Our dogs give so much to us. They help to lower our blood pressure as we relax and stroke their furry heads. They listen empathetically to our endless chatter. They calm us by simply being there for us during the assorted moods we experience throughout the day. There is little doubt that creating the domestic dog is one of the best things that man has ever done.
I could go on and on here about the virtues of our great friend the dog. But what about us? What kind of friend are we to them? We do obvious things like feed them. We give them shelter and in most cases love and kindness. We pet their soft fur. Some of us even walk them…at least once in awhile…
Many of us live very hectic lifestyles. We go to work in the mornings and come home in the early evening. We may run a few essential errands on the way home. We are tired and strung out from a stressful day. We then prepare a meal for the family. When the meal is done and the dishes are cleaned up we collapse onto the couch with a good book or a TV remote. We are exhausted. …Sound like you…?
Meanwhile, our dogs have waited patiently all day for our arrival home. They have seen only the walls inside of our house or the inner lining of the fence to their yard. They have gone nowhere. They have done nothing. When we finally arrive home they are happy to simply receive the pat we give them on the head or the rub behind their ears. But is this really a fair exchange?
It is against the natural heritage of a dog to be sedentary. It is also unnatural for them to be stationary. Dogs who are left to become feral find other dogs in the same situation and form packs. These packs move all about, often traveling several miles during a single day. They may develop a kind of “home territory” but this area is very large and the pack members explore it constantly. Wolves travel dozens of miles in a day in search of food. This activity stimulates their minds and tires their bodies. This is nature. This is the reality of what is necessary for all of the canine species to be well adjusted and stable.
So how do we work the natural needs of our dogs into our busy lives? Below I will list some ideas that are fun for both dog and owner and are achievable even by busy people.
Walking. All dogs need this kind of exercise. It is a common misconception that only big dogs need exercise. Chihuahuas, Yorkies, Maltese, small terriers, etc. come from the same natural heritage as big dogs. Regular long walks are essential for all dogs to maintain a stable state of mind. A good walk not only gives the dog much needed exercise, but gives him a change of scenery as well. And let’s face it…it is good for us too.
Fetch. Many dogs love toys. Most have a natural chase instinct but the majority don’t have a natural instinct to return the toy for another throw. Of the many dogs I’ve had over the years, only one had a “natural retrieve”, that is a natural inclination to return the toy to me. The rest of my dogs were taught to return the toy. This game is a fast paced way of burning excess energy in the dog. “Fetch” is a wonderful activity for the couch potato owner, but is not a substitute for a good long walk.
Dog Agility. This activity is exploding in popularity. Agility classes are springing up everywhere. A dog must be somewhat sociable with other dogs to take part in a class situation. Agility is especially effective for hyper active dogs who need something to do. It can also boost the confidence of shy dogs. It is important when seeking out an agility class to do some research. Only classes with instructors who use positive training methods should be considered.
Agility includes fun activities for your dog such as jumping over obstacles, running through tunnels and climbing on assorted objects. It is fast paced and FUN!
Off Leash Parks: These are places where dogs can be let off leash to run with other dogs. These areas are often fenced. Again, only dogs with good social skills should attend such places.
Cycling: For very active dogs this can be a fun activity. A dog needs to be trained where to position himself in relation to the bicycle. Keep in mind while cycling with your dog that he is exerting more energy than you, the cyclist. One should be constantly aware of the dogs basic body temperature and energy level while taking part in this activity.
Roller Blading: Big, fast dogs love this. It is important to have control over the dog in public before this can be done safely. Control is achieved in training during the walk.
Swimming: For those with a lake, pond or private pool nearby, swimming can be the ultimate way to expend energy in your dog. I especially like this one because my black long-coated border collies over heat so easily in warm weather. Cool water prevents this and allows the exercise to continue on long after other forms of activity have to be stopped. A dog who has just spent time in the water is a tired and happy dog afterward! Even dogs who don’t like to swim often enjoy wading in the shallows.
It is important to realize that a change in scenery is an important factor in any form of exercise. The more places you take your dog, the bigger his world will be. Dogs who are exposed to a wide variety of situations are often more well adjusted animals than those who are continually left at home. So do right by your canine buddy and get out there….and have some FUN with him! Make this a regular part of your lives together.