Exercise Your Dog

Is your dog driving you crazy? Is he “hyper” and getting into trouble? Maybe you even keep him outside because he is “too wild”? Well, chances are that part of the problem is lack of sufficient exercise. Boredom and lack of physical activity are common reasons behavior problems develop. A tired dog is a good dog!

Every dog is different. Before beginning an exercise program be sure your dog is in good health – get your veterinarian’s approval before drastically changing the dog’s routine.

Factors to consider are: breed, age, weight, physical characteristics (such as short “pushed-in” muzzles), and weather conditions.

Daily walks might be enough for some dogs; others need more intense workouts. Your dog should get aerobic exercise at least three times a week – this means enough exercise to make him pant. Just because your dog is outside in the yard does not mean he is getting enough exercise.

Methods of exercise

  • Walking– You can use a Flexi-leash to safely increase the distance the dog can go. (This is different than the “Controlled Walking” we do in class.) Use common sense– for instance, do not allow the dog to invade the space of another dog, or to run into the street. (If you walk your dog in a congested area, please use a regular leash for safety instead of a Flexi.) Allow the dog some sniffing time then move out at a brisk pace.
  • Running– If you can find a safe fenced in field to let your dog run off leash, that is ideal, since the dog can set his own pace and stop when he is tired, plus he has the mental stimulation of sniffing to his heart’s content. If you jog with your dog on leash pay attention not to go too far until he is in condition.
  • Swimming– very good exercise for dogs with joint problems since it is non-weight bearing.
  • Fetching– throwing a tennis ball or other toy (try a kong) for the dog to fetch is fun. You can use a tennis racquet to increase the distance the ball (and the dog) travels. If the dog is in good condition throw the ball uphill. In the house you can throw the ball up the stairs.
  • Jumping– most dogs love to jump. You can make your own jumps from materials you have around the house. Try using cardboard boxes for small dogs– you can do this in the house. Try luring the dog with treats, and start with very low jumps of just a few inches. As a general rule, it is best to keep the jump heights at the level of the dog’s elbow so as not to cause stress. All jumping must be done off leash, and never force the dog. If the dog refuses to jump it might reflect a physical problem.
  • Lunge-whip– Get a buggy whip (at farm supply stores). Attach a ball or other toy to the end. Tennis balls you can buy on-a-rope are good for this. Or put a squeaky toy in a sock and tie the sock to the end of the whip. Then twirl the whip in a big circle and let the dog chase it. Occasionally let the dog catch it too. This is one of my favorite games to play with dogs– the dog can really get a workout in a relatively small space. Stop while the dog is still enjoying the game so he will be eager to play next time. (You can buy a dog toy called “Ball-on-a-Rope” from KV Vet catalog 800-423-8211 to use instead of making one from a buggy whip.)
  • Bicycling– you can buy a gizmo called a “Springer” that attaches to your bike. It is in most dog supply catalogs. The Springer prevents the dog from pulling over the bike if he lunges after something. Start with short distances at first.
  • Frisbee– many dogs love to play Frisbee, and it can be good exercise. But be careful to keep your throws low to the ground. Dogs have been injured from leaping in the air to catch a frisbee. You do not want to stress a puppy by playing this game at too young an age– check with your veterinarian on this. Buy a soft Frisbee specially made for dogs, to avoid accidentally chipping teeth.
  • Canine exercise balls– Also called “Boomer Balls”, these resemble bowling balls. They come in different sizes, and are made of virtually indestructable hard plastic. Big dogs such as Labs and Rottweilers love to play with these, using their feet to play “soccer”, with a human companion of course!
  • Another option is canine sports – any breed can do agility, flyball, obedience, musical freestyle, or tracking. Some organizations are open to mixed breeds too. Breed specific activities are herding, lure coursing, hunt tests, and go-to-ground trials. 

After a session of strenuous exercise, you can wind down by gently massaging your dog.

Mental Exercise

Your dog needs mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. Many dogs get into trouble when they are bored and have no suitable outlets. 

  • Buy your dog a “Buster Cube”, “Roll-a-Treat” ball or similar toy. You put treats into the toy and your dog has to figure out how to get the treats out, by pawing, nosing and rolling the toy.
  • Hide a toy or dog biscuit, or even a person, and let the dog hunt until he finds it. See my article titled “Find the Cookie Game”.
  • Let your dog use his smelling instincts to “forage” in the yard for bits of food. At first make it easy by dropping a piece or two right under his nose. After he catches on, throw bits into different parts of the yard. If your dog is high energy, let him forage for his meal instead of eating out of a bowl. Or stuff a Kong and hide it – let your dog ‘work’ for his food and burn off some of that energy.

Try this test to see if your dog has gotten enough exercise: Sit down to watch a TV show or read. Is your dog snoozing beside you or chewing on a bone? If so, he’s probably gotten enough exercise that day. If he is getting into mischief or bugging you to play, he hasn’t had enough exercise!

Remember – a tired dog is a good dog!  A tired dog has a happy owner!

                                        (c) 2002 Pat Scott

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