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Meeting Their Most Important Need

Updated: Apr 14




We are all here because every one of us wants to do the best we can for the dogs in our lives. We want to be sure we are giving our dogs the best possible lives with us. How do we actually go about making sure of that?


What are our dogs’ needs?


If a group of dog guardians was asked to create a list, they are likely to write similar things.


  • Food and water.

  • Stimulation – physical exercise and mental stimulation.

  • Adequate health care.

  • Comfortable sleeping locations.

  • Kindness and empathy.


What do all of those things in combination do for our dogs (or any other animal that may be under our care)? They make them feel safe.


A sense of safety and security is an essential part of helping our dogs to live happily and healthily. Without that, underlying stress can affect every part of their lives, to the detriment of their well-being, both mental and physical.


How can we be sure we are helping the dogs in our lives to feel safe and secure?


Firstly, we must ensure we accurately understand the needs of dogs living in our homes.



What are the things our dogs need?


Needs in human psychology are often represented by a pyramid based on the Hierarchy of Needs created by Abraham Maslow. This pyramid never actually appeared in his work, but it is an excellent demonstration of how each level of the needs must be satisfied before moving up to the next.





  • Physiological needs: Life’s essential elements. Food, air to breathe, water, shelter, sleep.

  • Safety needs: safety covers both physical and emotional safety, providing the dog with a sense of security.

  • Belonging and love needs: as a social species dogs need relationships, to establish and maintain connections with family and friends.

  • Esteem needs: a feeling of respect, self-esteem, and a sense of self-worth.

  • Self-actualisation: achieving their potential.


This pyramid has been reworked by the force free trainer Linda Michaels to apply specifically to dogs.



  • Biological needs: access to suitable and adequate amounts of nutrition, water, air, shelter, exercise, sleep, and veterinary care.

  • Emotional needs: love, trust, consistency and that feeling of security.

  • Social needs: the ability to carry out social bonding with both other dogs and people (we must bear in mind that different dogs have differing levels of social skills and many may be to some extent dog selective) and play.

  • Force free training needs: kind and ethical methods used in management and learning.

  • Cognitive needs: problem-solving opportunities, new and novel experiences and opportunities to make choices.


The Five Freedoms are the model that historically used to demonstrate the basic needs of animals in human care. They come originally from a report into farm animal welfare and are as follows:


  • Freedom from hunger, thirst, and malnutrition.

  • Freedom from discomfort.

  • Freedom from disease, injury, and pain.

  • Freedom to express normal behaviours for their species/type.

  • Freedom from experience fear or distress.


The five freedoms have since their inception provided a useful shorthand explaining the basics of companion animal welfare, what we must ensure our dogs don’t have to deal with, they do have limitations. The issue with the freedoms as written is that they only deal with negatives, things we must make sure our dogs don't experience. They make no recognition at all of how positive factors we can include for the dogs can also influence their lives.


This has been rectified by the development and use of the Five Domains model which is under constant review and receives regular updates


The current form of the five domains looks like this:


  • Nutrition. This includes a sufficient amount of quality, nutritious and varied foodstuffs, and access to plenty of fresh clean water.

  • Physical Environment. We must provide suitable shade or shelter with fresh air, comfortable levels of noise and light, room for the dog to move around freely and enough comfortable resting spots so they can get the sleep or rest they need.

  • Health. All aspects of health are covered here, including maintenance of ideal body condition and fitness levels, through to injury or any physical impairments, disease, and toxins.

  • Behavioural Interactions. This includes interacting with the environment, other dogs, and with other species including humans. New and varied environmental experiences and opportunities for exploration is so important for them. It is also important that we provide appropriate interactions with other animals and humans, always ensuring we remain within the scope of an individual dog’s tolerances and preferences.

  • Mental State. Each of the four areas above has an effect on the dog, and they combine to dictate the dog’s mental state. Awareness of their mental states is vital in considering welfare. This recognition and knowledge of their mental health and well-being is a massive part of being the dog people that we can be.


Looking at those official looking terms might feel overwhelming, but good dog people are already making sure their dogs have what they need to feel happy, healthy, and safe. Here’s the list of what our dogs need written in plain language.


  • Quality food in amounts calculated for that individual dog and access to plenty of fresh water.

  • Regular appropriate healthcare when needed.

  • Regular appropriate exercise.

  • Understanding and respecting of their communication.

  • As much choice in their lives as is possible and safe.

  • Enrichment activities (including breed specific activities).

  • Doing dog things: digging, running, sniffing - let them be dogs!

  • Comfortable resting and sleeping places.

  • Peace and quiet when they want.

  • As little stress as possible in their environment.

  • Kindness and empathy in their handling and training.

  • Respect for their preferences and individuality.


If you can say yes to doing all of these, you are meeting your dogs' needs and giving them their best lives. Congratulations, you are indeed a good guardian!

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