ARE YOU TRAINING YOUR DOG TO BE AN ATHLETE?

Dog need exercise, right?  Of course they do!  But what most dog owners don’t realize is that the structure of the exercise is most often more important than the type of exercise and the duration of it.  A complaint that I hear a lot from my clients is that they have to throw the ball in the back yard for 10-15 minutes before they take their high-energy dog on a run or a hike in order for him to be sufficiently tired out.  What I tell them is this: by only exercising the dog’s body (taking them on an off leash trail where they run amuck for an hour and without actually engaging their mind) they are essentially creating a dog that is an athlete!  Think of the dog’s mind as a muscle-one that needs to be worked just as much as the rest of their body.

Dogs need physical exercise, yes.  But what they equally need, without a lot of people realizing it, is to have to think about what they’re doing.  What I am talking about is the fact that dogs need structure in their walks, just as they need structure around the home.  In order for a dog to be mentally stimulated on a walk, they should be challenged.  There are a number of things I recommend for stimulating the mind of the dog to tire them out mentally as well as physically:

  • Keeping the dog in a proper Heel

This means the dog’s head is at your knee or slightly behind it.  Having to constantly pay attention to your speed and direction keeps your dog’s focus on you and is mentally exhausting.  Not only does this send a very important message to your dog that you are the leader, it is also very affective for overcoming leash reactivity or preventing it from becoming a problem.  By having the dog follow you, and not the other way around, your dog will naturally be in a more calm state of mind as they are not feeling they need to be on guard in the neighbourhood.  By constantly being in a heightened state of awareness on a walk, the dog cannot relax and this state of mind will most likely transfer to other behaviours back at the home after such as chewing, barking and having trouble relaxing altogether.

  • Using the 90/10 rule

In the beginning of training, I always recommend that the owners use this rule: 90% of the time the dog is in a proper heel with no pulling, lagging behind or wandering off to the side.  The other 10% of the time he is allowed to sniff and go to the bathroom, but only when given a command such as “go sniff” or “go potty”.  This is extremely challenging for dogs as it encourages them to having them practice self control when it comes to sniffing and marking.  It also sets the tone that you are in charge of this walk, not the dog.

  • Changing up the pace

It is not natural for a dog to walk at a human’s pace.  Part of the reason that some dogs pull on the leash is because the pace is not something they wish to abide by.  One of the very first things I do when teaching a dog the proper heel position is to walk extremely slow, slow even for a human!  By doing this, the dog is again encouraged to pay attention to you and use their brain instead of mindlessly walking.  Then, once you have the dog completely tuned into you, feel free to change it up!  Walk faster, then at a normal pace, then faster again and then slow right down again.  Have some fun with it!

  • Switching directions

Every once in a while, turn 180 degrees.  This will most likely surprise your dog at first, but once your dog is completely in tune with you, it will be hard to fool them!

I’m not saying never to take your dog on a hike or to walk them off leash on a trail somewhere.  There has to be balance, and to achieve that balance, encourage the dog to use their mind and stay in tune with you.  You will soon find that one hour of structured walking time every day will have your dog thoroughly tired out both mentally and physically!  This time of one hour can be broken up into different walks throughout the day, something I encourage.  Dogs naturally need to migrate every day and by allowing them to do this 2-3 times a day through structured walks will lead to a happier, more balanced dog.

Remember…by allowing your dog to run around and do whatever it wants on a walk or hike every time you take him out, you are not encouraging the dog to use his mind as much as it needs to be truly tired and fulfilled.  In other words, you are only creating an athlete that will not fully tire!

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