What to do when a loved one needs help with their dog

What to Do When a Loved One Needs Help With Their Dog

What to do when a loved one needs help with their dog

Episode Transcript

As you know, owning a dog is a lifetime commitment, and sometimes things happen, and dog owners need a trusting family member or friend to step in and help out. Dogs rely on their owners for everything from food and veterinary care to grooming and exercise. When you see a friend or family member falling short in caring for their dog in one or more of these areas, it’s only natural to have concerns. If someone is dealing with depression, they might neglect their dog’s needs and their own. Even basic routines can start to feel overwhelming.

What to do if a loved one needs help with their dog

Welcome to Dog Works Radio. Okay, guys this is a serious episode. We are going to be talking about topics that may be uncomfortable but very necessary. As you know, owning a dog is a lifetime commitment and sometimes things happen, and dog owners need a trusting family member or friend to step in and help out. Dogs rely on their owners for everything from food and veterinary care to grooming and exercise. When you see a friend or family member falling short in caring for their dog in one or more of these areas, it’s only natural to have concerns. If someone is dealing with depression, they might be neglecting their dog’s needs and their own. Even basic routines can start to feel overwhelming.

But how do you talk to someone about what you’re noticing without sounding critical or judgmental? On the one hand, your priority might be to ensure that their dog is receiving proper care. On the other hand, you don’t want to risk pushing your loved one away, especially when they might need help the most. The way you voice your concerns can affect how receptive this person is to an offer of assistance.

If you feel nervous about having this conversation, we’ve got you covered. Below you’ll find advice on when and how to offer someone help with their dog.

Before we get started…after the episode, ask yourself, what new ideas has this conversation sparked for you? Then, share this episode with a family member or friends and discuss it together. As always, ping me over on Instagram at firstpawmedia. Just remember, dog training is a big commitment, and accountability is a huge part. You can do it; I believe in you!

Let’s Get Started…

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Dogs rely on their owners for everything from food and veterinary care to grooming and exercise. When you see a friend or family member falling short in caring for their dog in one or more of these areas, it’s only natural to have concerns. If someone is dealing with depression, they might be neglecting their dog’s needs and their own. Even basic routines can start to feel overwhelming.

But how do you talk to someone about what you’re noticing without sounding critical or judgmental? On the one hand, your priority might be to ensure that their dog is receiving proper care. On the other hand, you don’t want to risk pushing your loved one away, especially when they might need help the most. The way you voice your concerns can affect how receptive this person is to an offer of assistance. 

Determining if Neglect Is Occurring

For situations where you’re not certain if neglect is occurring, it’s important to gather more information before intervening. This can be easier to do if you know the dog owner well or have an opportunity to observe them with their dog on multiple occasions. For example, you might be concerned about whether their dog is getting enough exercise. After talking to your friend, you might learn that their work schedule only permits late-night walks. Alternatively, you might discover that a family member’s dog is experiencing hair loss due to a condition for which they are receiving treatment. The point is, we don’t always know the full picture and it’s easy to make assumptions based on what we’re seeing.

A third scenario might be that a friend or family member’s dog is not receiving the same level of care you had observed previously. Perhaps you’re seeing dirty food and water bowls or untrimmed nails. If depression is affecting your loved one’s ability to provide adequate care, you might feel compelled to say something. Before you do, it can help to learn more about depression and strategies for approaching this conversation.

Recognizing Signs of Depression in a Friend or Family Member

We all know what it’s like to experience sadness. Accordingly, we might think that someone who is depressed can just snap out of it. This isn’t true. “Sadness is usually brought on by an identifiable event, whereas depression might be present without a particular reason as to what is causing it,” says Dr. Elizabeth Fedrick, Ph.D, a licensed psychotherapist.

Another key difference is that sadness can come and go while clinical depression persists for at least two weeks and often has a negative impact on a person’s quality of life, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. People who experience depression may find it difficult to carry out daily routines, including pet care. “Depression often results in feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and despair, which makes it difficult to see beyond these feelings,” Dr. Fedrick adds.

Other signs of depression in humans include:

  • Consistently low moods or irritability
  • Changes in appetite
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep
  • Loss of interest in previously enjoyed activities
  • Withdrawing from social interactions or isolating yourself
  • Loss of energy and motivation
  • Increased pain or fatigue

Dogs can pick up on these signs of depression, as well as changes in their owner’s behavior. Moreover, depression can disrupt the very routines, like regular meals and walks, that help dogs thrive.

Knowing When to Intervene

Depression can overwhelm a person’s ability to cope with stress. If a dog has behavioral issues such as excessive barkingunwanted chewing, or leash pulling, the owner might withdraw from recreational activities, feel reluctant to have friends come over, or avoid taking their dog out in public. Avoidance behaviors like these can compound their sense of isolation, making it harder to reach out for help.

