Dogs instinctively seeks emotional stability…to feel grounded, relaxed and present. Remember Abraham Maslow's Hierachy of Needs? The 5-layered pyramid we all studied in various social studies or psychology classes? Just as we need to have our basic needs of food and water met before we can even think about writing a novel or creating a meme, our dogs also have a pyramid of emotional needs.
Level 1 Food and Water
For our dogs, the need for food and water is a Level 1 need. Dogs don't absolutely require shelter as a Level 1 need, though it is greatly appreciated. Shelter and comfort would be a 1 to 2 for dogs, depending on the dog's environment and individual history. For this level, I think of not only dogs who are part of a family, but also dogs who live on the streets or in casual dog packs. They may be meeting their basic needs of food and water, most of the time, and be relatively content.
Level 2 Security
Once dogs are fed and full they can move on to seeking security. Security is when they have shelter from the elements and some degree of security that they will have an easily obtained next meal. Think of a dog at a shelter. They are eating regularly and in a comfortable environment.
Level 3 Love and Being Part of a Pack
After security comes Love and being part of a Pack. Your blissful dog is lucky to have you as their pack leader so they have sailed through Levels 1, 2 and onto 3, loved and secure with their pack leader in charge. Having a truly pack leader adds to your dog's feeling of security. Dogs don't have to be the pack leader to be fulfilled, they thrive knowing someone is in charge and handling what needs to be handled. Machiavellian maneuvering amongst our dogs is fodder for another entire article - stay tuned.
Level 4 Being a Good Dog
Next, and yes, my pyramid may be a wee bit tongue in cheek, but being a Good Dog is meaningful to our dogs. They look to us for approval, praise and guidance. Our dogs love being part of our lives and included in activities. Level 4 is a good level for our dogs to achieve!
To some, being a good dog means minding what the pack leader says and executing a command on cue. And yes, this is a good dog in action! Most dogs have an innate desire to please their pack leader, though that desire is more evident in some dogs, and some breeds, than others.
For example, a working Great Pyrenees does not usually have as developed desire to please their people. They have been bred for millinea to think on their own and make quick decisions. Sometimes they even go against our ideas! That does not mean they have no desire to be a Good Dog, just that they don't need outward validation to know that they are, indeed, good dogs.
Level 5 Being a VERY Good Dog
And on to the 5th level of Canine Self-Actualization, that of Being a VERY Good Dog. To me, a dog who knows they are a very, VERY good dog has reached canine nirvana. They are self-confident, poised and chill about it.
We've all seen the photos of dogs after they have been told they were good. They know they are good dogs. Those are self-actualized VERY Good Dogs.
The dog who walks with quiet confidence and always seems ready to hit a play bow are self-actualized VERY Good Dogs.