Category Archives: Exercise

Lure Coursing

Lure coursing is a fun sport for dogs with high chase drive, such as sighthounds and terriers. This weekend, we went to a lure coursing trial, where Layla earned her first qualifying score towards her Coursing Aptitude title. This isn’t a sport we participate in frequently, since it’s the canine equivalent of a trip to Disney World and winning the lottery all rolled into one.

Here’s what it looks like:

[Mostly] Wordless Wednesday

Arousal, even if it’s ‘happy arousal,’ can easily turn to stress.

– Leslie McDevitt

The SuperDog Syndrome: Too Much Exercise?

We’ve been discussing exercise lately. We’ve covered how important both physical and mental exercise are, as well as why you should avoid overly arousing activities on a daily basis. Today, let’s talk about another common exercise issue: the SuperDog Syndrome.

SuperDogs are created through too much physical exercise. This most frequently happens when owners rely on physical exercise alone to create a well-behaved dog. Tired dogs are good dogs, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of trying to keep a dog worn out through regular, intense physical exercise in order to avoid behavior problems.

At first, keeping your dog worn out through physical exercise does the trick. The dog spends his time at home sleeping or lying quietly, tired from the increased physical activity. Things are peaceful.

There’s a problem with relying solely on physical activity though: your dog will become more fit the more activity you provide. Activities that previously resulted in a tired dog will instead only take the edge off. Over time, more and more exercise is required to wear the dog out. The dog becomes a great athlete in peak physical condition. The dog becomes a SuperDog.

SuperDogs are hard to live with. They have come to expect, and even to require, massive amounts of physical activity. Missing a day is not an option. Sick with the flu? Too tired from a long week at work? Family visiting from out of town? The dog still needs exercise, or he’s going to be a nightmare.

So, how can you avoid creating a SuperDog? First of all, acknowledge the fact that physical exercise alone will not create a calm, well-behaved, and balanced dog. Mental exercise, training, clear rules and expectations, and management are all also important. Completely wearing your dog out might work in the short term to avoid issues such as counter surfing, attention seeking, barking, or chewing, but long-term results will only be accomplished by teaching the dog appropriate behavior and preventing him from practicing bad behavior through the use of management tools.

Extra physical exercise certainly does have a place. Short-term situations that require an extra-well-behaved dog, such as when frail or elderly visitors are expected or a family member is recovering from surgery, call for increased exercise. Consider hiring a professional dog walker for the week or look into doggy daycare options for social dogs. However, anything longer than a week requires a more well-rounded plan than just increased physical activity.

What if you already have a SuperDog? Climbing out of the rut of relying on physical exercise takes some forethought and preparation. First of all, start increasing your dog’s mental exercise and make sure that you’re providing adequate training and management. Consult us if you need help with this. Then, start slowly decreasing your dog’s daily activities until you’ve reached a more normal and sustainable level (most dogs need about half an hour of physical activity a day).

Do you have a SuperDog, or do you know anyone who does? How do you provide balance to your dog’s exercise routine? Let us know in the comments!

Too Much of a Good Thing: Overexcitement in Exercise

Physical exercise is necessary and healthy for all dogs. However, there are a few common problems we see in client’s dogs who are not exercised properly. Today we’ll discuss one of the biggest problems, overarousal due to exercise, and the myth that you should exercise “crazy” dogs more.

Layla adores lure coursing, and it's great exercise for her, but it also makes her overly aroused.

Arousal refers to a dog’s level of excitement and emotional control. A highly aroused dog will be very excited, with a fast heartrate and respiration and poor impulse control. He may have dilated pupils or chatter his teeth. He may pant, jump around or on you, or vocalize incessantly. He may become grabby or mouthy. Alternatively, he may become “locked on” to an activity, freezing in place and staring intently at the object of his obsession, spinning in circles, or pacing.

Highly aroused dogs are stressed. Remember that stress is not necessarily bad. When we think of stress, we often think of negative stress, or distress. However, there’s also positive stress, known as eustress. Winning the lottery and having your home foreclosed on are both stressful activities, and your body actually responds to them the same way even though your emotional response to each is different. This point is important for us to understand as it relates to our dogs, because happily exciting events still create a physiological stress response in your dog’s body.

Why does this matter? Stress causes physical changes in the body. When you or your dog become stressed, your body releases certain stress hormones into the bloodstream. These stress hormones don’t just instantly dissipate. They hang around for awhile (the most commonly quoted length of time is 72 hours, but estimates range from mere hours to an entire week depending on who you ask).

Consider this, then. If you engage in activities that cause your dog to become aroused, and therefore stressed, every day, your dog will always have high levels of stress hormones in his bloodstream. High arousal becomes the new norm. Consider how you would feel if you won the lottery, rode a rollercoaster, or attended your favorite band’s rock concerts every single day. Our bodies aren’t built for prolonged periods of excitement, even when the excitement is positive.

