The importance of a holistic approach

‘Holistic behavioural support’ means behavioural support where we consider the whole dog and all factors in their life


A holistic approach to behaviour, considering ‘the whole dog’; The Jigsaw Puzzle of Behaviour

I often talk to my clients about ‘the jigsaw puzzle of behaviour’. ‘Holistic behavioural support’ means behavioural support where we consider the whole dog and every element that could feed in to their behaviour.

There are not one or two direct causes for dog behaviour (we can identify things to change, or put together a plan of behaviour modification training, but it’s all part of a bigger thing). Behaviour is part of a much bigger picture of several factors and needs that result in behavioural output. Every dog is a complete individual and all of the factors within their ‘jigsaws’ will be different – after all, when we consider each of these things, my dog is going to be an entirely different being to yours.

This is why when first assessing your dog, there are lots of things to be considered. Below is what that complete jigsaw puzzle looks like, with the pieces lining up in the best way that they can for the individual. The dog should be in their own unique best place at this time. The pieces don’t line up all the time – this is fluid. On a bad day, some pieces won’t fit (let’s say the dog has had a stressful trip to the vets one day involving handling that they didn’t enjoy, and then the next day went to the groomers – more handling, environment and stress pieces will be out) but after recovery, will fit back to their best place again. It’s when the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle are continually not fitting properly that we may need to consider what we are doing and support the dog to get to a better place.

There are some pieces here that we can do little about and some acceptance of our dog’s needs is required, in that respect. Genetics, for example. Genetics need to be considered and are part of this picture, but we can’t change a dog’s genetic make-up. We can change some of these other pieces to suit those genetics, though. For example – I can’t stop a working line collie from being a working line collie. We can’t stop them from wanting to herd sheep. If there are no sheep in the environment, they’ll find something else to do, usually something that isn’t overly beneficial and can develop in to compulsive behaviour. But, if we carefully consider the environment, exercise, enrichment & stimulation pieces – we can help that working line collie to be their best in a life where they cannot herd sheep.

Subsequently, all of these pieces link and have knock on effects. If diet isn’t quite right, physical health won’t be quite right, which means that others will also be off. Emotional wellbeing links to stress, which links to physical health. So leaving certain pieces of the puzzle not fitting correctly may mean that overtime, the rest of the puzzle isn’t right either.

To get a dog to the best outcome, we need to offer them support so that their puzzle pieces can start fitting together. Not all of the pieces may fit 100% (for example a dog that has chronic illnesses may struggle with their physical health at times) – and that’s ok, as long as we take this in to consideration and adjust the other pieces for them, to support that need. That’s why we consider best outcomes for the individual, and not perfect outcomes, because that is unrealistic and an unfair expectation to have of our dogs.

know your dog holistic behaviour

The above text is the intellectual property of Sally Lewis 2021

To learn more about the unique emotional experience of dogs, I recommend visiting (Andrew Hale)