Is a tired dog really a good dog?

Well, yes and no….

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Dogs need a balance of physical and mental exercise to keep them healthy and so that they continue to be easy to live with. If we don’t provide both and in balanced proportions we could run into trouble…

Physical exercise causes stress on the body – not necessarily bad stress, but the body needs to adjust to compensate for activity, for example, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate and so on.

Please note that mental exercise can cause this too so we must be aware of balancing this within each physical or mental activity, not just broadly balancing physical and mental challenges.

Stress, at a body chemical level, causes the body to become wound up, to prepare for this exertion, to cope with the stressors.

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Look at your dog when they are physically exerting themselves…panting, tongue lolling, enlarged pupils, keenly focused on the ball (or whatever is the subject of their exertion)…maybe they jump up a little more than usual, maybe they mouth a little harder than normal…

When we push that physical exertion we can cause the dog to become more and more wound up – you may have made the observation that even after running around like a lunatic, your dog is still up for more even when you have had enough activity.

Where we might run into problems is with the excitement-addict…

Ever heard of the marathon runner who has become ‘addicted’ to the highs produced by exertion?
You will have certainly heard of so-called adrenaline junkies; canine excitement-addicts may experience this and want to put themselves in situations where they will hit those highs, over and over.

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Don’t despair – you’re in the right place…

A few things can help here:

  • introduce lots and lots and lots of calming breaks during activity to help bring your dog ‘down’ from the highs – once he’s calmer, reward with the opportunity for more fun
  • increase mental exercise to achieve better balance
  • teaching the dog to settle calmly by rewarding calm behaviour
  • look at the type, amount and suitability of physical exercise provided

A dog that is relaxing peacefully, can calm himself and bring himself down from the highs will have had lots of practice and guidance in this and will be living a balance of mental and physical challenges.

(Is your dog getting up to 18 hours of sleep each day?)

Too much of a good thing…?

How do we strike that balance between physical exercise and mental challenge to ensure our dog’s happiness and health?

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The amount of physical and mental exercise that is healthy, will depend on many factors, including:

  • the dog’s age and neuter status
  • the dog’s breed, type and conformation
  • the dog’s current fitness and overall health
  • the dog’s temperament and abilities, both physical and cognitive
  • the dog’s current ability to cope with excitement and stress
  • the season and weather
  • availability of suitable facilities for exercise
  • local laws and restrictions relating to dogs
  • the owner’s ability to exercise the dog
  • the owner’s goals for the dog, for example, is he to become a competitive sports dog?

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Considerations for the challenges we present to puppies and young dogs are some of the most important.

Generally the rule for young and growing dogs is to allow them to decide how much exercise they take – allow them to potter, to sniff and to wander.

We often recommend to provide about 5 minutes per month (age) of structured exercise, such as leash walks.
Therefore for example, a 12 week old puppy should have about 15-20 minutes of structured exercise per day.

On top of those important concerns, mental exercise, downtime and appropriate challenges are vital for puppies and young dogs. Adolescent dogs particularly will benefit from extra attention to teaching them how to calm themselves and cope with excitement.

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Puppy Culture from trainer and breeder Jane Messineo Lindquist has some really great resources on all aspects of puppy rearing, and this fantastic area on Appropriate Exercise.

It’s often the case that most petslive too sedentary a lifestyle so in many situations more and better physical exercise is required. But, if we bring in physical exercise we also need to put lots of effort into mental exercise too.

For some great ideas on introducing lots of mental challenges, without adding too much more physical exertion check out the book No Walks, No Worries (available from Amazon.co.uk) by Sian Ryan.

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Look no further, you’re in the right place – our Train Your Dog Month 2016 program offers lots of ideas and guidance so that you can help your dog develop skills vital to becoming a pleasure to share your life with.

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