By Nick Jones
Not all dogs require a daily flogging until they come back wet and exhausted. I think it's just as easy to do too much as it is to do too little.
About 18 months is in my mind the best age to start opening the throttle more and exposing the dog to longer and more strenuous exercise. By this time the muscular and skeletal systems are well established, and able to take the strain.
How much is enough then? Well this really is something that I advise you to think about and to develop a routine that suits you and your dog. Our dogs need to fit in with our lifestyle of course, and ideally your choice of dog would compliment your lifestyle, rather than find yourself with a dog that is constantly in need of fresh air and big runs. This will only leave you feeling guilty, and your dog's behaviour may reflect the lack of exercise if this happens to be the case for you.
The other thing to consider should you be looking at a new dog is the fact that your lifestyle may change later on. Maybe you become a new parent, retire, or start back to work? These things can work for the better in many cases, so no need for a pessimistic forecast on the above, but they are all changes that the dog will need to handle.
Off lead exercise is hugely different from on lead exercise. I would like to see a little diagram that enables me to analyse the distance covered by the dog in a field in comparison to the route I walk. My guess is that depending on the breed and the activities undertaken, it could be anywhere from 5-100 times more than me!
A few of the activities I enjoy with Pip my Border terrier are:
* Ball flinger (what a great invention!) This really works her hard and involves nose-work when done in longer grass.
* Frisbee (Whilst not quite comp. standard, I'm quite good at this now!)
* Cycling. Pip astounds me as to how long she can go.
* Treadmill. I have placed her on the treadmill a few times, but I don't think it's her favourite activity.
* Freeform agility. This is using natural obstacles that one might find in nature. Log jumps/limbo you name it! Rather like dog Parkour!
* Running between us as a family. Great to develop the recall, especially if you have a little food to reward her efforts ;)
I do see some dogs that are over stimulated, and seem overly hyped. Some collie owners do this as they think that the dog needs to do 100 miles every day. Not so. Any dog should look pretty content once home, and be able to settle within a reasonable time. I have seen good improvements in a number of dogs once the obsessive element of exercise has been prevented for a couple of weeks, and we work on a more relaxing aspect to help bring the dog into a more balanced state. During that time we can look at improving the dog's behaviour by implementing a modification programme.
Obsessive exercise? What's that? It's when the dog changes from seeing a ball (for example) as a really enjoyable means to play, to it then not being able to drop it, pushing it into you in the home, and never being able to relax. This may then connect back (believe it or not) to other areas of concern such as dog to dog aggression due to the dog's general level of stress. This is remember all in my experience and opinion. All play items should be either left outside in an enclosed area, shed or car. The house should be a place to relax...for you and the dog :)
So somehow we have gone from exercise to obsessive behaviour! Enjoy your dog doing what feels good to you and yours. Try to keep control of the game with a decent recall and give (if fetching is involved) and look out for over-exercise. You'll be in a minority if you do, as most dogs are under exercised...rather like us to be utterly honest.
Moderate exercise is the way to go at first, and then build things up gradually for both the dog and your own sake.
As always, feel free to contact me or comment here should you wish to discuss this further.
Nick Jones MCFBA
Dog Behaviour Specialist and Trainer
Nick Jones, a full time Dog Behavioural Specialist and Trainer wrote this article. You can visit his website atwww.alphadogbehaviour.co.uk for more articles and training information. You may freely distribute this article or save to any electronic media as long as it is left intact, including this copyright box. Please let Nick know out of courtesy where and when you publish. Email will suffice. Thank you