by Dr. Isla Fishburn (reprinted with author's permission)
Canine wellness is about physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual health of your dog. In order to maintain balance in your dog as a WHOLE organism, we have to observe and analyse several aspects of your dog’s life from before birth to present day. Over the next 12 days of wellness I will introduce you to some of the concepts of wellness, what these include and what we need to consider on a daily basis to optimise the health and longevity in our dogs.
Today, we are going to look at SEEKING.
Yesterday I talked about the importance of your dog having experiences that allow for him/her to think clearly. This will allow your dog’s biochemistry to process information whilst relaxed, calm and in a neutral or positive state. This will support your dog’s emotional, physical, mental and spiritual wellness because s/he is learning without being under pressure or stressed and this will allow your dog to develop confidence and prevent imbalances.
I am a big believer and advocate for tapping in to and working with a dog using their natural abilities and biology to support their wellness and develop their learning. One way we can do this, which also allows for your dog to experience movement, freedom and choices (that we talked about on day three of canine wellness) is to offer your dog opportunities where s/he can seek.
Seeking is a primal emotion. This means it is something that your dog’s body naturally enjoys doing and seeks (no pun intended!). It can even improve your dog’s wellness as you provide him/her with positive experiences and ample chances for your dog to search, explore, sniff and learn.
We all know the power of a dog’s nose. When a dog is born, s/he is unable to see, hear or smell for the first couple of weeks. Your dog relies on the sensations and energy being emitted from its mother and surrounding environment (which is why it is so very important that a pup is exposed to peaceful and relaxed energy when born). At around one week of age, scent/smell is the first sense in your dog that develops. So, your dog can smell and identify scent but is yet unable to see or hear. To me, this shows just how important scent is for your dog because it is the first of several senses to develop. If this wasn’t so important than why would nature design for this sense to be the first to develop.
Seeking is a wonderful opportunity we can offer our dog. Not only because, as mentioned above, it allows for your dog to learn, build confidence and focus on something else when distractions or uncertainties are nearby but also because, as a primal emotion, it is a need that your dog naturally has to do; for health, wellness and balance.
Remember yesterday I said that any and every experience affects your dog’s biochemistry? Well seeking is just one route to how your dog’s biochemistry may become affected. This is because your dog’s cells are sent information through one of the senses (discussed yesterday too), with scent/smell just being one. Scent is also used for communication and a dog can learn a lot from a particular smell.
Due to the sheer number of receptors of your dog’s nose (that vary from 125 million to 300 million depending on breed; with humans only having 5 million), your dog can take in a lot of information from scent alone. This information goes straight to the dog’s brain, which is then processed and an action is then activated. As you can imagine, processing information is quite a taxing job for the brain (which is a good thing) as it is mentally engaging. Allowing your dog to seek, sniff and learn will not only tap in to your dog’s natural desire to do this, but it will allow your dog to want periods of rest, sleep and recuperation (and we have already discussed how important it is for your dog to have prolonged rest).
For several reasons (which I am not discussing here) often I do not go straight to the physical activity a dog is receiving in order to consider how much stimulation and subsequent rest that dog has. This is because under some circumstances, physical activity can create or exacerbate imbalances in a dog’s physical, emotional, mental and/or spiritual wellness. I much prefer to consider how much a dog is allowed to seek, sniff and search.
Not only is scent the first sense to develop in your dog as a pup, but as a canine, your dog is a hunter, a predator, a scavenger and, in some cases, a refuse bin! In fact, the area of your dog’s brain that is used to analyse scent is 40 times larger than that of a human! You see, I told you seeking is important for your dog’s natural health.
There are many fun, interactive and inventive ways that we can allow our dog to naturally do what it is supposed to do. This may simply be allowing your dog to sniff for as long as s/he chooses whilst out on a walk; hiding from your dog and getting him/her to find you; or perhaps teaching your dog to search for a particular scent (which I personally enjoy my dogs doing).
However, if we stand back for a moment and remember that our dogs are hunters, they are scavengers and they naturally need to seek and search. One natural route of seeking and searching that I enjoy offering my dogs is the ability to naturally forage. Whilst my dogs are given a meal in their bowl, I also offer them many opportunities to search for additional food.
On the second day of wellness I talked about the importance of good diet and digestion. Well, your dog’s body knows what it needs and may vary in things it chooses to forage. Allowing your dog to forage is not only a great way of tapping in to your dog’s natural biology but also provides opportunities for rest; seeking itself is mentally exhausting and, after eating, your dog will want to rest whilst s/he digests food. Both of these will only support your dog’s wellness.
Allowing your dog to self-forage can take place in the home, in the garden or when out exploring with your dog. In the home I will often scatter food items around the house. This may include a collection of nuts (e.g. organic brazil, hazelnuts, almonds, cashews and pistachios) along with some pieces of organic apple and plums. My dogs will forage around the home and select what they want to eat. The variation is rather remarkable. For example, some days one of my dogs may choose to eat lots of almonds and not so much the fruit or other nuts. Then, on other days, the same dog will want the apple and hazelnuts but show no interest in the other items.
Self-foraging in the garden may include scattering food items from your dog’s treat cupboard outside and allowing your dog to search for these. Or, it may be building a sensory and herb garden for your dog so that s/he can spend time selecting what herbs s/he wants to at any given time (remember on day two I mentioned the importance of herbs as part of a dog’s need to have a good diet and digestion).
Self-foraging when out exploring with your dog may occur seasonally. For example, in the Autumn, many dogs will naturally search for blackberries. Your dog is not stupid.
Blackberries are a seasonal fruit and so are not available all year round. If your dog’s body is telling itself that it needs blackberries then you will see your dog search for these and eat them. There will be plenty of healing benefits in this fruit, or may even provide as a bit of an energy booster if your dog has been on a long walk. You may even allow your dog to forage for mice, eat grass (this is a very natural thing but can be foraged for several reasons), seek water for hydration or consume a prey animal that has been killed from being hit by a car, for example.
There are endless ways you can allow your dog opportunities to seek, forage and search, but allow you must. If your dog wants to stop in the street and have a good, long sniff of something then let him/her. By denying your dog opportunities to do what is only natural and needed you are already affecting your dog’s freedom, movement, flow of Qi, ability to think, ability to have choices and furthering the possibility for imbalances in your dog’s wellness to occur.