©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC
Note: Before starting any of the exercises or games that are presented in this article, check with your veterinarian regarding the appropriateness of the exercise or game for your dog.
Proper exercise is an important part of helping dogs with behavior issues such as aggression and separation anxiety. It’s also quite beneficial for a dog’s mental health even if he or she doesn’t have behavior issues.
To correctly stimulate a dog’s brain, we need exercises and games that optimally achieve at least two of the following three things:
1) Physically challenging
2) Mentally demanding
3) Relationship building between dog and owner
Exercises that meet the above criteria can help with many types of behavior issues in dogs. One of the reasons is because they raise a dog’s serotonin level. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and affects anxiety levels. Humans also have this same neurotransmitter and it performs these same functions. Many of the psychopharmaceutical medications that dogs and humans take work by increasing the level of this neurotransmitter.
Another reason these kinds of exercises can help with the behavioral health of a dog is that they help to “burn up” the bucket of mental and physical energy that every dog wakes up with each morning. This is especially true for dogs younger than five years old. I like to tell clients that their dog will use his or her daily bucket of mental and physical energy for “good” or for “evil” – it is always best if we can direct dogs to do exercises that are challenging physically, mentally and relationally (i.e., for “good”).
So what kinds and amounts of exercise do I recommend?
First, does letting your dog out in the back lawn to “run around” provide adequate and proper exercise? No.
The truth is that most dogs lie down a few minutes after you let them out in the back lawn. And if they get involved in some type of exercise on their own it is frequently not ideal (e.g., barking, digging, compulsive prey chasing, etc.). Last, and probably most importantly, there is no relationship building going on between owner and dog in this context.
The second thing I want to address is the duration of daily exercise. Dogs need about 30 minutes each day of mental and physical exercise. Taking your dog out to eliminate does not count as exercise!
The following represent examples of the various kinds of mental and physical exercises you can provide for your dog – mix them up. Many of these can be done inside your home too. These can also be entertaining and good for the owner’s mental and physical health!
If you’d like more information on the exercises presented below, click here and ask us to email you 14 Ways you Can Mentally and Physically Exercise your Dog in the message box.
- Food Dispensing Toys - Food dispensing toys are inexpensive boredom busters and can represent a good mental challenge for your dog. These toys can be used in treating resource guarding.
- Kibble Hunt - This is a great tool for separation anxiety and represents a foraging exercise for your dog.
- Tug and Fetch – It’s always best to put some rules around these exercises. There are some behavior issues where this kind of play is contraindicated such as control related aggression.
- Shaping Games – This can represent one of the best mental, physical and relationship building exercises available. It is frequently done with a clicker and rewards.
- Doggie Play Date – Finding a dog or dogs that plays appropriately with your dog can be a perfect mental and physical exercise for your dog.
- Play Hide and Seek – This game possibly represents one of the best overall exercises for your dog. The relationship component is significantly represented with this game.
- Dog Treadmill – Believe it or not, many dogs like to walk/trot on a treadmill. However, it is imperative that your dog is slowly introduced to the treadmill, is always supervised and the proper times and speeds are used. See a dog training professional to help you with this.
- Walking – A structured walk done for 30 minutes a day is my most commonly prescribed exercise.
- Running – It’s not always right for every breed or age of dog. Please check with your veterinarian before running with your dog to assess the appropriateness of this kind of exercise for your dog. Running for dogs less than one year of age is normally contraindicated because of orthopedic reasons. Again, please consult with your veterinarian.
- Swimming – The cautionary notes that appear above for the treadmill and running apply here.
- Blowing Bubbles – You haven’t lived until you have blown children’s bubbles around your dog. Lots of curiosity, animation and fun.
- Cue Review – You’ve worked hard on teaching your dog basic cues (i.e., sit, stay, come, down). Create a “cue review” time where you put your dog through his or her paces. Make it a fun and rewarding event for both of you; do multiple short sessions.
- Stair Work – Be careful that you don’t overdo this! Running with your dog up and down stairs and teaching him or her to do the same on cue represents a high-level and challenging mental and physical exercise for your dog.
Now get out and start exercising your dog.