

Luke's dog needs graph
Exercise needs for Luke are very high

Luke needs a lot of physical exercise. He also needs a lot of mental exercise, cuddling and chaperoned naps. Back to what happens if needs if needs aren’t met.

Currently, Luke is sitting by my side whining. He has not had any exercise yet, so he’s telling me so. He is also trying to chew on my coffee table, the leg of my desk, and he is trying very hard to rouse Obi for a wrestle session. Unmet needs sometimes lead to unwanted behaviors.

So, back to Sam. With Sam, I did a good job of meeting my dog-wanting-needs, but I didn’t take time to reflect on his range. What a fun experience Sam and I could have had exploring together - would he have liked playing nose games? Agility? Hiking? Swimming? Working food puzzles? Sadly, I will never know. But, I sure do have a wonderful time adventuring with my current crew! Leia likes to play silly-hip-check and run wrestling. Chewie likes long leash walks in nature and climbing trees! Gretchen loves a game of I-am-going-to-get-you-right-now-so-you-better-run. Obi likes good old fashioned catch, and Luke, well Luke likes everything.

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