We love our dogs and want them to live long and healthy lives. Providing physical activities to your dog’s daily life and keeping your dog active provides tremendous benefits, keeping it mentally engaged and physically fit. Regular activities also go a long way to curb behavior issues, as many common unwanted behaviors in today’s pet dogs result from boredom. Let’s face it – our dogs are captive animals, and with strict leash laws in most areas preventing them from moving about in ways that allow them autonomy of movement and decision-making, most pet dogs do not get many opportunities to “just be a dog” out in the natural world.
I encourage clients to take their dogs for at least one or two 30-minute leashed walks per day, giving their dog ample time to sniff as much as it wants to. This means the walk is not as much about the dog getting physical exercise as much as it is getting mental stimulation. A dog’s primary sensory organ is its nose, and without the ability to use its nose while out walking, the dog will likely be more frustrated than fulfilled from the experience. A dog that is constantly being moved on without adequate time to enjoy the scents and explore the environment is likely to be frustrated rather than content once it gets back inside. If pet dogs were allowed more opportunities to “just be a dog,” out in the natural environment, they would spend most of their time following their noses wherever it leads them. Given that dogs “see” the world through their noses as we “see” the world with our eyes, I can only imagine how much mental stimulation such a life would provide for our dogs. Sadly, this is not how most of our pet dogs live in our modern world.
What are other common ways to keep our pet dogs active? I’m a big fan of teaching dogs to tug within rules that you teach them – the tug is “yours” and they get to play with it when you ask, retrieve it if you throw it, bring it back and let go when you ask, as well as retrieve – balls, toys or frisbees, and taking dogs on decompression walks in nature, as well as occasionally allowing our dogs to play with other dogs that are known to be safe and appropriate playmates. The reason I say “occasionally” is that if your dog’s primary regular fun activity is playing with other dogs, such as at a dog park or daycare facility, then the value for other dogs can become so important to your dog that it might become emotionally unable to handle seeing other dogs in the environment when not allowed to play. This is often the reason for reactive dogs on leash – a frustrated response – the dog wants to go see and interact with other dogs they see while on leash, but are not able to because of the lack of freedom. We need our dogs to learn that while out walking with their humans, sometimes they will see other dogs and have to be content to “just say hi” from a distance without interacting with the other dogs.
There are numerous activities you can do with your dog. Consider your dog’s breed and what the breed or breed mix is genetically programmed to do when selecting activities to enjoy with your dog. Then search for ways that are readily available to you in your area where you can fulfill your dog’s needs based on its breed, varying the activities on occasion to keep your dog mentally and physically engaged. For example, scent work classes are great for any dog but particularly if you have a scent hound. If you have a sighthound, perhaps your area has a place where you can take it lure coursing. There are many dog sports to choose from, find one that you and your dog would be interested in and give it a try.
A Unique, New Way to Keep Your Dog Active
If you are interested in a new and fun way to keep your dog active and physically fit while building your bond together, Canine Fitness training may be of interest. With a few basic targeting behaviors, such as teaching your dog to put its front and rear feet on something, as well as teaching your dog a simple chin rest and nose touch, you can increase your dog’s body awareness and proprioception to decrease the chance of it getting injured while playing fetch or enjoying a romp over uneven or slippery terrain. Fun exercises that can improve your dog’s body condition include stride work over cavaletti’s, figure 8’s around cones, or crawling under and hopping over things for flexion and extension of the joints. Exercises such as stand-down-stand or stand with weight shifting, first on flat surfaces and as your dog learns the proper form, on balance equipment, will build your dog’s muscle strength while improving its balance and flexibility. Teaching your dog to back up, side step, and turn circles both right and left – there are so many exercises involved in Canine Fitness training that you and your dog will never get bored while having fun learning something new together!
Best of all, canine fitness and conditioning does not need to take much time or require much space! You can do many exercises in the comfort of your home with household items such as couch cushions, plastic containers and step stools. Dogs love it because it involves a high rate of reinforcement, which not only builds your relationship but also builds your dog’s confidence.
As important members of our family, we want to ensure our dogs are happy and healthy and live long lives free of injuries. If you’re not already incorporating some of these things into your dog’s life, maybe it’s time to start!
Visit this link for an idea of my favorite fitness tools.
Wendy Taylor is a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer, Certified Behavior Consultant for Canines, Certified Professional Dog Trainer, Certified Family Dog Mediator and Fear Free Animal Trainer. She lives in Louisville, KY with her Border Collie Azure and Calico cat Ayla.