" When a flower doesn't bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower." - Alexander Den Heiser
This wise quote got me thinking about dog’s experiences and lives and how many guardians view and respond to their dog’s behaviour. In most situations, the blame for negative behaviour is placed very much on the dog, without any consideration for the environment the dog is in. Although in this illustration, the logical action is to change the environment to ensure the flower can bloom, it is often the dogs that are “fixed”, rather than the environmental influences. In many cases, the dogs are abandoned or surrendered to a shelter because the problem supposedly lies with them and no one else.
I will be the first person to admit that I am useless with plants (my clients would agree) and maybe that’s due to a lack of interest, however, I do know that environment plays a massive role in a plant’s survival and growth. Most need unpolluted soil, full of necessary nutrients. They need access to regular water, food and air to survive. They may also require protection from the elements and other plants. Similarly, dogs need life’s necessities to survive. This includes the 5 freedoms of dogs, which state the fundamental requirements our dogs need to thrive. These include:
- Freedom from hunger and thirst.
- Freedom from illness.
- Freedom from discomfort.
- Freedom from pain and suffering.
- Freedom to exhibit behaviours typical to the species.
Many dog guardians will ensure their dogs are well fed and have a warm comfortable home. Likewise, many will also ensure a dog receives medical attention and medicine if they need it. However, not all dogs are free from suffering or free to exhibit natural behaviours. Most behavioural issues are due to a dog feeling fearful or insecure about something or because their needs are not being adequately met, thereby resulting in frustration, phobias, reactivity and/or aggression. For example, a dog may show overt reactive behaviour on walks, due to the fact that he needs more space or a dog might display destructive behaviour, due to his need to dig. Both are perceived as inconvenient behaviours, nevertheless, they are a consequence of the dog’s needs going unmet and they would be resolved if the environment was changed to meet those needs.
Although it is often overlooked, plants need space and time, in order to grow to their full potential and this doesn’t occur overnight. Unfortunately, too few dogs are truly given time and space to grow. They are expected to understand our foreign language from an early age and be successful in a strange and potentially frightening world. When the dog fails to meet their guardian’s expectations, they often receive punishment, causing their behaviour to regress even further. Their behavioural development is suppressed, just like a flower with no room to grow. When there is no progress, the dog is usually uprooted and placed in a rescue, which for many is considered a hostile environment.
When a dog displays negative behaviour, it’s very rare for someone to stop and consider if the dog felt safe in his environment. Was the dog nurtured in his environment? Was he in an environment that was stimulating? Was he in an environment that provided lots of choice? Was he in an environment where he could effectively learn and develop? Was his needs effectively met? These questions are critical in determining the reasons behind a dog’s emotional and behavioural development and yet, none are truly considered before a dog is rehomed.
If we observed that a plant wasn’t thriving, would we just chuck it away? Some may do just that and buy another, but what if the next one also fails to thrive? Surely we would conclude that the plant’s needs are not being met by the environment and that action is needed on our part. We would likely research if any fertiliser or special food was needed or whether we are providing enough water.
The point is, we would acknowledge that we need to do something to ensure the plant’s growth, rather than allow it to wither. We need to come to the same conclusion with our dog. We are responsible for nurturing our dog’s development. If we feel our dog is not blossoming in certain areas, we have to take action and make changes to ensure our dog has everything he needs to grow. This may involve providing them with more choice or ensuring we teach them specific skills for certain situations. We also need to consider if we are meeting both their emotional and physical needs, such as creating opportunities to sniff and problem solve. Dogs want to learn so we need to ensure we take the time to teach them in a way that they understand.
Finally, we need to be patient and have realistic expectations of our dog. We should remember that growth takes time and requires regular nurturing. Sometimes it can be trial and error, but that doesn’t matter as long as we are doing everything in our power to support our dog’s development.
"Nature often holds up a mirror, so we can see more clearly the ongoing process of growth, renewal and transformation in our lives." - Author Unknown
So, before we conclude that our dog is not capable of change or personal growth, we should reflect on if we have provided enough support and opportunities for them to do so. We need to always provide a rich and nurturing environment and help them to cultivate the skills they need, to blossom into a balanced dog. That way your dog will not only survive, they will also thrive.
If you would like professional support to help your dog reach his full potential, please feel free to contact me on the contact details at the bottom of the page or on my homepage.
Also check out my other articles, such as Do I Have a Choice? (pawchores.com) or