Paws- Pective FROM your PAWS!

Man and dog have shared a symbolic relationship over centuries. However, throughout this journey, the very fabric of the relationship has been sewn from man’s perspective. It is time for us to pause and ask our furry friends an existential question, – “Who are you?”

–by Arathi Sen

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A simple question like – who are you, changes the entire perspective, making the relationship to be based on who they are, what they experience and why, how they feel and what they are thinking. The understanding that one will gain from this changed perspective will lay the foundation for a healthy and nurturing relationship.

Dogs are simple creatures who live in the present and are motivated by basic needs like food and shelter. Understanding the developmental sequence of your canine companion, both physically and emotionally, is the key to understanding their emotions. By the age of six months, dogs develop all the basic emotions as they do not experience complex ones like shame, guilt, etc. These are anthropomorphized by us.

Taking cues, one paw at a time!

The dog’s body is a powerful tool in their non-verbal communication with us. Hence, it is very important that as pet-parents we learn to observe the slightest changes in their body language which reveal insights into their behavior and emotions. For example, does a wagging tail always signify a friendly dog? Not really. A wagging tail, when slightly raised and stiff on a tense body with perked up ears, definitely shows a cautious or an uncomfortable dog.

Have you ever wondered why puppies find it easier to climb up stairs rather than get down? That is because their eyes are set at a 20-degree angle, which reduces their perception of depth. Hence, the downward climb is a lot scarier.

Ready to face the world with stellar socialization

There is no doubt that puppies need to be desensitized to their environment early on, between the ages of 3-7 months. You can achieve this by exposing them to different environments, smells, sounds, textures etc. and to different people and dogs. However, you must always prioritize and keep in mind the personality of your pet, their likes and dislikes, fears etc. before any such exposure. Just like humans, all dogs do not like social interactions. As handlers and caregivers, it is your responsibility to ensure that no other person or dog crosses the comfort threshold of your pet. The minute you understand and respect this, your relationship with your pet will bloom and reach a new high!

Healthy and happy with a good gut

Another factor in understanding your pet’s behavior is to understand the impact of their gut health on physical and mental well-being. Dogs have a unique collection of different types of bacteria and other microbes (fungi, virus etc.) in their gastrointestinal tract, which are collectively referred to ‘the gut microbiome’. A healthy microbiome is crucial for your pet’s overall health, from nutrient absorption to mental health.

The gut is referred to as the “second brain”, because so many neurotransmitters used by the brain and nervous system are created here. Gut bacteria make chemicals that communicate with the brain through the nerves and hormones and this connection is called the ‘gut-brain axis’. Canine behaviour problems like anxiety, aggression, and separation anxiety may have multiple causes and an out-of-balance microbiome may be one of them.

Some of the key chemicals produced by the gut bacteria are –

Serotonin – this impacts the mood and anxiety. 70% of serotonin is made in the gut and low levels of it have been associated with depression.

Dopamine – this is involved with motor function, mood, decision making, and control of other hormones. 50% of this is produced in the GI tract.

Gamma- aminobutyric acid (GABA) – this regulates stress, anxiety and sleep pattern and is modulated by a bacterium in the gut microbiome.

A healthy gut makes for a physically and mentally healthy dog. Recent studies have shown a clear link between aggressive behavior in dogs and the microbes that live in the gut.

To help achieve a healthy gut, feed your pet a nutrient-rich diet, introduce bone broth (as it provides collagen which contains antioxidants mainly glutathione, which helps detoxify the liver and restore gut lining), introduce fermented foods and maintain daily exercise to reduce stress.

We are fortunate if a dog has chosen to share its life with us. Be grateful for these furry angels and give them all the love and care they deserve!

(Arathi Sen – a dog trainer and canine behaviorist at Tailspin Training, Mumbai).

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