Exercise your dogs…

but don’t OVER exercise your dog. Yes, you heard that right, you can absolutely over exercise your dog. For as often as I suggest that people need to increase the exercise for their dogs, I have at least the same number of dogs who need to, not necessarily reduce, but change their exercise.

There are many dogs who need to have their exercise increased. They may be destructive, trouble makers,or hyperactive because they are not getting nearly enough exercise. Dogs who are crated all day and who get all of a 30 minute walk everyday could likely stand to increase their exercise–particularly if that dog is in the sporting, herding, hound, working, or terrier group. The same could be said for active breeds who never have the opportunity to really RUN and have physical exertion.

We do so much work, as handlers, to exercise our dogs in an effort to physically tire them out because that’s the common thought process. I mean, I’m guilty of saying “a tired dog is a happy dog” on more than one occasion and while I think that is true–it’s not the whole truth.

We need to be spending at least an equal amount time teaching our dogs to settle as we do teaching our dogs to get riled up. This is especially important for the hyperactive, destructive, or trouble making canine friends. These are often the dogs who need to be actively taught how to have an off-switch. We turn-on, turn-on, turn-on, turn-on and reward, reward, reward that ‘turned-on-ness.’ And remember, behavior that is rewarded is likely to happen again–so the dogs learn that being turned-on is more reinforcing than relaxation. Think about it, how often do we reward our dogs for calm behavior versus how often we reward (intentionally or unintentionally) the hyper behavior or an increase in arousal.

Yes, I absolutely understand the “but don’t we need to exercise our dogs!?!” Of course dogs need exercise (and many dogs DO need more), but physical exercise is a bit of a double-edged sword. The more exercise you do, the more muscle your dogs build and the more exercise the dog becomes accustomed to doing. So we get in this awful cycle that the dogs need more and more physical exercise to settle (or not settle as the case may be). What we want to do is to find a MODERATE level of exercise and pair that with plenty of mental exercise along with teaching/reinforcing calm behavior.

There is so much value in mental exercise that people often glance over. I can absolutely tell you that for Shayne, a handful of nosework searches will result in the same length of a nap as post physical exercise. Doing training work, or canine food puzzles, or food dispensing toys can certainly be used to exercise their brain and should be a part of every exercise plan. The mental work is so important to giving our destructive, trouble maker, and hyper canine friends an outlet for that energy that is not going to push their arousal through the roof. Yes, dogs can get aroused during nosegames, training and puzzles, but if they are over the top aroused, they are not going to be as efficient in any of this work. Dogs tend to find that ‘butter zone’ where their arousal level is optimal for the task at hand but not over the top.

There is no one way to teach a dog how to relax. You can use crate games, mat work, default downs, a protocol for relaxation, or simply reinforcing calm behaviors. Many of the hyper, destructive, trouble makers need to have a handler who will teach the dog calm behavior and teach the dog to relax. They often don’t offer calm behaviors (aside from sleeping) enough to be able to make much headway by simply rewarding offered behaviors but we can shape calm behavior, use classical conditioning, and/or set up situations where calm behaviors are likely to occur. The more we reward that calm behavior the more likely it is to happen again.

The more we teach dogs to relax and reward their choice to relax, the more the act of relaxation becomes rewarding for the dog.

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