Breaking the bridge of love with emotional neglect

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Nitya Ramachandran

Emotional neglect is a process in which the caregiver fails to recognise the emotional needs of a dog, due to which he fails to meet those needs. It is usually an unintentional act of passivity and does not involve malicious intent.
What are the emotional needs of your pet?
To recognise and prevent emotional neglect, one needs to know what kind of emotional needs dogs have. Emotional needs in dogs can vary according to their age, gender, personalities, and history. However, certain basic ones are common to all dogs. They include –
• A sense of control over the environment
• Mental stimulation
• Safety from dangerous stimuli
• Social companionship
• A structured lifestyle
Vouching for emotional healthy pet parenting
Becoming aware of your neglectful behaviour towards your pet and how it negatively impacts him is the first step towards becoming a responsible pet parent. Here are some ways people can emotionally neglect their pets –
• Inappropriate handling of emotions Pet parents cannot help the dog navigate stressful emotions like fear, anxiety, and sadness because they don’t read the behavioral cues given by the pet correctly. Pet parents can either downplay or deny their pet’s actual emotional experience.
• Follow the rule – respect the boundaries
Using physical force to make your pet do something that he does not want to do not only amounts to overlooking his needs but also disrespects his body.
• A big ‘No’ to authoritarian parenting style
The caregiver is very harsh and dominating and does not give the pet’s unique personality a chance to blossom. He punishes the pet for his emotions like fear, anger, excitement, jealousy, frustration, etc., because the pet-parent struggles with processing these emotions in his/her own life.
• Dogs should be loved, not chained
Isolating an animal as social as a dog at the end of a chain can cause him extreme anguish and drive an otherwise friendly and docile dog into an unhappy, anxious, and aggressive being. Chained dogs are often ignored and rarely given even minimal affection.
• Not emp ower i ng t hem w it h environmental enrichments
Your pet cannot call up a friend when he’s lonely. Not providing enough toys, tasks, or activities to keep your pet busy and mentally stimulated can cause him to become bored and may also have a negative impact on their mental health.
• All they need is a safe haven & love!
Failure to provide your pet with a safe retreat from fearful stimuli and an inability to protect and soothe him when he is scared constitutes emotional neglect.
• Ignoring playtime is a serious offence
Lack of sufficient playtime can compromise your pet’s mental health. Play time helps build emotional resilience in dogs because they learn how to recover from mildly challenging situations and experiences. The enjoyment of a good play session activates positive emotions in dogs and strengthens the emotional bond between all playing partners.
• Love cannot be purchased and affection has no price
Providingaffection to your pet in the form of gentle petting, stroking, or massage can result in the release of oxytocin – a cuddle chemical, which strengthens the emotional bond between you and your pooch. Receiving no affection at all can seriously threaten the welfare of the little furry one.
• Keep calm and no more overwhelming
Not giving your pet time to do things at his own pace, not giving him the freedom to make choices, overwhelming him, etc., can adversely affect his well-being. Not only will it dampen his confidence, but it will also result in an emotionally unstable dog that is unable to adapt to environmental changes.
• Let the little explorer wander
Not letting your pet sniff and explore his surroundings will prevent him from learning how to cope with situations on his own. It may lead him to become excessively dependent on you and cause separation anxiety when you’re not around.
• Rooting for routine
Dogs want to control their environment and experiences to ensure their safety. A reasonably predictable daily routine can offer your pet just that because he knows what is coming next. Never knowing how their day is going to pan out can cause pets to become anxious and irritated.
• Goodness stands on motivation & rewards
It is easy to motivate your pet through the use of rewards. Just the anticipation of a potential reward can release feel-good chemicals in the dog’s brain and activate positive emotions. Never motivating or rewarding your pet with treats will lead to a lackluster bond between the two of you.
Abetting emotional abandonment & neglect
Dogs cannot talk and let us know how they’re feeling. Careful observation of the pet’s behavior will give important cues that the pet is starving for an emotional connection.
Here are a few of the ways how emotional neglect manifests in the behavior of your pet –
• He becomes reclusive and withdraws from people or becomes hostile and vicious towards them. He is unable to build and sustain healthy social relationships.
• He acts defeated and fails to thrive in general. Your pet might appear unhappy and depressed most of the time.
• He stops showing interest in playing and is afraid to go out and explore his surroundings.
• Your pet’s ability to learn seems to slow down and also shows signs of delayed responsiveness.
• Because emotional well-being directly impacts physical health, repeated illnesses such as upset stomach, infections, obesity, etc., can affect your pet.
• He displays aggressive behavioral tendencies by barking all the time or lunging at visitors.
• Your pooch’s food habits take a beating. Either he does not show any interest in eating or shows too much interest in it. Your pet might resort to begging for food, guarding food, and at times, even stealing food.
• He displays attention-seeking behavior such as jumping, nipping, etc.
• He tears up your belongings such as clothes, socks, cushions, etc.
• Your pet unable to control his bladder and urinates in places he shouldn’t.
• He shows signs of separation-related emotional distress and will be afraid to be left alone. Your pet might find it difficult to differentiate between a friend and a foe.
Emotional neglect can damage the bridge of love between you and your pooch. It is never too late to make repairs. And if you think the situation is going out of control you can consult a pet behavior expert.