What Do Our Pets Want?

By: Kristie Franks, MS     www.petshelpingpeople.com

I have worked with and been involved with animals most all of my life. I always had a draw to be around them. I grew up next door to my Uncle that worked cows and broke horses for a living. I have seen great owners and poor owners and everything in between as an animal cruelty investigator. So what do our pets want out of life? Love? Food? But what else besides the obvious?

There has been a lot of animal related issues in the news lately. Florida no longer allows dog racing because some people felt like the industry was unnecessary and cruel. Certain aspects of animal cruelty, such as dog fighting, are now felonies in all 50 states. There are always controversies over what is good and healthy for our pets. Some believe that there should be no working animal of any kind. Is having an animal do a job cruel?

Dogs were domesticated approximately 14,000 years ago. Since that time, we have been selecting traits that we liked and wanted for specific reasons to have them help us with tasks that they could help us complete. Working breeds have been around the longest with “pet” quality breeds only coming into fancy in the late 1700’s and 1800’s. So what does this mean for our dogs’ needs? Selective breeding over long periods of time has let us create dogs that not only enjoy their jobs, but NEED to have a job. Those traits cannot be changed overnight. These dogs are high energy and smart as they need the energy to work all day and need to be able to think independently. Taking a working bred animal and expecting it to be happy living in an apartment with no outlet for its energy is cruel, but asking that dog to do a job is not. Herding dogs such as Border Collies and Australian shepherds, dogs bred for protection such as Rottweilers and Dutch shepherds, and hunting dogs such as multiple breeds of hounds, Labradors and terriers all thrive when working. They are kept in optimal body condition (which is lean like a jogger) and their life expectancy is longer because they will have better overall physical and mental health. Owners of working breeds should understand this and encourage the work. There are alternative “jobs” available these days. Agility, nose work, field trials, dock diving, rally, and Frisbee competitions just to name a few. You can go hiking, biking and jogging with your pet and many of the breeds of dogs love to swim! Allowing and encouraging these animals to do what their mind is telling them they need to be doing creates a happy and well balanced animal.

Hunting dogs thoroughly enjoy their jobs. Scent hounds that do not have a job are often ones who get out and run off because they are naturally following a scent. Herding dogs that don’t have a job get in trouble for herding children or for getting out and chasing the neighbors’ stock animals. Racing dogs are not only racing, but they are using their hunting instincts during that race as they love the entire aspect of the chase!

Cats too have been used for “jobs” over the years. Their job was to hunt pests. There are interactive toys that help meet these needs with cats in the homes. Also, cat trees for climbing are good for their mental health and scratching posts fill the need for the normal and natural activity of sharpening their claws.

Horses have also been selectively bred for many years to fill jobs humans needed them to do. There are horses that work cattle and have an innate understanding of how cattle move and think. We have draft horses designed to pull and move heavy weights. Race horses have that high energy and need to run or work in areas like cross country or arena jumping. Many horses are okay with a more laid back life as long as they have a buddy, but there are a lot of horses that fully enjoy doing their work. Again, a tired mind is a happy mind. Exercise is imperative for mental health in our animals. Take your horse on a trail ride or find an activity that you can do together like competitive trail, sorting, rodeo, or endurance.

In my opinion, having been around so many various types of animals and around animals of every background, there are some breeds of course that are perfectly happy being “just a pet”, but even animals that are just someone’s pet need mental stimulation and socialization. Take your dogs for a walk as it is good for their health and yours. Get toys to play with your cat and watch you feline friend find a new lease on life. Get out and exercise your horse and spend time grooming and interacting with them and watch your bond grow and the horses stress melt away. But why do some see having animals designed for work actually do work as cruel? Our number one issue with pets in the US these days is also obesity. Animals are not designed to be sedentary. They were and are designed to be on the move. Always consider this when you chose your pet and help make our pet population happy and healthy!

One other way to make your people loving pets happy is through therapy work. Therapy work is what our group Huntsville Pets Helping People or HPHP does for our community. Our pets have had obedience training and lots of socialization and have passed an evaluation exam to become registered therapy animals. Therapy animals are only allowed where they are invited, but they get to visit people in nursing homes, hospitals, schools, libraries and they do attend special functions too. If you would like to be more active with your pet, please consider any of the activities above and if interested in therapy work, please follow the link to our webpage.