What does this have to do with our dogs? I’m often called in to work with dogs who have trouble controlling themselves or calming down. These dogs are often reactive and hypervigilant. These dogs are also often victims of the wrong sort of exercise. Exercise that amps your dog up is okay in moderation, but allowing your dog to engage in it every day will likely do more harm than good. This is highly individual, but is most commonly seen with ball- or frisbee-obsessed dogs playing fetch every day or highly dog-social and excitable dogs visiting the dog park or daycare regularly.

If this sounds like your dog, there is hope! Cut down on overly arousing activities and replace them with other physical and mental exercise. Save these exciting activities for special times. My dogs both enjoy the flirt pole, but only play with it a few times a month due to how highly aroused they get while chasing it. Layla adores lure coursing above all other activities, but she takes 3 full days to recover after just a few runs after the lure because she becomes so over-the-top waiting for her turn (words cannot describe the bark-scream-screech sound she makes in line). Dobby loves to play fetch, but two days in a row with the chuck-it or frisbee creates a dog who’s not very pleasant to live with.

In future posts, we’ll discuss other common exercise pitfalls as well as some great ways to exercise your dog. Have you ever had to limit an activity your dog adored because it caused him to become too overstimulated? Please share your stories in the comments below!

Exercising Your Dog

There’s a persistant myth that has gained popularity lately: if you exercise your dog more, it will fix any behavior problem from hyperactivity to aggression. We’ll discuss this common misconception next week.

Before we do so, I think we need to discuss normal exercise needs for dogs. All dogs need exercise. This includes both physical exercise, such as running or playing with other dogs, and mental exercise, such as training or working at a food puzzle toy. Dogs need both, and they need them regularly. If your dog is not receiving both physical and mental exercise on a regular basis, you’re very likely to run into behavior problems. Even if you don’t find yourself dealing with serious issues, your dog probably won’t be very pleasant to live with, as a bored dog will find ways to amuse himself that you may not agree with.

Dexter the Mastiff follows his buddies on an off-leash walk. Dexter is 10 years old in this picture.

So, what is normal physical exercise for a dog? Physical exercise refers to cardiovascular exercise, which is any activity that increases your dog’s heart rate and respiration. Any physical activity that makes your dog pant (with the rare exception of stress panting) is an example of cardiovascular exercise.

Read the above sentence again: activities that make your dog pant. Unless your dog is horribly obese or otherwise out of shape, leash walking is likely not appropriate physical activity. While leash walking does provide some benefit, it likely fits more in the category of mental exercise, as the dog is given the chance to look at and sniff unfamiliar things. Most dogs need much more than a walk on leash.

People sometimes tell me that they don’t need to exercise their dogs because they have a fenced-in yard. This is one of the worst traps you can fall into. Here’s the thing: dogs don’t do a very good job of self-exercising. Sure, a young dog will run around the yard. However, think of this as venting a teakettle when it’s getting close to whistling. The worst of the pressure has been released so the dog doesn’t explode, but he still has a lot of energy bottled up inside. Don’t assume that just because you have a fenced-in yard, your dog is getting enough physical exercise.

Each dog differs as to what physical exercise activities they enjoy the most. Try a variety of activities, and look for activities that the dog clearly enjoys without getting crazed and that result in a tired, contented pup after you’ve finished. Some of my dogs’ favorite activities include running alongside a bike (make sure to get a special attachment for your bike, such as a WalkyDog spring, for safety), off-leash hikes, running in the park on a long line (a 50′ leash), swimming, tug, playing with a spring pole, flirt pole work (occasionally), and playdates with doggy friends. Activities we avoid include fetch, regular/daily flirt pole work, and visits to the dog park. Layla has been trained to run on a treadmill indoors and loves to do so, but Dobby worries about the machine so we skip this activity for him. On the flip side, Dobby loves to pull weight with a special weight-pulling harness, which Layla doesn’t enjoy, so that’s his special thing.

Most young dogs need 30-60 minutes of solid physical exercise 5-6 days a week. This varies widely, but it’s a good starting point. Older dogs may need less.

In addition to physical exercise, dogs need daily mental exercise to be fulfilled. Mental exercise refers to anything that enriches your dog’s life and encourages him to use his brain. Mental exercise can be provided by letting your dog experience new smells, sights, sounds, tastes, and textures, by encouraging him to solve puzzles, and by teaching him new skills. We’ll discuss mental exercise further in later posts, but the important thing to remember here is that it’s necessary to give your dog choices and let him explore and be creative on a regular basis. Dogs have an incredibly rich olfactory world around them that we’re largely unaware of, and this is a great resource to tap into if you’d like to help your dog feel more content.

In future posts, we’ll discuss appropriate mental enrichment as well as common issues with exercise, including inappropriate arousal and the SuperDog syndrome. In the meantime, please tell us about your dog’s exercise needs in the comment section below. How do you know when s/he has gotten enough? Which is more important for your dog, physical or mental stimulation? What’s your dog’s favorite exercise activity?