Exercise, Exercise, Exercise

For many dog breeds, this is the mantra for keeping your dog out of trouble. You’ve heard the statement, “An apple a day keeps the doctor away.” Well, a good dose of exercise could reduce your need of a local dog trainer, and in many incidences, can resolve lots of behavior problems.

It’s true, some breeds don’t need a great deal of exercise. Breeds such as the Bassett Hound, Shih Tzu, Bulldog or even some Mastiffs are fine with a leisurely stroll around the block. But if you own a Lab, Golden Retriever, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie or a Pit Bull, prepare to spend lots of time giving these dogs tons of running, retrieving, Frisbee or agility work. These dogs have an inordinate amount of energy even when they are in their mid-lives at 7 to 10 years old.

Some clients I have seen who have herding breeds such as Shetland Sheepdogs and German Shepherds have had problems with excessive barking, digging, and chewing inappropriate things. One client had owned a Shelty with a barking problem and with a little bit of prying, I found that the dog was only getting a leisurely 20 minute walk a day. It wasn’t enough for a dog with extreme pent up energy. It was quite shocking to the dog owner when I said the dog needs at least an hour of vigorous exercise a day. It’s a tough reality because many of these less knowledgeable dog owners realize that their daily lifestyle will have to change just for the dog. In this case for a young herding breed of dog, the leisurely walk just wasn’t doing it. It is another argument that you must choose your dog breed carefully.

 Why do our dogs need exercise? The answer to this question lies in the domesticated dog history and its relationship to us over the course of thousands of years. Possibly 30,000 years ago, dogs would hang around human garbage heaps and the dogs that were friendly were taken in as companions. It was then that we started to learn that we could train these dogs to work for us and in exchange, we would feed them and give them companionship. Over the course of these thousands of years, different dog breeds were developed providing protection, hunting, herding and retrieving. Now the most common job our dogs do is lie around the house and sleep. Our dogs have lost that purpose in their lives.

Many dog owners assume that leaving a dog in the back yard constitutes exercise. We humans have a unique relationship with our dogs. We don’t share this type of relationship with any other species in the world. They were bred to be with us and work for us. A dog left in the back yard to tend to its own devices might run a few laps and then ultimately, wait for you to let him back inside or wait for some sort of human interaction.

So how much exercise does your dog need? Well, that will depend on the breed and your individual dog. But generally, your dog should have an hour of exercise everyday. For some, that exercise might have to be a hour of vigorous activity and for others, it might be more cerebral such as smelling work if you have a Hound.

 There are many ways that your dog can get exercise. The most common way is to take your dog on a walk. But it is important to know that the walk should be lengthy, about an hour a day. But the list of other exercise options is endless.

·      Retrieving provides vigorous exercise for many dogs and you don’t even have to move. If your dog doesn’t bring the ball back, he can be trained to do so.

·      Many dogs have good eye-mouth coordination and these dogs would be good candidates for catching Frisbees.

·      Bring your dog to a dog park and let them interact with other dogs. There is a wonderful Orange County dog park at the Dr. P. Phillips Community Park in southwest Orlando.

·      Train your dog new tricks and behaviors. This gets your dog’s mind working, strengthens your relationship, and renews his sense of purpose.

·      Agility Classes. A neighbor of mine takes her Springer Spaniel regularly to agility class. This is an obstacle course for dogs with jumps, tubes and seesaws. Active dogs usually love this. Google dog agility in Orlando or Kissimmee and you’ll find it is done in many locations.

·      Running or riding a bike with your dog beside you not only gives you exercise but your dog benefits, as well.  Additionally, if your dog likes it, he will make sure you make this part of your daily routine.

·      Dogs like the Bernese Mountain Dog are working dogs originally bred to pull carts. If you had a dog like this, you could teach the dog to pull a cart and the dog would probably love doing something that was part of his genetic make up.

·      There are endless clubs that you can join involving activities like competition obedience, rally, freestyle, tracking and flyball.

All in all, if you want to mitigate the destructive chewing, unruly behavior in the house, excessive predatory behavior, garbage raiding, and attention getting behaviors like barking and whining, then give your dog the exercise it needs. You’ll have an agile, limber, healthy, happy, trim and well-behaved dog in return.