Raising Your Paws - Your Pet Parent Resource

How to Increase Your Dog’s Happiness. (Blog #76)

Published: 09/22/2020
dog seeking -- sniffing each other

Get them SEEKING more. This is one of the core emotion systems in your dogs brain. In your’s as well by the way. The SEEKING system is a combination of emotions –  wanting, looking, curiosity. Overall,  it makes us and our dogs feel happy.  In this week’s episode of Raising Your Paws podcast that you can listen to below, I explain that a path to your pet’s happiness and good mental health is to increase how much your pet experiences it’s positive core emotions one of which is SEEKING. I also explain how this works in humans and dogs, and offer a few ways to activate your dog’s SEEKING system.

Here is another idea.

Let your dog sniff more.  I know when you’re out walking your dog, it can get tiring and annoying to you that they want to stop every other second and stick their nose in a hole for days or delicately smell a tiny twig on a bush for an hour or yank you by the leash over to one particular spot on the ground that looks like there is absolutely nothing there.  But you would be wrong. Remember, to a dog, their sence of smell is EVERYTHING – it totally defines and identifies their world, they are detecting a ton of information in that spot, and compared to their noses, we basically can’t smell a thing.

So we can’t really judge. You may think your dog should be “walking” now, to be doing something, but relax. Your dog is exploring and investigating and finding out a million things and satisfying their curiosity and their brains are working, and thinking.

And…. this feels really good to your dog, because as they do all that seeking out of scents, their brain is firing the chemical, Dopamine, which is known as the feel good chemical. This rewards the behavior and encourages your dog to repeat those actions. Dopamine is what prompts a lab animal, for instance, to repeatedly press a lever to get tasty pellets of food. And its part of why you and I seek out another slice of pizza or your dog keeps begging for one more treat from you. It’s highly rewarding and pleasurable. It’s kind of like you, picking up and checking your smart phone over and over again. Oh, yes, your SEEKING system is totally getting engaged by the way in which our phones and social media is designed. I’ve got lots of thoughts on this, if you’d like to discuss it. 🙂 Leave comments below. 

A curious thing about SEEKING, the way it works is that the  fun comes from the anticipation of what will be found, or the looking for the thing, not the getting of the thing.  Think about this – have you ever really been craving a donut, not having eaten one for a long time in an attempt to drop a few pounds. But then you finally decide to reward yourself with one, so you dream about it, and plan where to get the best one, and think about it all the time and then when you finally go to the donut shop, get it in your hands, and take a bite…..it’s not quite as good as you hoped?

Yep, that’s the SEEKING system at play. I’m not saying that accomplishing the goals we set out for ourselves or that our dogs set for themselves are not good and rewarding and not part of it all. It’s just that the reason the SEEKING system exists in the brains of all animals in the first place is so they will go out into the world and seek the resources needed to live and survive.

So instead of being hell-bent on getting your dog to walk for the 15 minutes of time you can spare, if what they really want to do is stay in place and explore and sniff for the whole time, relax – go with it. It’s easy for you and this is making them really happy – and isn’t that the point of the walk anyway, as long as they do their business of peeing or pooping, of course.