Are you over-exercising your dog?
When I was a teenager, my dog had a lot of energy. She seemed to be constantly on-the-go, existing in a frenzy of excitement. She was walked three times a day and would still come home bouncing – much to the amusement of our neighbour, who would see me leaving and then returning an hour later with the same on-the-go dog leaping around me on the lead.
In the house she was perhaps a little calmer, but on top of the walking she was playing fetch for extended periods of time, and often had rambunctious interactions with me as we rolled around in the hall together. As first time dog owners, we were doing what we thought was best for her – she had lots of energy, so we gave her lots of exercise. In reality, this was compounding the issue. What our dog really needed was mental stimulation.
The more a dog is exercised, the fitter it will become, meaning that it will progressively become even harder to ‘tire out’. On the other hand, by encouraging a dog to use its brain and exercise mentally, it is much more likely to settle and will have less of a need to be switched on all of the time.
Mental stimulation can relieve a dog of excess energy much more effectively than simply walking or running with it, as well as reducing levels of the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline in the dog’s body. It should be a part of the daily routine of every pet dog, but can be especially useful in dogs that have been injured and are unable to get out as they normally would, or in reactive dogs that need to take a break from the stressors that walking often imposes.
There is no end to the activities you can provide for your dog to exercise their mind, but I’ve listed some ideas below as a starting point.
Over recent years, a huge variety of toys that can be filled with food have become available. These are great for providing your dog with mental stimulation, as often retrieving the food is no simple task and requires the dog to figure out how their particular toy works. Examples of these include Kongs, Lickimats, and more complex toys such as the tornado toy pictured below.
Activities that get your dog using their nose are perfect for exercising their mind. Scattering treats on the lawn or around a room for the dog to seek out is a quick, cost-effective way of giving them something alternative to do, and if you have a little more time on your hands, playing hide and seek with a favourite toy is a fun game for all involved.
When introducing these games to a dog, it is best to do it slowly and not to make it too difficult to begin with. Once your dog has figured out what is expected however, you can make it more difficult to keep that brain working!
Similarly, teaching your dog new tricks is a great way to engage with them and provide mental stimulation at the same time. Just a few minutes every day spent working on something new can make a huge difference to your dog’s well-being, and you might begin to notice a difference in their demeanour out on walks too.
By taking a step back from the need we often feel to exercise our energetic dogs, we can make them both calmer and happier. Your dog needs more than just its legs exercising – exercise its mind as well!