The Importance of Exercise in a Training Program
A key aspect in not just dog training, but in dog ownership, is giving your dog sufficient exercise. The physical and mental health of your dog can be negatively impacted if they do not have the chance to get moving and loosen up their muscles. That having been said, the exercise needs of individual dogs will range considerably. A typical Shih Tzu does not need nearly the same amount as a typical German Shepherd, and a Border Collie or German Shorthaired Pointer may have even higher needs. Breeds that have low activity demands are often perfectly happy with a walk once or twice a day, and maybe a game of fetch. Very high energy breeds may need longer walks or runs, longer games of fetch or frisbee, and maybe even other activities, like swimming or a dog sport. Maintaining this appropriate level of activity for your dog can help prevent behavioral issues from developing, and will also make your dog more pleasant to live with. Furthermore, canine obesity is a rapidly growing epidemic, and lack of exercise is one of the key reasons why this issue is becoming increasingly problematic.
What Exercise Can't Do
While exercise is very important for the life of every dog, and it can be a great complement to an obedience training program, it will not be enough to make your dog the perfect pet. Lack of exercise is a key contributor in behavioral problems, but immersing the dog in a higher level of activity is not enough to fix the issue. There is a growing number of people who think that exercise is the key to making your dog well behaved, and there is something to that idea. A dog who is exhausted is not going to be expending energy on chewing your shoes or raiding the trash, but that does not prevent them from performing those behaviors when they are fresh and full of energy. In addition, dogs will gradually build up stamina with high levels of activity, and it becomes harder and harder to get them to the state of exhaustion that is required to prevent existing behavior habits.
Obedience and behavioral modification training have to be a component of the program when trying to eliminate behavioral issues. The same dog who used to have to go on a 5 mile run in order to be tired enough not to eat your shoes, could far more easily be taught that your shoes are off limits and he should not chew on them. He should still get a walk or run every day for his mental and physical wellbeing, but that walk will also be more pleasant if you have taught the dog a solid heel command. If the dog knows his rules and expectations around the household, you won't have to worry about him on the day that you got held up at work and didn't have time for his evening walk. When you get a few days of bad storms, your dog will not rip up all of your trash just because he did not get a chance to play fetch for an hour every day.
Exercise Considerations with Puppies
This balance between activity and obedience is even more critical with young puppies. A dog's growth plates do not fully close until 10-18 months of age, depending on the size of the dog. Until these growth plates are fully closed, puppies are susceptible to joint and limb injuries. Common reasons that these injuries occur is from over-exercising puppies, especially with heavy pounding on hard surfaces such as concrete. This means that the time when your dog is most energetic is the time when your ability to safely exercise them is most limited. Mental stimulation and obedience training is therefore even more important with a young puppy than it is with an adult dog.
Good options for exercising your puppy including short walks, especially on more forgiving surfaces. You can walk along the grass rather than on the sidewalk, which will also protect soft puppy paw pads. Another fantastic option for puppies is to learn the game of fetch. Sessions should be kept short, but this is one of the best things that you can do with your puppy. This game is a good way to tire your puppy out, challenge his brain, and build a good relationship for the two of you. Playing with other dogs can also be a productive way to exercise your puppy, with two reservations. Large dogs can overpower a puppy, even accidentally, and injure them by stepping on them or bowling them over. It is also important that puppies maintain a stronger relationship with their owner than with other dogs, so that is something to keep in mind. Lastly, swimming is a great low-impact exercise, provided that the puppy is confident and comfortable in the water.
Combining Exercise and Mental Stimulation
The best way to go is to provide your dog with balance. Exercise your dog as is appropriate for their breed and your lifestyle. Balance out high stimulation activities, like retrieve and swimming, with obedience sessions to make sure that your dog is practicing impulse control at the same time. These activities should also be fun for you, and if your dog is pulling you down the road when you try to run with him, spend the time to teach him reliable loose leash walking, which will benefit you both. Maintaing this kind of balance in your dog's daily routine will lead to a well rounded, happy dog that is a pleasure to live with.
Sam is the owner and head trainer at Kentucky Dog Training LLC. She set up this blog to share success stories, training tips, the progression of dogs in our training programs, and other thoughts on dogs and training.