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Is playing with my dog enough exercise?

Adequate exercise for your dog

I have had many people ask me, “What is the right amount of exercise for a dog?” My answer is always, if your dog spends a good majority of the time with you, in a relaxed state; no pacing, no destruction and no anxiety, you know your dog is getting enough exercise.

All dogs need exercise to be happy and healthy. Their natural instinct is to walk for miles, following the leader to find and hunt for food. This is why you never see a pack with a member who is destructively chewing things, running off or acting out. These long walks fulfill their physical and mental needs. Let me stress that it is the “walk” that they need. Too many times I have heard “my dog has a big backyard to exercise all day in.” This is the worst thing anyone can tell me. Your backyard is not adequate exercise for your dog. They may get a burst of energy and do fence sprints to chase away intruders (people outside their territory or even squirrels and cats who dare to challenge their turf); but for the most part of their outside time they are laying around enjoying the sun and fresh air. If you were sitting around playing video games all day, with an occasional trip to the kitchen, would you feel exercised? The answer is no. Neither does your dog after spending hours out in that big beautiful yard you have. Another mistake is thinking that playing ball or Frisbee for 30 minutes is enough. It truly isn’t. A strict military style walk for 20-30 minutes (or more depending on the breed) where they have to focus on you (the leader) will wear your dog out. Think of it this way, you go to a picnic, you are socializing, playing games all day. When you get home you can still function and do things, right? However, if you are at work and have to meet a deadline by 5 pm, your mind is very actively thinking about getting things done. Now when you get home those things you wanted to do, well they can wait until the next day because, wow, you are exhausted! This has always been my theory on proper exercise for your pet. Playtime will never wear them out, work will. Walking with their leader (you), and focusing on the job at hand makes them more tired. If you have problems with leash walking check out our leash control program, don’t give up. It only leads to destruction of your personal items, and a dog that does not mind you. A strict walk solidifies your role as leader to your dog! Remember, whoever is in the lead, is the leader!

The amount of time your dog needs to exercise depends on the breed, size and age of your dog. A border collie requires large amounts of exercise and mental stimulation in order for them to be calm, where a pug only requires short walks and games that make them think. If you own or are looking to own a dog, research the breed to make sure it matches your energy and activity levels. Unfortunately too many people impulsively purchase a dog without having any idea what physical requirements are needed in the future. Every dog is different, with different physical and mental needs. With that said, all dogs need exercise. Without it they find a way to release their energy, and normally it isn’t the right way. I have seen some dogs lie down next to a wall and chew through sheetrock just to release their tension. Others will chew furniture, dig up the yard, chew personal items, mouth their owners, or start to display anxious behavior. A tired dog rarely displays signs of anxiety; they burn off that bad energy.

For some dogs, mostly working breeds, I recommend using a doggie backpack to add to the walk and give them a job. With our 18-month-old Border Collie, daily obedience practice and tricks are needed (to keep her mind busy) as well as an hour run. The run is combined with a backpack that has frozen water bottles on each side for weight. This also keeps her cool while running; you need to use caution as to not overheat your dog. For our Chihuahua, a short training session is enough to wear her out. Ask your veterinarian or find a breed group site to tell you how much exercise your dog needs and can handle.

For dogs that cannot exercise physically, teach them tricks or commands. Daily practice sessions with your dog will not only make your bond stronger, but also give you something to show your friends and family! “Look how smart my dog is!” The more commands or tricks you do with your dog, the more focus you get from them. We call it the “what’s next?!” look. You will soon notice that your dog is actively looking to you for the next fun thing to do! If you provide adequate exercise and mental stimulation for your dog, you will both benefit. No more stress or frustration for you, and no more boredom for them!

Tara, Brandie, Amanda & the “pack”

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