I always find the debate over exercise for dogs interesting and I don’t have all the answers.
So, I am going to tell you what I know to be true as of now, because I’m always learning and growing, which causes changes of opinion. I hope you find it interesting, not confusing. Here we go…
Cesar Milan hit the big stage quite some time ago with exercise, discipline and affection. This helped the west have a better understanding what their dogs were bred to do. Add backpacks, holding a toy in the mouth while walking, running next to you on a skateboard, the list goes on. I thought this was so smart at the time. It makes perfect sense.
However, I didn’t realize that the most common missing component of discipline in the dog’s daily life combined with adding exercise would have such a detrimental effect.
It created dogs that are even more out of control and confused. I mean, what does discipline mean for people just learning they should do it? Does it mean punishment? Discipline in schedule? Discipline in the consistency of communication with the dog? So many questions that honestly have a different answer for each individual families’ needs. I think because of that difficult component, I have seen the fallout of just tons of exercise, affection and maybe lots of yelling “no” rather than the proper communication of “no” with the home life of structured discipline that gets you a calmer, mentally challenged and more self-aware dog. Geez, that was a mouthful. Hopefully more will become clear below what I am trying to say.
Instead, many have defaulted to the exercise and affection.
What does this do to the brain? It sends the brain into over drive more easily by rewarding adrenaline. That means the dog might pop off barking or get more excited more easily because so much drive is being rewarded and so much stamina is being created.
The other bad side effect is, if you are struggling with energy issues with your dog, exercise will help you so much for a week, maybe a month or even two.
Then your dog builds stamina and needs more to reach that same point of relaxing in the house you saw that first week or so of upping the exercise.
Here is a fun example. A trainer in Scotland has two border collies and gets a third. As the puppy grows into an adolescent, the energy the dog has seems out of control. He thinks he has a higher energy border collie and their long morning hike and short training stint at the end of the day isn’t enough. He adds a mid-day walk for this border collie. His temperament, pacing, need for getting into mischief greatly decreases for about a month. Then the trainer notices the border collie seems exactly the same as before. There is no way he’s adding another walk. He realizes all he did was build stamina and started to pull back again to the long morning hike and evening mental work again. He made some arrangements inside to make it easier for the dog to settle, like more crate time and when he could, an additional 10 minutes of focused training on basic obedience. That will have to do.
Some trainers advise so little exercise after a board and train series it’s shocking to even me, a trainer.
I know where they are coming from though. They have seen what I have seen. Owners accidentally creating athletes that are getting more willful, drivey, energetic and intense. They will say a 30-minute walk a day with a very structured heel and obedience work built in with accountability and discipline calms the mind and you don’t need more. That’s more mental work. For many dogs, that is true. Focusing on mental work is so draining and will make a dog truly rest. They often also utilize more crate time to help with the dog not getting over stimulated by the family or freedom in the home.
Other trainers will say you need to pull out your bike a few times a week and let your dog really run, or swim or roller blade.
The problem is, so many dogs can’t due to behavioral issues and even if they can, it creates the athlete problem again. For those trainers, the exercise helps to have a calmer dog that is more easily told “no” and reprimanded in the home. What is easy to forget is the discipline in holding the dog accountable, correcting the dog, having boundaries in the home, is the mental work. Without that KEY component with this style of training, you accidentally create an adrenalized mindset and an over stimulated dog.
So I say what about the out-of-control huskies that do need discipline and mental work, but often have strong roaming genetics and need long bouts of structured exercise like the hike, the backpack for enrichment, not the running for long periods of time that feeds their already overstimulated and independent brain, lol.
What about the family with the high-strung and high-energy German shepherd that can’t do too much exercise because of time constraints or behavioral issues with the shepherd? Should they find another home for the dog? Many would say yes, but who wants a high-strung dog with behavioral issues? No simple answers.
My point of all this is things are rarely in black and white. I try to take so many things into consideration when working with clients. I probably do it too much sometimes and it’s rarely perfect, but I try to combine the two main methods mentioned above, as well as look at the dogs needs, the owners needs and see if satisfying both are possible…and then how is that accomplished? I’m not going to pretend it’s easy for all.
I’m hoping this article opens your eyes to the fact you don’t want to overwhelm yourself with options, but you do need to understand the key components of popular methods and how they work (or don’t) and how your dog may need tweaks to an ideology you subscribe to to truly be successful and fulfilled.
– Bethany, Ruff Beginnings Rehab