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A Good Dog Is A Tired Dog

That is one of my favorite adages of dog training and management. Funnily enough, as I type it, I listen to a cacophony of sighs and snores coming from all corners of my office. Sacked out, as they usually are, at 11:00am. This is one of the benefits of owning senior dogs. They come with a whole raft of concerns too. Gargantuan amounts of exercise just isn’t one of them. Our life wasn’t always this way though. My old dogs are of high energy roots. Dalmatians, Springer Spaniels, and the bottom-less pit of energy that is a Jack Russel Terrier.

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Rocco and the true love of his life. The Ball.

Exercise needs vary by age (I’m looking at my misfits here), breed (the pug at only 3, is not much of a go-getter), individual dog (his soul mate J.J. never was), and lifestyle. Us, with our pack of physically fit, highly trainable, too smart for their own good, very bad if left to their own devices, young dogs, well, we had to develop a whole lifestyle of energy expending activities. And use them. Frequently. Some of our formerly time honored tricks and venues were…

Dog Parks. Love them. Hate them. They are not for every dog. Rocco in fact, has never been to a public dog park. The potential for chaos is much too great for a chap like him. Rocco takes advantage of chaos. Still, the pro’s to off-leash running are often worth the risks. Risks like aggressive dogs, inattentive owners, pack mentality, misbehaving children, diseased mud puddles, and busy parking lots. Just to name a few. Know your dog. Know your park. Have a strategy. Ours (which I almost don’t want to share) went a little something like this: Go early. Very, very early. We had a rule. If we couldn’t be done with the park, as in leaving, by 10am (at the very latest) on a weekend morning, we just didn’t go. The earlier you go, the less you are dealing with amateurs. Those people who don’t exercise their dogs until the weekend. Who want to take a casual stroll with their latte and their cell phone while their dog runs amuck. Avoid these people. Certainly avoid crowds of these people. Further, if you have ‘those dogs’ who can’t dog park, all is not lost. We spent years going to a private park. They are hard to come by. Check with daycare and boarding facilities, especially those in rural areas. We paid up to $7 for an hour’s use of a multi-acre fully fenced lot, with just our dogs and occasionally our friends. Even Rocco could attend.

Walk/Runs. I wish I was a better runner when my dogs were younger. I wasn’t. Nowadays, I don’t have many candidates for multi-mile runs. Back then, we walked. Harder on me than it was on them. We tried to make up for that by keeping walks entertaining. Bring treats, go somewhere unusual, and by all means, make it a training walk. We intermittently practiced our sits, downs, waits, and all those other essential behaviors. Usually, when they least expected it. The goal is to keep the walk mentally stimulating. If they never know what you are going to ask for or when you are going to ask for it, they stay more engaged with you, as well as their surroundings. You can make even just a mile walk that much more difficult and exhausting by throwing in random training opportunities.

Training. Plain ole training, minus the walk. In the yard. In the living room. Wherever. Keep it short, but frequent. Even a couple 10 minute sessions an evening can take the edge off. Also consider goals. The most difficult thing I ever trained a dog to do? Weave Poles. For weeks on end, every night, Hannah and I would spend about 15 minutes outside working on our entrances and exits. Painstaking. Sometimes frustrating. Exhausting, for both of us. Want to work on an elaborate trick? Want a rock solid down stay? Working on it consistently will help your dog expend mental and physical energy, and probably improve your life in general.

Constructed Play. I’ve never been a fan of handing a toy over to a dog, watching them scurry off with my $10-$15 in their mouth, never to be seen or heard from again. Toys can be money wasted or an opportunity to interact. Tug, fetch, give, the obvious behavioral candidates. But, almost any toy can turned into a tool. Teach your dog to find a specific toy, then hide it around the house (Rocco’s favorite). Or collect all their toys and put them in a specific location (seen it, never accomplished personally). Short on time and on space? We still find these a great way to burn off energy, indoors or out. If you need your dog to auto-pilot without much interaction, skip the plush and go with durable toys where you can hide treats or that will auto dispense their dinner. Then try not to be sad when your dog destroys them anyway.

