Note: This information is useful for everyone (clients, dog trainers, veterinarians, shelters, rescues, and volunteers).
If you haven’t seen this already, check this out. This Hierarchy of Dog Needs is based on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you have ever taken a psychology course, I’m sure you’ve seen this a time or two. For more information, click here:
According to the Hierarchy of Dog Needs outlined by the Linda Micheals, from bottom (and biggest portion) is Biological Needs, Emotional Needs, Social Needs, Force-Free Training, and then Cognitive Needs (smallest portion). As a trainer, I am approached by individuals of all walks of life and about dogs with different needs. Some need simple advice, basic obedience, teething puppy, etc. But once in a while there is case that truly needs specific help that goes beyond merely obedience, it’s focused on behavior modification.
When working with an undersocialized, fearful, or aggressive dog, certain needs must be met before any obedience learning can take place. This pyramid accurately displays that. Sometimes pet guardians think the dog is being disobedient or ignores them and obedience is the answer to correct that. Unfortunately, when a dog doesn’t feel safe or trust you, they won’t work for you. If a dog is in a new environment and is over-threshold, they can’t focus on a task. Once I worked with a dog and his family for months and he was so fearful that he wouldn’t let me go near him. He wasn’t the fearful, “shut down” dog. He was the fearful, “I’ll bite you if you ever come near me” dog. Both based in fear but on opposite sides of the spectrum.
In his home environment with the people he loves, they met all of his needs, bottom to top. They adored this dog. When I went for the consultation, he barked viciously through the kennel door. Just hearing my voice would set him off in the beginning. I’m not going to lie, I was quite nervous. During our process, the pre-teen handler (life-saver) would hold him while he would bark and lunge at me. We worked on counter-conditioning and desensitization for months. We tried different locations within the home, at the park, different placements (sitting, standing, and walking) and over time he let me slowly come closer.
We had a breakthrough after a very successful and dreaded vet visit. He did so well and had no issue walking back with the vet tech. I couldn’t be more excited for him. At out next session, with a welding glove on and a fight kit on me, we dropped the leash, removed the muzzle, and I cautiously give him a treat. See, when new people would arrive to the house or when he was out on a walk, his emotional needs weren’t being met. He didn’t feel safe. He was extremely undersocialized. There were many factors but you can’t focus on the past. We address it but focus on the here and now.
Over time, we slowly worked up the pyramid. We were able to get to Social Needs. He actually looked forward to seeing me. I would leave my shirt with my smell to get him comfortable with it. We got a little Force-Free Training Needs with a Watch-Me and Sit. Nothing too structured but I’m okay with that. We even hit a little Cognitive through snuffle mats and Find It games! He took a while to get there and some dogs need that patience. Last I heard, they continued training using friends and family members and he has also visited the vet. In his situation, there is no amount of obedience that will help him feel safe. He was fluent in a few behaviors already but when emotions take over, logic goes out the window. Always address your dog’s needs. It will help you and your dog to have stronger relationship and happier life.