Exercising Your Dog - Lockdown or Living?
Lets talk about canine exercise.
There's currently a myth going around that enrichment is as good as exercise. Enrichment IS amazing and should be a large part of your dog's life, but it isn't a replacement for exercise.
Often I'm called out to see dog's that are 'misbehaving' and when I arrive, I find that the dog isn't being walked either at all, or nowhere near enough for the dog's specific breed and personality. This is usually down to lack of time due to work obligations, physical inability and unfortunately sometimes, laziness.
The first two can be helped. The latter? Well, let's face it, you shouldn't have gotten a dog. Basic exercise for your dog is important. Like humans, dogs have needs.
How did you feel during the first lockdown when you weren't allowed to go out except for 1 hour of exercise?
Did you feel stifled or bored? This is how dogs feel every day. Take away that 1 hour of exercise and the sofa-chewing and attention-barking becomes slightly more understandable. They can't give their friends a call or read a book. You are their sole source of entertainment and it is your duty as that dog's owner to provide them with fun, happiness and freedom.
There is no one size fits all for dog exercise. Some dogs love to walk more than others, but I am of the belief that all dogs, no matter how small or lazy, should get out of the house at least once a day for 30 minutes minimum. High-energy working breeds such as Labradors, German Shepherds and Spaniels should ideally be out for approximately 2 hours per day, with a mix of socialisation, off lead training, games and exploration. Anything less than this usually results in weight gain, boredom behaviour and overall discontentment. The type of exercise is important too. On lead street walks can be quite boring for dogs that enjoy running and playing. Switch it up and take them to field or park so they can be at one with the... cowpat!
If you work long days at work, get up earlier to walk your dog and walk them when you get back. They weren't designed to be left all day. Consider hiring an insured quality dog walker to take your dog out once or twice a day as an additional backup.
If you struggle to walk your dog due to strength or physical issues, drive your dog to open secluded areas where they can have more freedom and won't pull you from pillar to post. You can also consider conditioning your dog to wear a gentle leader, not as an alternative but as a management tool whilst you train your dog to walk loosely by your side. This should absolutely be conditioned and not just forced on your dog. I can help you with this.
If you feel you cannot walk your dog, train your dog or afford a dog walker, then rehoming your dog may be in their best interests.
So, when can exercise go wrong?
If your dog is timid or reactive, sometimes walks can do more harm than good. Constantly exposing your dog to stress can increase fearfulness and even aggression. Is your dog being physically satisfied or developing chronic stress? If you feel your walks are more detrimental to your dog than helpful, change it up. Walk them in areas that are more relaxing for them. This is a much better use of your time and will not make the problem worse. Gentle exposure to stress is a good thing, but daily intense stress leads to chronic stress which usually leads to... anxiety.
If your dog is too young, overwalking them can put pressure on their soft joints and potentially cause arthritis. There is a saying that you should walk your dog for 5 minutes for every month of age. There is no evidence to back this up but you can use it as a rough guide. The occasional long walk or play with other dogs is fine, socialisation is as important. Just avoid walking your puppy for hours before they're 1 year of age.
Right... let's talk about ball slingers. This isn't an anti ball-slinging post by any means. I sometimes use one with my Rottweiler. However, if this is your dog's ONLY form of off-lead physical exercise, instead of tiring your dog out, you are wiring them out. You are created an obsessive ball-chasing athlete that cannot do anything else but drag you to the park for an intense session and then pant home before collapsing from exhaustion, only to get up and do it all again next time. Not only are you feeding into your dog's adrenaline cycle every day, you are running the risk of your dog developing physical problems in future. Chasing and stopping to catch a ball puts enormous pressure on your dog's joints, which over time can lead to arthritis or hip and elbow dysplasia.
If your dog loves their ball, let them have their ball, but taper it down until it becomes 20%, not 90% of their walk. Instead, encourage sniffing, relaxation and scent work. Hide their ball and ask them to find it. Take out a tug toy and play with that instead. Practice recall training. Change the walk so the smells differ.
So, have a think. Is your dog getting enough exercise?
Feel free to comment below on what you think your dog enjoys most and what you can do to improve your dog's quality of exercise.