Everyone knows their dog needs exercise but we all have different ideas about what that means. Your lifestyle might dictate how they get exercised and sometimes your values influence the choice. When I’m working with families I always want to know how the dog’s needs are being fulfilled as that will determine our goals and the path we take to get there; for example if your ideal is weekly off leash hikes but your dog doesn’t have a recall, that’s a problem.
Let’s talk about the traditional dog walk. The dog is on a short leash, walking at the handler’s side in step with them, and often looking up at the handler. That is a complicated behavior. It’s actually many behaviors wrapped up in one package. Don’t get the impression that some dogs don’t want to be trained to do this, most dogs love training. It’s usually the people who don’t want to put the work in to achieve this. When you don’t put all the work that goes into skills but demand them from the dog anyway, you are being unfair and putting undue stress on the dog. Some will find this behavior difficult and stressful despite training. If this is how you imagine walking your dog, you will need to work on the skills with your dog.
The alternative to the structured walk is a “free” walk. This walk comes in many forms but most often this looks like a walk where the dog has relative freedom to sniff, go potty and explore the environment within safety parameters needed for that dog. The dog is set up for success on the walk: a scavenger may need a muzzle to not eat found food (or non-food items), or a critter chasing dog may need to be recalled away from squirrels. A free walk may be on a six foot leash and a collar or on a back-clip harness and a thirty foot leash, the handler-dog team is going to determine the best choice. Even though this sounds like the best deal for the dog, there can still be downsides. This type of walk can be very overwhelming for some dogs with anxiety, they need more direction. You should have a few stress-relieving tricks up your sleeve like pattern games to help the dog relax on the walk.
You can do a lot at home for some kinds of dogs. Games like tug and fetch are tried and true activities that dogs and people can play together. If you have a larger dog, this is much easier if you have a backyard but you can also go to an empty field with a long leash or rent a fenced in area with a site like Sniffspot. A small dog might be able to get away with playing fetch down the hallway to burn off energy. Games can also be more complicated, for example if you do sports like I do, you may have a tunnel and a few jumps in your backyard and you can work your dog’s mind and body. Scentwork is another great sport you can teach at home and give a dog mental exercise.
There are two extremes that will come out when you ask around about the best way to exercise your dog: dogs need two structured thirty minute leashed walks a day to be fulfilled, and dogs need frequent off leash exercise. Both are right for different households. Who your dog is, where you live, when you work are all going to affect the best choice for your dog. How do you exercise your dog? If you aren’t sure what your dog needs, email me and we can schedule a video call.