Welcome to this three part blog series – Tools, rules, and exercise! If you haven’t read parts one and two, click the links below.
Now that you are caught up on Tools and Rules, lets talk exercise! Come on, you know you love it!
Exercise – We all know it is good for people. Studies show that regular exercise controls weight, combats health disease, boosts mood and energy levels, and improves sleep. The Department of Health and Human Services recommends people get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes a week of vigorous aerobic activity a week, or a combination of moderate and vigorous activity to maintain health. Exercise is equally beneficial for our canine friends, is a necessity for both their physical and mental well being and is in their DNA.
At Super Mutts, along with tools and rules, exercise is a big part of our training program. Most behavioral issues we see are directly related to the amount of exercise the dog gets on a daily basis. A tired dog is a good dog! The first question we generally ask our training clients is how often they walk their dog. Inevitably, it is never enough, if at all. Many people fail to give their pet proper exercise for various reasons.
Some people do not exercise their dog because they pull on leash and are difficult to walk. Some people have dogs with leash aggression and the dog barks and lunges at people or other pets when on the walk. Some people have dogs with high prey drives and when they walk try to go after every little critter in site. Some people just dont like to walk. The truth is that lack of proper exercise will cause all of the aforementioned behavioral issues in dogs and many more.
Dogs have four legs and are meant to walk or travel. Wild dogs can walk twenty to thirty miles per day. A common misconception is if the dog has a big back yard, he gets all the exercise he needs. Yes, dogs get some exercise from walking around your house and yard but unless you live on a farm, your back yard is not enough. Imagine if someone told you, you would be confined to the house and the only place you could go was to your back yard. You do this for months or years with no end in site. Now, imagine instead of two legs, you have four. You probably would start to become a little crabby . If you did not see any people occasionally, you would start to lose social skills and eventually would become stir crazy. I believe the term is “cabin fever.” This is exactly what happens to dogs.
Not that long ago, in circuses, Lions and Tigers were kept in small cages. If you ever saw one, you would see that they pace continuously back and forth again and again and again, rarely stopping. They are trying to walk, to drain energy, even though they cannot go very far, they need the exercise. If your dog does not get proper exercise, he will make his own in whatever environment he is in.
Dogs that never get out of their home and back yard do not have a way to drain energy and will start to show all sorts of behavioral problems. They will be over reactive to sounds, smells and sights and will bark at everything, often we are told, “my dog barks all the time”. Dogs without proper exercise and socialization may become fearful of new people and may start to show signs of aggression such as barking, biting or growling. They will generally have a high energy level and be very alert. They may develop resource guarding of toys or food. They will chew things, dig holes, run the fence line, and a myriad of other things to drain energy. They will often bolt the door when opened and if they get out, will not come back when called. They are going stir crazy…..
Many people say they throw the ball for their dog or play with their dog on a daily basis and yes, this is also exercise and good for your dog and for bonding but not in place of structured exercise. You should provide both. A game of fetch is not enough to drain energy in a dog that never gets walked. Playing fetch gets a dog excited and a pent up dog does not need more excitement. It also does nothing to get him out of the four walls and yard he lives in. Play time with your dog should only begin after he has had proper exercise to drain some energy.
Different breeds of dogs and each individual dog have different energy levels. The higher energy level your dog has, the more exercise he needs. This is why picking the proper dog for your lifestyle is so important, you can read about how to pick the right dog here.
Huskies, terriers, or any herding, hunting or working breed generally have high energy levels and need a considerable amount of exercise such as running, trail hiking or long brisk walks. Breeds such as bulldogs and pugs have shorter noses and lower energy levels and require less exercise but still need some. Of course, all individual dogs, regardless of breed will have their own energy level. When choosing a dog, you should always choose a dog based on energy level before any other characteristic.
Some people tell us they do walk their dog daily. The question then becomes, how far and how fast. People generally walk considerably slower than our four legged counterparts. People saunter, dogs travel. If you have ever seen a group of dogs walking without humans, you will notice, they keep a rapid pace. This is one reason dogs will pull on the leash, the humans simply aren’t walking fast enough. If you ever notice a homeless person walking with a dog you will see that the dog is never pulling and generally very calm. This is because homeless people generally travel by foot so the dogs travel many miles per day, when they stop, the dog rests, he is tired, he has no interest in doing anything else.
Many people walk their dog at a slow pace, stopping frequently to talk to neighbors or for the dog to sniff or eliminate. To properly drain your dog of energy the walk should be for exercise and you should control the walk. You should walk at a quick pace, the dog beside you or behind you and should only let your dog sniff or eliminate either before or after the walk, in a designated area. By teaching your dog to properly walk on leash and controlling where and how fast he walks, establishes rules . Rules make him think, which is good for impulse control and in turn will drain energy. If a dog has physical and mental exercise while on the walk, he will drain more energy than if he simply pulls you everywhere.
If you have a dog with behavioral problems, ask yourself how often you exercise him, if the answer is none, then start. If you walk your dog and still have behavioral problems, ask yourself how fast and far you walk and increase both. If you have a very high energy level dog or if you are incapable of walking far or fast enough, you may need to teach him to run next to a bicycle, scooter, or golf cart or you may need to hire someone to walk, run or hike with him. Teaching a high energy level dog to walk on a treadmill is also a good way to drain energy but is not a substitute for walking outdoors.
Behavioral problems in dogs are often due to the fact that humans do not give them what they need. You can provide food, water and shelter to keep a dog alive but if you want to give him love, give him what he needs, as a dog. That starts by putting the right tools in place, providing security with rules to live by , and providing exercise to maintain physical and mental health. Give your dog what he needs and put all three elements in place and you might find that your dog didn’t have any behavioral problems to begin with, he was just missing something.
Cindy Quigley is a Canine life cycle coach. She is the owner of Supermutts.com and author of Puppy Montessori. She has 23 years’ experience professionally working with dogs. She has worked in grooming shops, boarding facilities and veterinary hospitals, all of which taught her how to read canine body language and understand dog handling. As boarding and daycare facility owners together with her husband Kenneth she has cared for thousands of dogs and has thousands of hours observing, studying and modifying canine behavior.