Exercise, along with good food and training, is one of the most important things in a dog’s life. Unfortunately, many owners fail to fully capitalize on the benefits of thoughtful exercise. As society in general has become less active, so have our dogs. We no longer spend as much time outdoors and many of us have realized that it is not safe (or legal in many areas) to let our dogs roam around outside unsupervised. Luckily, appropriate exercise promotes your dog’s bond with you, increases your relevance in his life, encourages training and provides your dog with the mental and physical stimulation that will help him settle and behave the rest of the day. A nice side effect of a thoughtful exercise program for your dog is that it can help you get in better shape too.
There are certain types of exercise that are better than others. Great ways to exercise your dog include:
- Running or walking (preferably off leash if your dog is reliable and you have a safe, legal area to do this; if not, on leash)
- Structured play with you AND rules (you and your dog play together outside, you run the game and make the rules)
There are many positive benefits to exercising with your dog. When we train a dog, we want to be one of the most important things in his life. For most dogs, exercising and playing outside are the biggest highlights of their day (other than mealtime). We want to be involved in leading and directing these activities because it will make us an even more important part of their lives and help them look to us for leadership and direction. If you put your dog outside (by himself or with another dog) or pop him on a treadmill you are missing out on this important bonding opportunity.
Exercise through walking or running also provides important mental stimulation for your dog. Not only is he listening to your cues (speed up, slow down, wait at the corner), he is also being exposed to new environments, sights and smells – even if this is the same route you walk most days. These environmental stimuli will help to satisfy his natural curiousity (wearing him out mentally) while providing ongoing socialization and training opportunities and making him more confident. New routes provide even more mental stimulation and training opportunities.
Now, walking at human speeds is admittedly a little boring for most active dogs. Two things you can do to really improve the activity for your dog is to walk very briskly or even to run in short spurts. Now maybe you are saying to yourself, “Hey, I’m no athlete! I’m not a runner” and I totally understand. Until five or six years ago, I didn’t run either. In fact, I still can’t quite call myself a “runner”. You don’t have to a runner to shake up your next dog walk, just include five or six 30 second jogging intervals into your walk and watch how your dog lights up. (I’ll discuss how to start running with your dog in a future note.) I am always amazed at the way my new foster dogs light up when I run with them for the first time. It’s like they are realizing, “Hey, she runs too. How cool is that!! We must be a pack.”
Maybe you have limited mobility or don’t have a good place to walk or run with your dog. That’s okay, aim for constructive play. Games of fetch or tug where you make and enforce consistent rules provide you dog with exercise and training opportunities at the same time. Teach him to drop his toy on command (or have a second toy handy while he’s learning this skill), then ask him to perform a behavior like sit or lie down before you throw the toy.