Exercise is not an option for many dog breeds. While there are some breeds that are satisfied with a 30 minute walk each day… the vast majority of dogs require significantly more. It shouldn’t surprise me that in a society that is often under-exercised, the dogs are suffering behavior problems because of excess energy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not the type of trainer who confuses “well behaved” with “physically too tired to react.” I don’t think running a dog into the ground on a treadmill or roller blades is an appropriate method to helping a dog work through their problems–just because they are too tired to be aggressive doesn’t mean that they are no longer aggressive. However, there is something to be said for taking the edge off by giving dogs appropriate levels of exercise.
The weather recently has been less than ideal for getting dogs out for exercise. Between snow, rain, freezing rain, sleet and ice… it hasn’t been terribly safe or enjoyable for dog or human to go for walks or play outside. For the last two days, the training classes have had quite a few dogs who were just off-the-hook because they were not able to get their regular amount of exercise. Although the classes were ultimately good classes… it took significantly longer for everyone to settle in and get to working. Dogs who haven’t needed visual barriers required them for the first 20 minutes of class before they burned off enough energy to really start working.
Even when weather isn’t a factor, it seems there is always one or two dogs who are in desperate need of an increased exercise plan. While talking with a couple who has a 1yr old lab (who was really struggling), I asked about the exercise the dogs gets and I get this (pretty standard) answer, “He gets a lot of exercise. He spends a lot of time in our huge backyard everyday and he runs around in the snow. Plus he’ll (husband) play tug and fetch inside for a little each day.” So I asked if the pup gets walked regularly and they respond, “Well not as much as we would like. He is just ridiculously strong and it’s really hard to walk him so we don’t so much.” This is a dog who would be a much easier dog to handle if he got more exercise…and would be more attentive during class if he were given some good exercise before class.
The “we have a big back yard” answer when I ask about exercise is not something I like to hear. Backyards do not exercise dogs…. people being out there with the dogs is what will really exercises a dog. I have a reasonably big yard… but if I just put the dogs outside they may chase squirrels/chipmunks/each other for a short while, but they would spend the majority of their time sleeping in the sun (in warm weather) or jut sniffing around. Now, the yard is a great exercise area when I’m outside tossing tennis balls, throwing Jolly Balls, kicking soccer balls, tossing frisbees or playing with a flirt pole but with out me outside, it’s pretty dull.
Exercise is not a cure-all to behavior problems, but people are often surprised at the number/type of behavior problems that can be alleviated when dogs get the exercise they require. Today it’s 12F degrees outside, I really don’t want to go outside but I know my dogs need at least some outside time to supplement the indoor exercise they’ll be doing…especially if I want any type of down-time today.