“It is important to ensure that you are showing up with empathy and support when a loved one is struggling with depression,” Dr. Fedrick says. This means offering help when depression is impacting their daily functioning, including their performance at work, relationships, personal responsibilities, and recreational activities.

“If a loved one’s depressive symptoms are worsening, or if you have any concerns for their safety, it is crucial to intervene and offer help,” Dr. Fedrick says. She suggests checking in with them more frequently, validating their feelings, asking what kind of support they need, as well as encouraging them to seek professional help. This doesn’t mean that you “try to rescue your loved one or fix their situation, as this is not something you have control over and it might delay them getting the professional help they truly need,” she adds.

Offering Help with Their Dog

If you decide to step in and offer help, “it is important you do this with sensitivity and respect,” Dr. Fedrick says. A good starting point is checking in and asking questions about how they’re doing. After giving them space to share, “you can gently express that you are worried about them and their well-being and are curious how you can best show up for them,” she adds.

Being supportive can look like acknowledging how much work it takes to care for a dog, especially if they’re training a new puppy or a dog with behavioral issues. You can validate them for taking on this responsibility, acknowledge what they’re doing well, or commend them for any improvements in their dog’s behavior. You might also wish to remind them how much their dog loves them and wants them to be as happy and healthy as possible.

Dr. Fedrick suggests asking questions like these when offering help:

  • I’ve noticed you’ve been struggling lately. Is there anything I can do to help?
  • You seem really overwhelmed. How can I best support you right now?
  • I have sensed you’ve been pretty sad lately. Is there anything you would like to talk about?
  • I understand you’re having a hard time. I’m worried about how it is impacting you. What can I do to support you?

Once your loved one indicates that they’re receptive to help, you can have a conversation about how to support them. For instance, you can offer to walk their dog, pick up dog food or medication, or take their pet to a vet appointment. Make sure to ask if it’s okay for you to share what’s worked for you, such as a particular training technique or dietary supplement, with your dog.

Another way to help is by expanding their support network. This could include recommending a dog trainer or behaviorist to help with any behavioral issues, offering help with finding a mental health professional, connecting them with a veterinarian, or simply being a sounding board for them. “It is in everyone’s best interest for your loved one to be assessed by a mental health professional who can determine how to best help them, as well as to assess for any potential risk factors,” Dr. Fedrick says.

Preparing for Negative Reactions

Because depression is unique to each individual, it’s a good idea to prepare yourself for a range of reactions including defensiveness, denial, or avoidance. No one enjoys receiving criticism or feedback, even when it’s constructive. Consider it an opportunity to take a step back and reassess how you’re approaching them and what you could do differently, Dr. Fedrick suggests.

Likewise, if they shut you down or deny what’s been going on, “it is okay to just plant a seed and let them know you are there when they are ready for help,” Dr. Fedrick says. “When someone is struggling with depression, they might have a difficult time truly recognizing or acknowledging the impact that it is having on them,” or their dog.

Her advice is to be sensitive and gentle in your approach because they might not be ready to talk about their mental health. Empathizing with their struggles can go a long way toward encouraging them to open up, as opposed to criticizing how they’re taking care of themselves or their dog.

Lastly, if they’re not receptive to your offer to help, it’s important to respect your friend or family member’s wishes, except in situations where they or their dog are in imminent danger. Reassure them that you are here to help if they need anything now or in the future.

We are going to take a short break here and when we come back we are going to learn How Often Should You Walk Your Dog?

Like people, dogs need daily movement to feel their best. Dogs need exercise to maintain muscle tone as well as an appropriate weight for their age and breed. But walking your dog isn’t about physical activity alone. Walks provide mental stimulation, helping your dog build confidence and avoid potential behavioral issues like anxiety and aggression.

How Good Is Walking as Exercise?

“A lot of people think of dog walks as an energy release or a way for their pet to let loose,” says Dr. Emily Wilson, DVM, a veterinarian at Fuzzy. “It doesn’t just have to be your dog sniffing bushes and relieving themselves. It can be really interactive.”

Some dogs, especially younger ones, seem to have boundless energy. Exercise, including long walks, can tire them out, leading to a calmer and quieter companion at home.

But what’s essential for dogs is consistency. According to Dr. Wilson, having a routine is “really comforting to the dog and helps them anticipate what the schedule is.” Dogs are better equipped to regulate their emotions when they know what to expect, so that means taking regular walks around the same time each day.

When Is It Safe to Walk a Puppy?

While you want to give your puppy an outlet to let out their energy, certain viruses, such as parvo, are highly contagious and potentially life-threatening for dogs. Most puppies complete their vaccinations by 16 weeks, which is when they should be fine to be exposed to other animals. In the meantime, limit your puppy’s exposure to unfamiliar dogs.

“It’s very important that puppies have had their full series of vaccines especially out in public places,” Dr. Wilson says. “I usually recommend waiting two weeks after their last booster to allow their immune system to fully respond.”

