What Do Our Dogs Really Need From Us?

person-woman-summer-girlI thought I’d write some blogs about what I think dogs really need from their owners, because really, I think it’s far more simple than we tend to make it.  Dogs are very simple creatures, and their needs are also very simple.

When I’m out training dogs every day, I meet with all kinds of people in all walks of life with all kinds of dogs….from fancy, expensive designer dogs to strays that have been taken in off of the street….and everything in between!!

Naturally, with so many different types of people and dogs, there are going to be just as many opinions about what a dog really needs….and my opinion will be just one more voice in the mix!

I’ll be focusing on some basics, because I think those are what really matter.  I’ll also be looking at things through the lens of a special needs dog.  While all of the things I’ll mention are true for all dogs, special needs dogs who have fears and anxieties or aggressive behaviors have some different criteria that need to be considered.

Here’s my list:

  1. Love
  2. Shelter and safety
  3. Food, water and treats
  4. Training, Physical and Mental Exercise
  5. Toys for fun and work

sunset-hands-love-womanToday, I’ll be writing about love, because that’s where it all starts.  If we don’t love our dogs, things aren’t going anywhere.  The big question though, is how do we define “love,” because it sure means different things to different people.  How we define things makes all the difference, because otherwise, we get into assumptions and then things are a hot mess.

And to define love, I have to refer to the best definition that I know of, and it’s found in the Bible.  I Corinthians 13:4-7  “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

I could break that down and write page after page, but I’m going to pick out some key things that I think are really especially relevant when it comes to our beloved dogs.

  • Love is patient and kind!
  • Love doesn’t get mad easily and doesn’t keep a rap sheet of mistakes.
  • Love rejoices with the truth.
  • Love always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

All four of those things have served me so very well in my relationship with Rugby.  All dogs need patience and kindness, but special needs dogs need extra doses.  Experience is a powerful teacher, and when dogs have had negative experiences…sometimes over and over, they’re going to make some decisions about how the world works.  Those decisions may be incorrect for the most part, but our dogs have small brains, and we just can’t sit down and reason with them like we would with a child.  They’re trying so very hard to figure things out, but can’t always get there quickly.  It’s really important that we remember how very hard they try, and love will give you eyes to see that really clearly!

Love doesn’t stack up all of the naughty things like a list to send to Santa to ensure our dogs get coal in their Christmas sock next year! Humans are slow to forgive for the most part.  In all honesty, many of the behavioral things dogs do could be prevented with adequate supervision and training, so if we’re going to be completely honest with each other….we have to own some of the problems.  And if we can admit that we’re part of the problem, we owe it to our dogs to forgive their trespasses, and work with them to help them understand our rules.

animal-dog-pet-windowSpecial needs dogs need extra grace for being naughty.  So many times, it’s really a product of their past, and new owners are reaping the results of behavior that another owner was unable or unwilling to correct.  Keeping a record of our dog’s wrongs is focusing on the wrong things. Instead of keeping record of the wrongs, we need to keep records of their progress forward.  It’s always a good thing to see and believe the very best about our dogs.  Tear up the naughty list, and start fresh every day!

Which brings me to the next point:  Truth!  SO many times, I hear owners fully convinced that they have the most hard headed or stubborn dog in the world.  And truthfully, most of the time, their dogs just haven’t figured out what the command means or the context in which we’re using it.  Dogs typically don’t generalize things very easily, so when we’re teaching them something new, it takes a very long time, and many different training scenerios before our dogs will really understand fully, the command or behavior we’re teaching.  Our dogs are trying so very hard, and if we’ll look at the truth of that, we’ll be able to have the patience and kindness we need to help our dogs work through the command to produce the behavior we’re training.  Jumping to the wrong conclusion often leads us to be angry with our dogs, where patience and kindness is really what’s needed.

And the last one, is my favorite. Our special needs dogs absolutely need to know that we will protect them, that we are trustworthy, that we will always have hope for them, and that we won’t give up!!  To a special needs dog, these four things are so critical!!

Protection doesn’t just mean keeping them safe from being hit by cars, or having shelter from the elements or shots to prevent illnesses.  Protection for a special needs dog means that we will have their backs.  We won’t throw them under the bus when situations arise that will be stressful or scary for our little furry pals.  Just because people want to see or meet Rugby doesn’t mean that I let them.  He has a very tough time meeting new people, so protecting him from random strangers who want to pet him is so very important for him to trust me.  Rugby knows that I will keep him safe!  Without trust….we’ve got no capital with our dogs.   None at all!

Once I made the decision to keep Rugby, I made the choice to always have hope for him, and I knew that I could never give up in my efforts to make life easier and better for him.  I have to trust that he knows how he feels, and respect him when he says it’s time to quit.  I don’t train all the time with Rugby, and I don’t constantly work on his tough areas because that would overwhelm us both.  I tackle issues here and there, giving Rugby recovery breaks between sessions.  Sometimes those breaks are hours or days, and sometimes, it can be a few months.  I supplement those breaks with fun….easy social outings, tricks, puzzles, games…things that he will enjoy and things that are low stress and low anxiety.  I think it’s important to keep him working, and keep our trust levels high while we work together.

So give some thought to how you love your dog.  You sure don’t have to use my definition, but make sure your dog knows that above all else, you love him to the moon and back…always and forever.





  1. Sarah Thomas says

    Mamma Sally, that is my very favorite passage out of the Bible! Love is the best thing in existence! I'm so grateful for you and Rugby <3

    • Sally says

      Hi Sarah! Thanks so much for your kind comment!! That's a favorite Bible passage for me too! I'd never read it through the lens of how it might apply to our relationship with our dogs, but it really gave me a whole new fresh way of thinking about it! I'm so glad to know that you enjoy the blog and Rugby's page so much! We're very grateful for you and Marley too!! <3

  2. Mike says

    Really love this idea of sharing posts about what dogs need.

    I think it is easy sometimes for people to forget that dogs have a diverse set of needs!

    • Sally says

      Thanks, Mike! This will look a bit different for each dog owner, because all of us live differently with our dogs, but basic needs are universal for all dogs. I think it's very easy for dog owners to get caught up in thinking that they have to give their dogs a ton of toys and treats to make them happy. I'm hoping that folks will think differently about what their dog really needs...all from the perspective of a special needs dog.

      • Mike says

        I think it is very easy to think that because they have a million toys that is good enough. I've seen people do that but truly it isn't. I'll be sharing this post with others!


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