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Your Dog's Mental Health

Your Dog’s Mental Health

Your dog’s mental health stands on many of the same pillars that yours does! Exercise, nutrition, and emotional connection are the top three that stand out in my mind. This is, of course, after a base foundation of shelter and general safety are established. If your home is a relatively safe place (free from emotional and physical threats like excessive yelling and corporal punishments), and your dog is provided with adequate shelter, then we can look at these other pillars to make sure your dog’s mental health will be stable and balanced. 


To me, this is a very broad topic which I could go on about for ages. There are so many different components to this because of the fact that there are so many different dog breeds with varying levels of energy and exercise needs. In general, I would say that leash walks are definitely NOT enough exercise for the average dog. Leash walks can sometimes, in fact, increase frustration in many types of high drive breeds. So under this umbrella of exercise, we must talk about biological fulfillment, sometimes called breed fulfillment.

If you have, for example, a pit bull or bully type dog with tons of prey drive, a leash walk may simply get them more wound up as they take in the stimuli of the environment while experiencing the frustration of being on leash. It may be a better idea to spend 10 minutes playing tug with your dog than taking them on a 30 minute leashed walk. If you have physical limitations on how much tug you can play, then getting them a spring pole or similar contraption may be the answer. In addition, this type of dog would benefit from “heavy work” like drag work, also known as Canine Resistance Training. These types of activities are not just reserved for the bully breeds, however, as many different types of working dogs will benefit from tug work and drag work.

You might have a “softer” temperament dog who simply enjoys scatter feeding to replicate natural foraging behaviors. You might have a terrier type dog who really enjoys digging, and for this you should find or provide an area where they may dig freely. Almost all dogs enjoy ripping and tearing activities, which simulate the end of the predatory sequence. So taking your dog in the woods and letting them dig and tear up roots or old tree limbs is a great way to fulfill their prey drive. A retriever type dog may simply want to find a special stick or have a tug toy that they will carry on their walk, representing the way they would carry prey back to a hunter.

When these types of activities are not possible, I make sure to provide my dogs with plenty of opportunities for chewing. Chewing relieves a lot of stress as it also represents the end of the predatory sequence, and it is therefore very important for emotional grounding and regulation (unlike fetch which represents the beginning of the predatory sequence: sighting and chasing). You can listen to my podcast episode on how fetch can effectively over-stimulate your dog here: Biological Fulfillment and Your Dog’s Nervous System

Also under this umbrella of exercise, I would ask the question: Is your dog spending adequate time outdoors? Many people exercise their dogs indoors, with agility courses at clubs and even treadmills. This is all well and good, and I’m not saying to take these activities away. But the fact of the matter is, our dogs are mammals and they need to spend time outdoors in natural sunlight where they can put their feet and bodies on grass or dirt (or concrete if that is all you have access to). As you many know, the circadian rhythm of a mammal is determined by viewing natural sunlight. And our ability to get rid of excess “charge” or static electricity is dependent on putting our bare feet on the earth. See this article for reference: Earthing.

So as you can see, there are many different factors that go into determining whether or not your dog is getting adequate exercise! You must take into account your dog’s breed, temperament, likes and dislikes, and their need for biological fulfillment. 


The topic of nutrition is just as important, broad, and complex as that of exercise. For me, I will no longer feed my dogs anything other than a fresh, whole food diet, and specifically one that is raw and includes organs and raw meaty bones. To do this in the correct way you will need to consult with a Certified Small Animal Naturopath.

You could be doing everything else perfectly right with your dog, but if they are eating biologically inappropriate foods, they will not feel well. Feeling well is the basis for emotional capacity, as the system takes stress into account on the physical and emotional levels in equal measure. So while you may not realize it, your dog’s diet can play a major role in their behavior,

In addition, I would say that environmental stressors fall into this category of nutrition, because your dog’s body will absorb all sorts of chemicals and electrical pollution from the environment. This adds stress and increases the overall “load” that their nervous system has to deal with and spend energy to detoxify. This could include but is not limited to: pesticides on your lawn,chemicals sprayed in the local parks, non-native radiation from smart meters and Wi-Fi, and artificial fragrances in laundry detergent, personal care products, cleaning products used around the house.

Be sure to make your dog’s diet as clean as possible, and also remove as many artificial chemicals and fragrances as you can. Around the house, it is easy to clean most everything with baking soda and vinegar. If you do use commercial laundry detergent, just choose a brand that makes a “free and clear” version, because these will not have added fragrances. We want to give your dog the highest quality of food nutrition, but also make sure we subtract chemical stressors. 

Emotional Connection

Last but certainly not least, is the very important topic of emotional connection. Does your dog trust you and feel safe with you? Mental health cannot be stable without stable connections: free of fear and/or threat of punishment. You must spend time understanding your dog’s emotional needs, which may be a need for closeness, but sometimes it is also a need for space! Smothering your dog with affection all day is not a healthy way to create emotional connection.

Of course, there are some dogs who thrive on hugs and full body contact, but I would say most prefer a thoughtful massage. Some dogs also enjoy time ALONE to decompress. Again, just like biological fulfillment depends on your dog’s breed, emotional connection is a very individual and personalized subject.

Some dogs will lay on you all day long and in fact need tons of bodily contact to feel connected. Other dogs are happy with a couple minutes of petting and then relaxing on their place or bed where they have bodily space and autonomy. Please respect your dog’s need for contact, as well as their need for space.

Emotional connection also depends on your ability to read their body language and get them out of situations that make them uncomfortable. This builds an enormous amount of trust and gives them that foundation of safety that we are all looking for.

Emotional connection is highly tied to how you communicate with your dog, and how well you have taught them certain things with kind, consistent communication. I try my best to always ask my dogs for behaviors rather than giving them commands. But with certain strong temperament dogs, you do need to set boundaries. Like children, these stronger or harder temperament dogs will test you, and they need to be provided with more structure to both be safe and feel safe.

Letting a dog just do whatever it wants at all times will likely result in them getting into trouble both physically and emotionally. For example, leaving a dog free in the house may result in them chewing and ingesting dangerous objects or substances, while simply gating or crating your dog can prevent such disasters. Equally, they may pester guests who will reprimand them unfairly, so setting boundaries in social situations is also important, for the safety of your dog, but also the safety of non-resident humans they come into contact with. 


As you can see, the mental health and well-being of a dog is a complex subject, and one that requires a lot of thought and attention. For dogs with behavioral issues or emotional baggage there will be no “quick fix.” We need to address all of these pillars to start seeing changes. It can be a long, slow process to rehabilitate a dog with compromised mental health. Often, the slower you go, the faster you’ll get there. Addressing the foundation of your dog’s mental and emotional well-being rather than trying to immediately extinguish the problem behavior or “symptom” is the best way to help your canine companion. 

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