There are other options for dealing with the energy needs of our pooches. Those I took advantage of (Raw Bones and chews are very helpful) and those I didn’t (Daycare was too spendy for our multi-dog household). Back in the day, I had to pull out many (but, not all) of the stops. Just to keep everyone at an even keel. It became part of our life, and we were all healthier, more active, bonded and engaged for it. When my dogs now spend their Saturday mornings snoozing on their assortment of beds, as opposed to racing around the park for an hour like mad men, when they are all to eager too turn back after a little jaunt around the neighborhood, I fight the feeling that we are the biggest dog owning slackers known to man. To everything a season, I suppose. Back then, exercise made for better dogs. I am currently reaping the rewards of all that relationship building in the form of snuggly dogs who still think I’m pretty damn cool. I’m happy with the return on my investment.

Although, in the future, I might just own Pugs.

How do you handle the exercise needs of your dogs? Do you find it makes a difference in their behavior?

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Comments

cassedega
Reply

I have to admit that since the human offspring, the dogs have been lacking in physical stimulation…for many reasons, but one major one is between working and sleeping and the ever fading light, we don’t have a lot of time. Not that any of that should be an excuse. I also have the added downside of living in the arctic tundra with a dog that has little to zero hairs on his body, and going outside to pee is a taxing thing most days.

I have to say that living in rural Montana has it’s MAJOR bonuses…like, no dog parks. Or really other dogs for that matter. Compared to living in the great Pacific Northwest, people don’t have as many dogs, or if they do, they are treated like DOGS. They ride in the back of trucks, they herd sheep, they don’t have $40 collars or owners that are concerned about a chew toy to keep them occupied…just toss them outside. We have the added benefit of having 22 acres of forest to set them free on (hasta la vista pups!) and in the summer, the lake house is superb for getting that much needed water fun in. We still do training, but it’s not as essential here…nobody cares, including the dogs. I also have one old and one lazy dog….so it’s not such a concern.

But when they (and I) were younger, it was much like your post…there were thrice daily walks, boxes of stimulating toys of various shapes, sizes, and textures, and early morning stints at various dog parks for socialization and some free time. Like you, they are older, and it isn’t quite as essential now.

Jenny
Reply

I’m right there with cassedega on the human offspring front. Especially when the kids are very small, it seems like there aren’t enough hours in the day. Now that child #1 is older and able to walk without being carried for a stretch, he and I and the dog try to go out at least once a day. I don’t know how that will change when child #2 comes around. Hopefully our next living situation will come with better sidewalks. Strollers need sidewalks.

The other challenge is during play time, the dog does not completely trust child #1 with his toys, so fetch has to be heavily monitored or avoided to keep everyone happy. And my dog doesn’t really play fetch – he plays a complicated version of mostly keep-away. Learning new tricks is a great idea, though – that’s something we can work on inside after bedtime or during naps. I absolutely agree, though – a good bit of exercise is great for improving dog behavior.

dogsordollars
Reply

My terrier doesn’t play traditional fetch either. We have to play with 2 exactly identical balls. Then and only then will he trade you one ball for another. If the balls are in anyway different – brand, size, squishability – he will choose his favorite and the game changes. Its a finely honed game, and pretty damn ridiculous.

Thanks for the insight into dog/kid exercise challenges. Part of my reason for reviewing all this is to revisit whats do-able and what going to change with the arrival for our kid #1.

prapc
Reply

We were lucky to have had the choice to purchase low-energy dogs to fit our lifestyle.

(Pugs = good idea)

With our low energy dogs, stimulation is more important than exercise, a virtue that can not be overvalued.

We mindfully purchased a Newfoundland Dog, known for their gentleness with kids & extraordinary low energy, from a stellar breeder who knew our criteria.

She picked Lola for us, because Lola’s born in temperament was lazy and friendly. In fact, she was not suitable for show because of her laziness = PERFECT dog for a busy family.