Puppies also aren’t very good at regulating their body temperature, so you need to be mindful of the weather before going outside for a stroll. “If you get a puppy in the summer, make sure you’re not walking them on hot asphalt,” Dr. Wilson says. The same goes for winter weather. Aside from quick potty breaks, try to keep your puppy inside when the temperature drops and make sure they have cozy things to keep them warm.

How Much Exercise Do Dogs Need?

Puppies

Compared to adult dogs, puppies have less endurance and need a potty break every 2 to 4 hours, so you won’t be able to take them too far but will need to take them out more frequently. “If you have a little teacup, poodle puppy, don’t go around the block,” Dr. Wilson says. “That’s a long way for them to go.”

Puppies also need to be comfortable walking on a leash before tackling a full-fledged walk. Practice with them in a secure space like the backyard. Start small by walking your puppy up and down in front of the house and build up from there.

“Oftentimes puppies have to relieve themselves right after they eat, so correlating your walks with that can help make potty training more successful,” says Wilson. With a 10-week-old puppy, you might go out for a 10-minute walk two or three times a day. For the first few months, it’s best to stick with short and frequent walks.

Adult Dogs

If your dog hasn’t been too active or is out of shape, a 10 to 15-minute walk is a great starting point. As with puppies, keep the walk short and positive. Check to see your dog’s pace, and if they’re trailing behind or walking ahead of you. You may need to slow down or pick up the pace.

If your dog doesn’t have any underlying health concerns, you can gradually increase the length of the walk or take them out twice a day. How often you walk your dog depends on your schedule as well as your dog’s energy level and individual personality.

Dogs with mobility issues can benefit from short walks to avoid joint stiffness and inflammation. A harness is a great option for helping bigger dogs get around.

Senior Dogs

If your dog is willing and able to walk, exercise is an excellent way to keep them fit and active. In addition, senior dogs benefit from experiencing new sights, sounds, and smells to keep their stimulation up.

“The pace just needs to be slower,” Dr. Wilson says. “If your dog has arthritis, slow and frequent movement is beneficial for them.”

Consult with your veterinarian and monitor your dog for signs of pain and fatigue such as limping, stopping, laying down, panting hard, or having difficulty getting on or off curbs. If the walk is too long or strenuous, have your dog ride in a wagon or stroller to give them a break.

“They still get the enrichment [in a stroller],” says Wilson. “They still get to be part of the family and partake in the routine.”

Tips for Walking Your Dog

Treat the walk as an opportunity to train your dog and bond over new experiences. Positive reinforcement offers the best chance of success, you should use treats and lots of praise.

“Some dogs are ready to see the world,” Dr. Wilson says. “They want to meet people, and others may be shy.” Her advice is to adapt the walk to your dog’s comfort zone. You want your dog to be confident and not feel overwhelmed by people or other dogs.

For puppies and older dogs, be mindful of the wear and tear on their joints. Keep a casual walking pace, and limit their time on asphalt or concrete by opting for grass or wooded trails. You can also use dog booties or paw protectors if their feet tend to get cracked or damaged.

If your dog is going to be tagging along for jogs or bike rides, Dr. Wilson recommends waiting until they are a year old. “Especially with the bigger breeds, you don’t want a lot of concussive forces on hard surfaces,” she says.

What Can You Do Besides Walks for Exercise?

You don’t need to venture far to give your dog some worthwhile movement. Training your dog at home or in the backyard can offer them mental enrichment. Once your dog has learned basic commands like sit, stay, and down, move on to new, more challenging tricks. You can even consider training for Obedience or Rally together.

Other activities to try are scent work, nose work, and dog agility. If your dog is food-motivated, you can hide treats around the house to get them moving or use interactive toys.

Get creative, try different activities, and most of all, make it fun and positive for your dog. Think of exercise as a form of preventive care that will go a long way toward reducing illness and improving your dog’s health and well-being. “As [dogs] get older and evolve, it should be something they look forward to,” Dr. Wilson says.

I know guys, this was a pretty deep episode but lets take a moment and  press pause for a sec…maybe ask yourself, why did this resonate with me? What aspect of my relationship with my K9 buddy could I apply this to? And what am I going to do differently this week to make my dog’s training a little easier? So, take time to mull it over, talk it out with a family member or trusted friend, put some ideas down in your training journal, and then check back next week for our next episode. And, as always, I look forward to hearing your thoughts on this episode. So, reach out and D.M. me over on Instagram at firstpawmedia, and let’s spark a conversation. Until then, keep going! You are doing great! It is time to create the relationship with your dog that you always dreamed of.

Thanks for listening to Dog works radio. Find the show notes for this episode and all others at Alaska dog works (dot)com. Know someone in your life who need help with their dog’s training? Be a hero and share our podcast with them, and we will see you next time.

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