Exercise is essential, but too much or the wrong kind can be harmful
Exercise is so important for your dog’s well being. Not just physical exercise! Most people only think of the physical when they think about exercise for their dogs. The physical is important, but it’s only part of what your dog needs.
Your dog also needs mental exercise and emotional exercise. The mental and emotional life of your dog is very strongly affected by the type of exercise that you give your dogs. Mental/emotional exercise can include training of any kind, scent work, snuffle mats, searching for treats, games, puzzles, boundary work, bodywork, competition, time to sniff and explore without a destination, playtime with dog friends, interacting with other people, going to new (strange) places, meeting new dogs and people, building resilience and patience, and allowing your dog to work through frustration.
How can you bring more of these sort of activities into your dog’s life? Yes, it takes time and effort, but it’s very beneficial and well worthwhile!
You also need to adjust the type and intensity of exercise in all three dimensions (physical, mental + emotional) to meet your dog’s needs. You need to take into account breed, age, personality, and any illness or anxiety issues. For example, a young working breed dog is going to need a lot of exercise. A young pug could well die of overheating if you did the same with him!
You need to be sensitive to your dog’s needs – and these needs can change from day to day, week to week, month to month, and especially as your dogs get older. Older dogs still need to get out and about, but it needs to be more about mental/emotional stimulation than physical conditioning.
Things to avoid
- Too much high impact activity: e.g. ball throwing. I recommend only 5-10 minutes of this type of activity once or twice daily. And if your dog has a ball/toy addiction, put them well away in between. High impact activity may not seem to be causing any harm, because your dog’s pain tolerance goes up when they are excited/aroused. Over time it causes a LOT of wear and tear. Also, the hard stopping, turning and jumping seen with ball chasing often leads to injury. Ideally, teach your dog to sit and wait while you throw. Then set them free to fetch it when it’s stopped moving.
- Stressful or dangerous situations: Dog parks are somewhere to be very careful – there are often dogs with no manners who may mug your dog. This all too often turns into a nasty dog fight. You need to be very aware of all the other dogs. Get your dog on a lead and out of the way if you notice any loose cannons floating about.
- Too much exercise: Running dogs for miles and miles is not necessary, and it wears their body out. A good walk of 30 minutes or so daily with a short burst of high-intensity activity of 5-10 minutes is plenty for most dogs. Dogs in the wild spend a LOT of time resting. And older dogs can’t cope with too much exercise!
- Overexcitement: Don’t let your dog cross the redline. That’s when they turn their brain off and stop being able to understand or respond to commands. It’s dangerous! If you feel like your dog is getting too excited, then take a break. Put them on lead, let them sniff and settle.
- Going straight into intense activity with no warm-up: This is a recipe for injury- always take time to warm up if you’re going to do high-intensity activity with your dogs.
Things to do more of
- Variety: Go to different places at least now and then. Do new activities. Teach your dogs new skills. Go to different training activities and groups.
- Calming play and training: Relaxation is a learned skill for your dogs. Take the time to do plenty of calming activities, it helps your dog build a nice healthy strong off switch.
- Moderate intensity & moderate to low impact activities: You should do a lot more of this type of play and activities with your dogs than high impact/high arousal stuff. This is the sweet spot for your dog’s body, mind, and emotional wellbeing.
- Pure play: Find the funnest, happiest, most joyful things that your dogs love to do while keeping it cool enough that they don’t get over-excited. Play is so good for your dogs! Don’t let it all be too serious, or too focused on competing. Keep it light-hearted and connected!
- Bodywork: Hands-on work keeps your dogs supple, fit, healthy and able to get the full benefits of exercise. You can learn how to do this yourself at: https://www.wholeenergybodybalance.com/webb-for-pets/