THE EXERCISE EXPERIMENT: Solve Your Dog’s Behavioral Issues
Have you ever heard the old adage, “A tired dog is a good dog?” Well, a few years back we decided to put that adage to the test.
As a dog trainer in Seattle for over a decade, I’ve never turned down a dog-problem. Consequently, I’ve seen just about every dog-related issue out there. I”ve also seen just about every dog training methodology out there as well. There are perpetual debates over which training method is best and how to go about solving dogs’ behavioral challenges. However, instead of pitting two training methodologies against one another, we thought we’d compare a group of dogs going through ‘obedience’ training and a group merely exercising regularly.
The two groups filled out preliminary assessments on their dogs’ traits and issues, and then took part in either six weeks of obedience training or six weeks of an exercise program. The unscientific parts of this experiment are the sample size and the variance it types of exercise. There were only 6 participants in each group and the exercising group each did different things. Some “exercisers” went for a run twice a day; other dogs ran next to a cycling owner, some played fetch, while some did a mix of activities. The “exercisers” were directed to do at least 30-45 minutes of exercise twice a day with one session happening in the morning. They slowly ramped up the amount and intensity of exercise over two weeks and most of the participants had some really good workouts going with their dogs for the last 3-4 weeks of the test.
All participants in the “obedience training” group had goods results with all of their issues, and their dogs improved in both obedience skills and what we would call “annoyance” behaviors such as: jumping up, digging, barking, chasing other animals, and general over-excitement.
WHAT CHANGED IN THE EXERCISE GROUP?
The big take away for us, from this small test, was that the exercise group, though they hadn’t improved markedly in any obedience skills, improved greatly in all the “annoyance” behaviors. Generally, the “exercise group” told us that their dogs were much easier to live with during their new exercise regimen. They also told us that everyone in the house experienced less stress due to not worrying about their dog’s “problem” behaviors as much. So, did this little experiment help map out the canine genome or discover a cure for hip – dysplasia? … well … no. However, it was helpful to show, in some more structured way, the truth in the old fashioned wisdom that “a tired dog is a good dog”.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN FOR YOU?
Well, the bottom line (probably not ground breaking news?) is that exercise is good for your dog and can make them easier to live with and train. The ideal solution is obviously a mix of exercise and training (since the exercise groups obedience skills didn”t really improve at all) but you might be able to take your first steps in solving some behavior problems today. Now, every dog”s need for exercise is different. A youthful working breed dog will have dramatically different needs than an elderly dog or a nine week old puppy. Be sure to check with your vet for your dog”s general level of fitness and start your exercise program easy. Let your dog adapt to the progressive challenge over two or three weeks. So, go for a hike, a bike ride, a run (if your able) or play some vigorous fetch with your dog over the next few days, and see if some of your dog’s “annoying” behaviors don’t start to wane. By the way, there’s also a rumor out there that spending time walking, hiking, cycling and playing fetch with your dog is good for humans as well.
Good luck with your new exercise program. Let me know what kind of results you got from your “experiment”.
I’ve been training people and dogs in Seattle for the last decade and a half. My main focus when working with clients every week in one-on-one, private lessons is to help people learn to get their dogs to a functional level so that they can actually enjoy spending time every day with their dog instead of stressing about their dog’s behavior issues.
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