It’s crucial to know the difference between what our dog needs and what we think it needs, we all tend to assume that our dog needs to be walked every day, probably twice a day. We’ve been told that walking our dog makes him tired and therefore more likely to behave appropriately.
Exercise is not wrong and is definitely beneficial but what is very important is that for each dog the exercise should be individual to your dog’s needs and as such, in an ideal world, your dog should have an exercise strategy.
For some easy going dogs a walk anywhere at anytime can be nothing but pure fun; in general my comments in this article are based on hyper, reactive, anxious, working dogs and hard to settle dogs; what do you do if your walks are less dreamy and more screamy? I’ve seen a number of dogs over the years who have been attacked on walks and are now anxious; of course, that’s a sensible reaction surely? If you were mugged walking on your own in a particular area wouldn’t you be a tad wary to go back there alone? If your child was attacked by a Great White would you insist they went swimming the next day? It’s a shame but maybe a serious one-off event could be enough to spoil the fun for your dog – you may not be aware of the event, I’m afraid of heights even though I never fallen from one…
So while vigorous exercise will get your dog in peak physical health which is great for physical well-being it may backfire for mental stability. A universal belief is that exercise will release energy but in reality exercise causes huge spikes of adrenaline which will make your dog’s mental state way more chaotic. Most hyper/anxious/aggressive dogs are already chaotic and need calming exercises not more stimulation. Achieving a more physically fit dog will require more exercise to tire them and quite often with the dogs I see it isn’t a lack of physical exercise that’s the problem in the first place but the lack of training and mental stimulation.
Your dog will need a balance between physical and mental activity; with excess physical exercises and inadequate mental activity your dog will be over aroused leading to (possibly dangerously high) stress levels, owners need to teach these dogs how to relax.
So what can we do to help?
- Reduce (or ditch) the high-octane walks, dog training these days focuses on choices. If your dog doesn’t like noisy traffic do you have to walk them by the busy road? I have 3 children, my eldest loves horse riding, one is a tumbling gymnast and one a BXM racer. All 3 are brave and fearless in their own choice of sport – as a mum I have to force myself to watch! But the BMXer isn’t so brave on a horse and the Gymnast not great on a bike. My kids are allowed to keep fit, happy and healthy exercising in a way that they enjoy; perhaps we should at least try to allow our dogs the same?
- Does your dog know how to settle? This is a skill – think mindfulness for dogs. Not all humans are able to ‘chillax’ easily so why would your dog?
- Introduce mind games and canine enrichment – I can’t emphasise this one enough. A few treats in some old boxes or bottles for recycling, it’s their equivalent of sudoku on the beach or a crossword at the coffee shop, Candy Crush for Canines!!! Search ‘Canine Enrichment’ on the web for lots of ideas.
- Feed your dog right, high-quality food and use a food puzzle for at least one meal per day.
- Use the time in which you’re not walking your dog to train your dog, enrol the help of a Trainer if needs be or search the internet to find good Positive Reinforcement Training techniques. - I’ll mention Settle again because it’s so important! - Impulse control exercises - Eye contact and communication exercises
- Train in a group if your dog is comfortable.
- Manage your dog toys, only give your dog access to toys on a rotation basis and not free access. Get your ‘Blue Peter’ badge and try create new toys yourself – there are lots of ideas online.
- Learn how to play with your dog. Not many owners know how to do this but spend a little time playing tug, ball or fetch and incorporate some impulse control exercises at the same time.
- Learn how to incorporate scent work/games to your dog’s repertoire.
- Introduce exercise variety; swimming, low-impact agility, earthdog, flyball, dock diving etc
- Consider hiring private fields for great, safe off lead activity, you can possibly share with a dog you already know or incorporate some training into your visit. Some private hire fields have good facilities for humans giving you both chance to relax and enjoy the moment.
- When you do take walks make sure you choose locations wisely and vary walks to different places and lengths. Keep control, keep calm, train correct lead behaviour, use your voice quietly and try to encourage your dog to amble and enjoy the moment rather than pulling to all the sniffs. Engage and connect with your dog using the foundations of contact and communication training you have worked on in the home environment. I often hear that “treats don’t work” on a walk – they won’t – treats won’t work – TRAINING DOES!
Dogs do need exercise, I’m not saying that they don’t, but there are two main concerns in using a walk as your dog’s main exercise activity. Firstly, most dogs and not mentally stimulated properly and/or enough. Secondly, walks can often be overwhelming and stressful and therefore release a cocktail of adrenaline and cortisol which will affect your dog’s ability to behave for days after the event. You don’t have to walk your dog if it’s stressing you/or your dog out. Stop if it’s not helping, stop if it’s not fun. Don’t feel guilty as there’s plenty of things you can do instead
If you need any help with your dog’s Exercise Strategy contact firstname.lastname@example.org