Exercise – too much, not enough
Too much or too little exercise can create health and behaviour problems with many dogs. It may be
worthwhile visiting a therapist who may be able to create an exercise programme specifically for your dog working with your veterinarian.
We often see dogs who experience an excess of exercise rather than not enough. This can place a lot of strain on young dogs and their growing bones, especially the larger breeds of dogs. It is good to begin the exercise programme when your pup is around four months old. Before this, your dog probably needs very little exercise and is most likely getting enough playing around the home or garden.
When she is around four months old, start with just five minutes of slow calm walking on a soft padded harness or collar and long lead. At five months, increase the walking to 10 minutes daily, at six months increase it to 15 minutes daily and adding five minutes for each month after that up until the dog is walking about 40 minutes daily, give or take five minutes depending on your dog’s needs.
Make sure the dog and you are walking slowly and calmly.
The area should be reasonably quiet with little traffic, activity and excitement. You don’t want a wound-up dog who cannot rest after the walk. Take the dog on a long lead and she should be allowed to sniff and explore while walking. After all, the walk is for the dog. If you want a long fast walk, then it may be best to leave the dog at home. Keep in mind the health of the dog each day. We are not always in the right state of health for walking. Sometimes we don’t feel like it, sometimes we are not feeling well, sometimes we have pain in our body somewhere such as a headache or muscular pain. Our dogs can feel the same way and it is up to us as the pet parents to consider this daily before walking our dog, through regular observation.
Play: a must but in moderation
Ball chase or any chase games are generally more fun for the humans than for the dog. When playing ball and chase games with our dogs, we are encouraging strong hunting instincts such as chase and bite. When these instincts are strengthened, much other unwanted behaviour can develop such as chasing joggers, cyclists, cars and just about anything. In herding breeds, they may want to gather everything in sight.
It may be safer for dogs and humans to keep all balls or chase games to a minimum. I prefer not to play these games with my dogs at all and eliminate them from my programmes. Instead of chase or ball games, I prefer to strengthen other instinctive behaviours such as nose-work or brainwork games. This is putting their energy into using their natural senses. Games such as hiding treats, scent discrimination games, tracking, treat tree games, treat balls, stuffed kongs, hide/retrieve (not to be confused with throw/retrieve) and many more mentally stimulating games.
These games are placing your dog’s energy into more use and development of his/her confidence, senses and brain development. The dog is generally very tired after these games and more able to relax and enjoy a rest or sleep.
Choices to develop confidence
Dogs need choices just like we do. I see many dogs who are not given choices – their whole life is based around being told what to do without a choice. Imagine how we would feel if we were not given any choices in life, if we were told when we could or could not sleep, when we could or could not investigate or explore or read, if we could not choose whether or not we feel like a walk or if we could not tell someone when we were feeling unwell or had an un-noticed skeletal problem and were made to sit or walk in a position that caused us pain. If we think we could not live like that, then why do we expect our dogs to live that way?
Our dogs are often not given the choice. Our dogs look to us as their caretakers to meet their needs, to understand them, to learn what they are trying to communicate to us, they want to trust us and know we will help them out in every area of need and allow them to make some choices in their life. Choices help our dogs to develop confidence, independence, a better relationship with their owners and become a much happier dog. When a dog is happy, she is generally healthier.
Rest: important too
Rest is as important for dogs as it is for us. After exercise, eating or any activity, a dog should be able to relax and rest. If this is not happening after activity, then the dog is probably doing too much. It may be necessary to keep a daily log book of activity and times when the dog is unable to rest or relax. A log book can give a therapist a lot of information in order to help with a programme to help the dog relax.
Sleep – too much, not enough
It is important to understand that an adult dog needs 16–20 hours of sleep daily and a puppy may need more. Many dogs do not get enough, which can cause some behaviour issues.
This sleep should be deep sleep with eyes closed (unless it’s one of those dogs who can sleep with eyes partly open) and not just resting sleep where the dogs’ eyes are open and alert. If a dog is not getting enough hours of sleep each day, then he/she is probably doing too much or has too much stimulation in his/her daily routine.
Environment: in house,
outside air smells, pollution levels
Environment also plays a very important part in your dog’s behaviour. Many air fresheners used in homes today are often irritants to a dog’s nose. Before using any air fresheners in your home, first check if your dog likes it. A dog’s sense of smell is hundred times better than ours. Hold the freshener near the dog. If she takes a sniff then turns away or walks away, or maybe doesn’t even want to smell it, then she most likely does not like it and should not be made to live with the smell. Imagine having to live with a smell we did not like, it would soon affect our own behaviour. This is the same with dogs, smells can affect behaviour.
It is not just indoor smells that affect a dog’s behaviour but some outdoor smells can too, such as traffic pollution, incense, oils, fireworks, chemical smells near factories, food smells near restaurants or bakeries. Farm smells, tyre burning smells, incinerator smells and many more smells that can affect our behaviour and our dog’s behaviour, remembering that the dog’s sense of smell is hundreds of times stronger than ours. You may need to consider the environment for your dog and make whatever possible changes you can to help your dog out. Of course, some things are unavoidable but we can often do something to help our dogs. Keeping a dog indoors as much as possible could be a solution to an outdoor environmental problem we cannot change.
Perfume can also be a problem to dogs, many perfumes are strong for humans, so imagine how strong the smell would be for our dog. Our dogs often don’t get any choice but to live with irritating smells. If your dog keeps away from you when you have perfume on or have used any other strong smelling products then it may be the dog does not like the smell. This is easily solved by only wearing them when you go out without your dog.
Noise levels: keep them in limits
When looking at dogs in an holistic way, we need to consider all areas of the dog’s lifestyle. Noise levels need also to be considered, taking into account that dogs’ hearing is much more superior to our own, if a noise is quite loud or irritating for us, it is probably extremely loud or irritating for a dog.
It may be worth considering the noise levels in the house, the radio and television levels as well as times when there is construction going on in the house or nearby in the street. You may live near an airport, railway or in a busy street. Many of these noises cannot be changed and many of them you and your dog can probably accept living with, but be aware that anything new or overly loud in the house can be expressed in behaviour changes and health issues.
Escape routes: also a must
Dogs need escape routes and so do we. Many dogs who are confined, tied up outdoors or restricted on short leads can become fearful of environmental factors such as other dogs, animals or humans approaching and display their fear by lunging, barking, cowering or hiding.
Can you imagine the fear if you were in a place where you could not escape or had limited movement, when along came a lion, a bear or a bully you did not like from school? What would your feelings and reaction be? I am sure you would not be relaxed but maybe angry or afraid and you may even try to break loose of your restriction, scream, yell, or do whatever you can to escape the situation. Why do we think we can restrict dogs and expect them to cope and not react? Many may even appear to cope well but maybe it’s because there is a bit of shutting down.
Often when we know we cannot do anything about our situation, we shut down as a last coping strategy but that does not necessarily mean we are coping. We need choices and we need an escape route. Maybe we need to look at giving our dogs a few escape routes in order to help them out and make life a little easier to cope with.
(Nicole Mackie has over 14 years of experience in handling, exhibiting, training, observing, studying and sharing her life with dogs, gaining many qualifications, such as canine behaviour, canine psychology, general animal science and experience veterinary nursing. She is a radio speaker and writer for magazines, works with behavioural problems in dogs and runs socialising groups for dogs with social problems).