Is This Hamster Happier Than Your Dog?

Golden Retriever on a couch

I think I should be allowed to shed on this couch as an expression of my autonomy. Don’t you want me to be emotionally healthy?

What Makes One Person Crazy and Another Person Normal

I spend a lot of time thinking about crazy people.

I spend a lot of time being crazy people.

Which is my tacky way of saying that questions of mental health and illness fill my thoughts.

For instance, why is it considered crazy to think aliens are controlling your thoughts? But it’s not crazy to think you’re really good at your job. Neither thought is likely true. But one defines someone as mentally ill while the other defines them as mentally healthy.

Is Your Dog Mentally Ill

All these weird musings are fall out from Mel Freer’s post on No Dog About It, Is Your Dog Mentally Ill? It got me thinking how dogs could become mentally ill.

To be healthy, humans need autonomy. They need to feel they have some control over themselves and their environment. Even people with severe biochemical abnormalities are treated with behavioral therapies as well as medication to help them exercise control.

Many dogs have little autonomy.

Breeding dogs in puppy mills probably have the least autonomy of all. And when rescued from their lot, they show signs of mental illness.

So how do you keep your dog mentally healthy? You allow him choices. Give him freedom to make decisions. Make opportunities for problem solving.

Which is the end of my really long set up for a cute hamster video.

Hamster Escape

Many small pets have little autonomy. If they aren’t given time outside their cages, stimulating things to do, and the ability to solve problems, they’ll probably show signs of stress—fighting with other animals, self-injury, or obsessive behavior.

But this little guy beat the odds. He figured out how to solve a problem. I love it.

Is this hamster happier than your dog? How does your dog exercise autonomy?

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  1. I do think that little hamster is happier than my dog, I’m sorry to say that I think his brain may be a bit larger too:) Honestly, I think that no matter what I try with Leroy he may always have a few screws lose, but I’ll keep trying to mentally stimulate him no matter what:) Leroy being a goof is what makes him Leroy.

  2. I never thought he could fit through those bars! Makes me wonder about our fence which is low, and the slats not too close, and there are some spaces on the ground where my husband says the dogs could never fit through. But…can they?

  3. Ah, but the dilemma is where does their autonomy spill over into becoming bossy. Mostly the way that Bogie wants to express himself is by dominating me.

  4. Trust me I’ve been doing some thinking about this. I’m pretty sure my dogs are happy, but bored….not that might be a different topic.

    I knew the hamster could fit, I just can’t believe he figured out how to get up there. And I wonder what the person thought the first time they got up and the hamster was missing! LOL

  5. I had a hamster like that! I named him Houdini funnily enough. Then I got two cages and merged them so he had tons of space to play.

  6. I try to give the dogs off leash run time everyday. Living in an RV, they don’t have a yard or a big house to roam around in, so running and chasing keeps them from being bored.

  7. Are you saying I am not good at my job? Ouch! That wikipedia link was definitely not healthy for my brain, though it’s good to know I’ve been right all these years. 😉

    My dog exercised her autonomy on the agility course last weekend when she decided to run into the crating area instead of take the jump in front of her. Sometimes I wonder if she has too much freedom.

    I’m only joking. Mostly. I try to give her the chance to make her own choices as much as possible as I know it can’t be easy for a dog trying to live in the human world. There are so many rules and so many things that must not make any sense. But I think by seeking out places where she can run around off-leash on a regular basis, I can at least give her the chance to decide when and where to sniff and when to walk and when to zoom. It’s not much, but it’s something, right?

  8. I have some friends whose hamster escaped its cage and they never found it… ever. Not even skeletal remains. It was an only pet. They try to imagine that it is in a better place. We’ll never know. Sometimes cages work to protect.

  9. Love this blog entry!

    My dogs have autonomy within the household structure, meaning they can roam around naked and choose their own place to lay down (we have several mats out for them to choose from), but they are never permitted to jump or play inside.

    They are allowed outside frequently (I work from home, lucky me!) to romp in the half acre fenced-in area. Autonomy within structure seems like an oxymoron, but works for us! It helps prevent the “bossiness” someone described earlier. :)

  10. I’d like to think that Elka is happier than that hamster! The fact that she doesn’t try to make a big for freedom every time she sees a crack in the door speaks for that, I think.

    Really, I think that’s one reason that clicker training and positive reinforcement can be so important. The dog chooses the correct behavior, and gets rewarded for that choice.

  11. Ha ha ha! That hamster is pretty clever, but I don’t think he’s happier than my dogs. At least, most of the time, although this heat has made keeping their lives interesting a lot more challenging.

    The whole mental illness discussion reminds me of one of my mom’s dogs a lot. For years, I’ve said that’s she mentally ill! She was taken to a shelter because she bit the mom and daughter in the first family she lived with and she’s bitten my mom severely enough that she had to get medical attention several times. She also shredded the inside of their SUV one day in five minutes while they dropped off a package to UPS. Now she has to be in a crate when they take her in a vehicle and she sounds like the Tasmanian Devil in there. Hubby and I even gave her Valium one time when we had to transport her and it didn’t even phase her. When you look at her, you can see it, though. Her eyes have a funny look that always puts me ill at ease with her, and she’s not a big dog. I pray often that she does not outlive my mom and stepdad because I really do not want to inherit her!

  12. Very cute hamster video. I suspect there’s a little tongue in cheek going on here but I’d be willing to bet Bella would tell you real autonomy for dogs is not all it’s cracked up to be. She survived. Most who find themselves in the position she did as a puppy do not.

    That said, she gets to do her own thing pretty much. If I want/need her to do something, we work it out. (If I NEED her to do something, she can hear it in my tone of voice.) And yes, I believe there are times when, as the grown-up and the human, enforcing our will on those of lesser knowledge or skill or understanding than us is the right thing to do. (“Drop it” for a stolen chicken bone, for example.) However, we should consider carefully what is a need and what is a want is and choose our battles in a way that allows the dog some dignity.

  13. That hamster was too cute! I think Cali is pretty happy, but sometimes I can see that she is really bored. We work from home, but she would rather have us sit outside with her all day then sit at the computer! I’m sure she would prefer to roam the neighborhood, exploring all of our neighbors garages! :)

  14. Thanks for the shout out. I never imagined your creative juices would flow towards The Great Hamster Escape video, but I think that was the fun of it.

    I like to give my dogs autonomy in the house and outside, but I also think that balance and routine make them happy and not so crazy. When I used to board dogs in my home, I would see the occasional crazy and unbalanced ones. Most of their craziness would dissipate by they went home. I would ignore the need to be held all of the time, provide attention all of the time and I was good with crating , if needed. I sometimes think that too many choices and being overly attentive can make dogs crazy.

  15. What a determined little hamster. It always amazes me how they can squeeze through such tiny spaces.

    With my dogs, I think the Nose Work has been a creative way to allow them to take the lead and make decisions on their own. It allows them to use their minds and burn off some energy too. :-)

  16. **squee* I want a hamster! Really I do. Unfortunately, I think Kol’s desire to chase said hamster will be stronger than my will to prevent it. Casa de Kolchak is an unsafe work environment if you happen to be a rodent.

    We try to give the dogs a lot of leeway in choosing how they’ll spend their days and what works for them. (Sometimes, I think we do this too much!) Felix and Kol have set their own preferred mealtimes and since they fit rather easily into our schedule, I’m happy to oblige. One of my favourite things to do is go for a walk and allow them to follow their own nose. The walks are for them, after all, why shouldn’t they get to choose the route?