What is Behavior Wellness?

Doglando Talks About Behavior Wellness Often, But What Does It Mean?

At Doglando, we regularly talk about things like behavior wellness. It’s so important to define these terms, because the language that we use matters. We need to be consistent and accurate when we’re speaking. This makes sure everyone is on the same page, which helps us all provide our dogs with a better quality of life.

So, with that in mind, let’s take the term apart and see what happens! First, let’s define wellness:

What is Wellness?

Dictionary.com defines wellness as “the quality or state of being healthy in body and mind, especially as the result of deliberate effort”.

Charles B. Corbin of Arizona State University gives this definition of wellness:

Wellness is a multidimensional state of being describing the existence of positive health in an individual as exemplified by quality of life and a sense of well-being.

The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as an active process through which people become aware of, and make choices toward, a more successful existence.

So, what is wellness, to a dog? Taking the above definitions into account, we may define it as “an active process through which the dog’s owner becomes aware of, and makes choices toward, a more successful existence for the dog”.  (It is debatable whether the dog can understand this process, or the exact nature of a “successful” existence as rated by both dog and human.)

What is Success?

Dictionary.com defines success as “the accomplishment of an aim or purpose”, or “a person or thing that achieves desired aims or achieves prosperity”.  The Cambridge English Dictionary defines success as the, “achievement of results wanted or hoped for”.

At once we can see that “success” may mean different things to the dog and the owner.  A dog who has chewed a shoe probably considers that moment a success – he has enjoyed the act of chewing and made himself happy.

The owner of the dog (and the shoe) likely does not agree.  Thus success, to a dog, who must coexist happily with the humans in the home, likely means “the achievement of results wanted by both the dog and the owner”.

What is Behavior?

There is not yet a multidisciplinary definition of the term behavior.  Dictionary.com defines behavior defines behavior as “observable activity in a human or animal”, or “the aggregate of responses to internal and external stimuli”.

The University of Doglando defines behavior as “anything an organism does as a reaction to or interaction with the environment (internal or external). It is something that is observable, measurable and unambiguous”.

Under this definition, “turning the head to the right” or “wagging the tail” are behaviors.  “Uncertainty”, “boredom”, and “thinking” are not behaviors – they are ambiguous, unobservable, or unmeasurable.

What is Behavior Wellness?

Combining the above definitions, when viewed from the perspective of a dog and an owner, behavioral wellness is an active process of moving toward a state wherein the behavior of both parties satisfies the desires of both parties.  (The dog gets to chew the owner’s old shoes, satisfying both his desire to chew and his owner’s desire to have shoes on both feet.)

“Behavior wellness is the condition or state of normal and acceptable pet conduct that enhances the human-animal bond and the pet’s quality of life.” (Hetts, Heinke and Estep, 2004).

How Does Behavior Wellness Manifest?

Since behavior wellness is a process moving toward success, it manifests as the achievement of aims on the part of both dog and owner.  Exactly what this means will vary between individuals.

Some owners do not care if the dog chews their shoes, for example, while others will not view shoe-chewing as a success.  Some dogs don’t even enjoy chewing shoes, and would not chew shoes even if shoes were given to them.

Doglando promotes behavior wellness both by working toward meeting the needs of the owners, via training standard commands, and meeting the needs of the dogs, via providing safe and desirable outlets for their desires (good things to chew, space to run safely, etc).  Doglando also promotes intraspecies communication, which opens the door for dogs and humans to work together towards achieving mutually beneficial aims.

Behavior Wellness Programs

These are protocols, procedures and processes within a service or system which educate pet owners and professionals about factors which constitute a behaviorally healthy pet.  They promote behavior wellness through positive pro-action, and monitor it through ongoing behavior assessments.

Behavior wellness programs:

  • Involve early intervention
  • Seek outcomes that offer opportunity to positively reinforce
  • Require facilitation
  • Ensure consistency
  • Use standards which are observable, measurable and unambiguous
  • Decrease unrealistic expectations and interpretations of behavior
  • Eliminate self-fulfilling prophecies or use of constructs
  • Decrease behavior problems, need for medication, relinquishment and euthanasia
  • Enrich the quality of the dog’s life
  • Maximize our understanding for better decision-making

First, we must ask, what are our aims?  Then, are we moving toward a state in which our aims are being fulfilled?  If yes, then we are seeing behavior wellness in action!