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How to Fill A Dog’s Emotional Cup | Pupford

September 25th, 2023

Filed under Pet Parenting

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“You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

I’m sure you’ve heard that phrase before, but have you really thought about what it means – what is the cup? What are we pouring? What happens when it’s empty?

We hear the phrase a lot in terms of self-love, and making sure our own needs are met before (or while) taking care of other people. What it really comes down to is emotional fulfillment and meeting needs that are not necessarily physical.

But did you know it applies to your dog as well?

It makes sense when you think about it – your dog has feelings, emotional needs, and connections that need to be fostered. That’s what makes up their “cup.”

But without them being able to put it into words, it can be hard to know the state of your dog’s emotional cup and how to best fill it.

Today we’re going to deep dive into all that, tackling topics like:

  • What is a dog’s emotional cup?
  • What empties a dog’s emotional cup?
  • Signs your dog’s emotional cup needs filling
  • How to fill a dog’s emotional cup

So, set your dog up with an enrichment activity (you’ll see why soon!) and read on.


things your dog needs to live a happy and fulfilled life

Your dog’s emotional cup is just like yours. It’s basically the threshold of social connections, security, and enrichment that your dog needs in order to feel fulfilled.

The good news is that most dogs have full cups most of the time.

Whether they’re born like that or have just found ways to fill their cup without your help depends on the dog. That brings up the not so great news – sometimes the behaviors that we find undesirable or annoying (barking, chasing, etc.) are a normal part of your dog filling their cup.

More on that in a bit!


things that drain dogs and can make them sad

While most dogs naturally have a pretty full emotional cup, it doesn’t mean it can’t be drained.

When dogs are denied the connections and fulfillment they need to thrive, it can deeply impact their behavior and disposition.

Here are some common culprits responsible for draining a dog’s emotional cup:

  • Being isolated from other people and animals
  • Being confined for a long period of time
  • Lack of enrichment opportunities
  • Poor health and nutrition
  • Negative reactions from people
  • Overstimulation
  • New challenges
  • Lack of reinforcement
  • Unmet needs
  • Insufficient opportunities for sniffing, exploring, barking, chewing etc.

Basically, if your dog isn’t given the opportunity to, well, be a dog, it can empty their cup. The same goes for not getting the connection and reinforcement they crave from you.


signs your dogs needs may not be being met

Your question right now is probably, “so how do I know that my dog is suffering from an empty cup?”

The answer: toddlers.

Well, not completely, but there are striking similarities.

Think about how young children display that their emotional needs are not being met. Are they calmly approaching you and saying “hey, I need some extra fulfillment today”? – not likely.

Are they overreacting, changing their behaviors, or completely shutting down? Much more likely.

Dogs are similar. Here are some ways they signal that their emotional cup needs filling:

  • Increased resource guarding
  • Overreacting
  • Shutting down and not responding to cues they know
  • Appetite changes
  • Difficulty settling down after excitement
  • Escalating behaviors more than normal
  • Submissive behavior
  • Showing bad or irregular mood

If you notice any of these signs in your dog – and you’ve ruled out health issues or environmental issues – you might want to give that emotional cup a good refilling.


how to fill a dogs emotional cup

Whether you need to replenish your dog’s cup or just want to make sure it never empties, it’s good to know how to fulfill your dog emotionally.

So what can you do? Here are some ideas:

  • Include them in the family - Your dog wants to feel emotionally connected to you and the rest of your family. Include them in activities like family walks, visits to Grandma’s house, family dance parties, or even just a movie night at home in your presence.
  • Acknowledge them whenever possible - It’s hard to keep our dogs top of mind when we’re busy with work, school, taking care of a family, and tackling an endless to-do list. But whatever attention you are able to give your dog throughout the day goes a long way. Even a quick head pat in between chores can make a difference.
  • Give them the freedom to move and make choices - Give your dog a safe space to walk, run, and sniff without too much structure, like in a fenced in yard or on a long leash. Let them take the lead as to where they go, what they sniff, or even what toy they play with along the way.
  • Have a space just for them - A crate, a bed, or even a placemat where your dog knows they are safe and won’t be disturbed is a great way to give them an opportunity to recharge or wind down from a stimulating activity.
  • Create routines - Dogs thrive with predictable routines. Strive for the same events in a similar order (meal, then walk, then play, then crate time etc.) as often as possible to reduce stress and let your dog know that fulfilling things are coming.
  • Give them enrichment - Using their brains (and noses and tongues!) is one of the most fulfilling things for a dog. Mental stimulation can include things like dog chews, snuffle mats, puzzle games, lick mats, etc. – learn more about enrichment toys here.
  • Provide opportunities to be a dog - Let your dog sniff, forage, bark, chase, and free play from time to time – in a safe and controlled environment, of course. After all, they are dogs, so they need to do dog things!
  • Love them unconditionally - Dogs aren’t perfect. Neither are we. Your dog is going to make mistakes and do things you wish they wouldn’t, but it’s important to love them through it.

Which of these fulfills your dog the most? Do they love snuggles and belly rubs, playtime, or independent sniffing and chewing? Tell us what fills your dog’s cup in the comments!


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