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Are you meeting all your pets needs? The answer may surprise you!

Dog playing tug of war with a rope

Do you spoil your pet? If you're anything like me, the answer is a big fat YES. But what if, despite an overflowing toy box, your pet has needs that aren't being met? 

Here's a thought to ponder: What a dog needs for a happy and fulfilled life is not always what their owner thinks. Indeed, the doggy desires that are considered basic to a happy, fulfilled life are laid down in the ‘Five Freedoms.’ These are a set of five, no-nonsense guidelines to the basics of what dogs would ask for if they could speak. 

Find out how well your pet pooch fares in the Five Freedoms by taking this short quiz. 

#1. Freedom from hunger and thirst

    1. How would you describe your pet's waistline?
      1. I can see their ribs and they need to gain a few pounds
      2. Doggy paw-fection! 
      3. Their waist has gone AWOL from too many layers of love
    2. How do you choose your pet's food?
      1. I go for what's on sale or is cheapest at the time
      2. I read the ingredients, choose good quality products, and avoid cheap fillers
      3. It's quantity, not quality that matters
    3. Water on tap: Which option best reflects how your pet d›rinks?
      1. When the dog needs a drink there's water in the yard
      2. There's fresh water available at all times and in the summer I take water on walks
      3. There's water down all the time, and I top the bowl up when it runs low

Paws for thought: Answers

Providing food and water for a pet is more complicated than it first sounds. The food should be good quality and the right quantity. Whilst water should be fresh and available when the dog needs it. 

    • Mostly As: The boxes are ticked but if this was a school report it would read "Could do better" when it comes to meeting the dog's needs. Food is about more than filling the stomach. It should be wholesome and nutritious, plus the right quantity offered.
    • Mostly Bs: Give yourself a pat on the back. You nailed it! Not only are you giving good quality food, but you're looking after hygiene (cleaning those water bowls) and avoiding over indulgence. 
    • Mostly Cs: Sadly, there can be too much of a good thing. In doggy terms, being overweight is considered a nutritional disease because it leads to health problems and shortens life expectancy. Since our hand fills the food bowl, it's up to us to do right by our pets and not overfeed. 

    #2: Freedom from discomfort

      1. Where does your dog sleep?
        1. In the bed with me
        2. They have their own bed (but sometimes bunk in with me) 
        3. Dogs don't need a bed, they can sleep perfectly well in the yard
      2. How long is your dog left alone during the day?
        1. They are rarely alone
        2. A maximum of 4–6 hours
        3. At least 6 hours
      3. Which best describes the environment in which the dog rests? 
        1. It very warm, hot even, as the central heating is on all night
        2. The temperature can dip at night but they have blankets and a warm bed
        3. I wouldn't want to sleep where they do as it's cold, windy, and can be wet

    Paws for thought: Answers

    Freedom from discomfort is all about a comfortable place to rest and shelter from the elements.

    Mostly As: You may be trying too hard. A dog needs their own space (not just yours) and a dog-friendly temperature. A hairy hound in a centrally heated house may be just as uncomfortable (in a different way) as a thin-skinned Italian greyhound that's made to live outdoors. 

    Mostly Bs: Well done, you can see their tail wagging from here! You've hit the right balance of comfort with what it means to be a dog. 

    Mostly Cs: It sounds like the dog could do with a little more comfort in their life. Remember, simple things such as not having a timely toilet break when left alone for long periods is a potential cause of discomfort. 

    #3: Freedom from pain, injury, or disease

      1. Is your dog vaccinated?
        1. No, never
        2. Yes, and kept up-to-date with their booster shots
        3. Yes, as a puppy but not since then
      2. Your dog's ear smells bad and you suspect an infection. Do you: 
        1. Forget about it, as dog's are tough and will heal themself
        2. Schedule a checkup with the vet
        3. Wait for a week, check it again, and then clean the ear out
      3. Your elderly dog has severe arthritis. What do you do?
        1. Nothing—arthritis is part of aging and limping is normal for an older dog
        2. Give joint supplements and pain-relieving medications as prescribed by the vet
        3. Give a painkiller from the bathroom cabinet when the dog seems particularly sore

    Paws for thought: Answers

    Pain can be subtle, such as the elderly limping dog, while freedom from disease also embraces concepts such as vaccination and regular deworming. 

    Mostly As:  Take time to think more deeply about the responsibilities of dog ownership. Your pet pal depends on you to relieve distress. 

    Mostly Bs: Another gold star—you take pet ownership seriously and are doing great!

    Mostly Cs: Nearly there, but have a ponder about whether you need to act more quickly to protect your pet from problems. 

    #4: Freedom to express normal behaviors

    1. How often do you walk the dog and for how long?
      1. Once or twice daily, until they are pleasantly tired
      2. Once daily, but they rarely seemed tired
      3. I never walk the dog
    2. How well does your dog respond to "sit" and "come"?
      1. Pretty good—and for those times when they are distracted, a treat works well to focus their attention
      2. Pretty good, but it's a bit hit and miss
      3. Pretty good—they've learned to avoid punishment by coming on command
    3. Your dog constantly stops to sniff on a walk. How do you respond?
      1. It's the dog's walk not mine, so I let them have a good ol' sniff when they want
      2. They sniff for a bit and then I walk them on
      3. A walk is a walk, and sniffing isn't part of the plan

    Paws for thought: Answers

    Dogs need to do doggy things, like go for walks and explore their world. They also need the security of knowing what the ground rules are.

    Mostly As: Top marks. You are meeting the dog's needs for mental and physical exercise.

    Mostly Bs: Close to pawfect. Don't underestimate the bond built by regular training, which also helps the dog feel secure in their world. 

    Mostly Cs: It might be time to look at life from the dog's point of view. Punishment-based training methods cause distress to dogs (who mainly want to please), while the four-legger is having a lean time of doing regular doggy things like playing and sniffing. 

    #5: Freedom from fear and distress

    1. Which training method do you use?
      1. Training, what training?
      2. Dominance theory, with wrong behaviors punished
      3. Reward-based training methods
    2. What is your policy with regards to the dog being allowed on furniture?
      1. No pets on furniture and they get a smack if they disobey
      2. They are allowed on the coach at weekends, but not during the week
      3. It's fine, I quite like the snuggles
    3. A dog is fearful of fireworks. Do you…?
      1. Force the dog to go outside during a firework display so they face their fear and overcome it
      2. Comfort the dog and wish fireworks were banned
      3. Plan ahead, consult a dog behaviorist, and have a strategy in place to minimize the dog's distress

    Paws for thought: Answers

    Fear and distress can arise for reasons beyond the obvious. For a dog, not knowing what behavior is allowed or their owner acts unpredictably can cause distress. For an owner, knowing what to do and what not to do when the dog is fearful is vitally important to the four-legger's mental wellbeing. 

    Mostly As: Sadly, this dog may feel insecure because they don't know what the rules are and may be punished through no fault of their own. Also, being forced into a situation they find frightening can cause mental trauma.

    Mostly Bs: It's time to brush up on some basic dog psychology, because your good intentions may be misguided. 

    Mostly Cs: Fur-tastic! If I was a dog, I'd be happy to live in your home. 


    So, how well do you meet your pet’s needs? Were there any surprises? 

    Don't be down-hearted if the scores weren't paw-fect. Remember, knowledge is key and it is by recognizing where we could do better and then acting on it that we can make sure our pet pals lead the best life possible to create happy, waggy tails and lots of loving licks.

    The article is written by Pippa Elliot, BVMS, MRCVS on December 10, 2020.

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