Though Newfs love nothing more than to sleep all day & night in the rain, as a puppy even she had energy after a week at home. 120lbs of any level of energy is ridiculous.

Being that babies and children DO NOT MIX WITH DOG PARKS, we hired a dog walker until it was clear she did not need the high impact exercise.

Lola has now reached Newfie middle age, which is 4, and a 20 block walk 1/week is all she can handle. She also gets to the groomer bi-weekly, another favorite activity of hers.

Getting Lola out is more for stimulation rather than for exercise, which is sanity-saving when I’m too busy or too tired to do a full walk, let alone run (HA!)

Cash Master Flash, our incredible 10 month old Doberman Pinscher, again, a low-energy breed mindfully purchased from a stellar breeder who chose our pup specifically for our lifestyle.

Getting him out of the house DAILY is necessary for good behavior.

e.g. after several days of no car rides or walks, he removed 2 pairs of very expensive shoes from their shoe boxes and chewed the heel caps… and threw up from anxiety once I found them.

However, to illustrate how ridiculous it is that I didn’t get him out, he is happy and well behaved with just about any form of stimulation or exercise.

5 minutes of walk? 1 hour of walk? Walk around Fred Meyer? Car ride to and from elementary school drop-off and pick-up? He doesn’t care. He’s happy to be with us and out of the house. Period.

Again, with him it’s stimulation, not necessarily the quantity of “exercise” he gets, that keeps him happy.

Low energy breed = the lazy family’s answer to dog sanity.

Erica / Northwest Edible Life
Reply

I just want to say that a good son is a tired son. So whatever tricks you have for dogs, keep them in your pocket for later. I think honestly you should consider turning all your dogs into a coordinated dogsled team, only instead of a sled they pull a mod’ed jogging stroller, you run behind steering occasionally. That could really deal with multiple dog/kid/exercise things at once.

dogsordollars
Reply

And perhaps create a new sport at the same time!

Lesli
Reply

This is such a perfectly timed post for me. We can’t dog park. My Jack Russell encourages dogs to chase her then as soon as they do she throws herself on the ground and does the whole I’m a hurt dog routine. So embarrassing.

My current neighborhood has turned into a no walk zone because although my dogs are always leashed and harnessed, too many of my neighbors let their dogs roam free. My last encounter of having 2 70 lb dogs come after my 2 13/20 lb dogs cured me of neighborhood walking (sad but true).

I also now believe my Jack Russell can spell. She knows what w-a-l-k means. I’m always looking for ways to stimulate her smart as hell little mind as well as adding in the physical activity. Perfect timing for me. Thank you.

dogsordollars
Reply

Ugh! I hate treacherous neighborhood walking. The owners are never present, and you are left to your own devices to deal with the tangle of unknown off-leash dogs, and your own on-leash dog. Yeah, I’ve been there. Thankfully not very often. Having to drive, just to get to a place where you can walk, sucks.

And your JRT can most assuredly spell. ;)

doodle mom
Reply

I have a labradoodle so exercising is critical to our relationship! Mine is still a puppy, so an hour every day is considered normal. It makes a huge difference in his behavior. He always was a very calm dog in the house, but you just feel so guilty if you don’t take him out for that much needed exercise. We go to a park nearby that has some pretty nice dogs. I’ve met a few people with large dogs that are close in age so the 2-3 of them wear each other out. It’s nice to see my dog passed out on his bed after a romp knowing he has satisfied his need to play hard. I do envy some of the dog owners with older dogs who can stroll down the street and call it a day! But I love my dog to pieces and wouldn’t have it any other way. Plus, in the process of exercising him, I’ve made some nice new friends.

Dog parks are scary- even though mine is a big 65# muppet, he’s been attacked at the dog park so we stay away. He is big, but he doesn’t know what aggression is, so that was just a really bad experience that I’m not anxious to ever repeat. I’ll run three miles with him before I take him to a dog park!

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