By Caroline Spencer
Rowan has just written a fabulous article about how too much exercise it actually detrimental to health.
With our dogs we are advised and told many times that our puppies and dogs need lots of stimulation and exercise or they will get bored, destructive and hyper, so that’s what you do, but then your puppies mature into an adult dog and becomes or continues to be destructive and hyper and you’re told that he’s only 2 yrs old and will calm with age. It’s not his age that’s the issue, it’s too much physical exercise generally and not enough rest and relaxation in your company or brain and nose exercises. So when you’re advised to give more and more exercise to your destructive, hyper dog, please think twice.
So many times I have been told by dog owners, that they have issues with their dogs being overactive, high energy and destructive, even though they take them for long and energetic walks. They give them; chews and games at home to distract them from unwanted behaviours like chewing furniture, howling and so and so forth. There are owners who can’t do anything without involving their dogs, I even had a call from one gentleman who couldn’t even find time to read my book because his dog always butted in and wanted him to interact with his day.
The more exercise you do the more you need, same for your dogs, the brain can’t switch off, you’re not allowing it to … the buzz becomes a drug and you can’t get off it. You’re loaded with too much of the flight, flee fight hormone adrenaline and ready for action all the time. I used to be a fanatic when it came to the game of squash, a full-on, high impact fast game. I couldn’t survive without my twice daily fix of 2 hours morning and evening. I was pinging off the walls, literally, if I didn’t play and everything else I did was full on. I didn’t sit still either at work and home. When I was ill, I didn’t get a sniffle, I got full blown, in bed for a week colds, I was pushing my body too much, it couldn’t do everything. I didn’t have an off switch.
So, you take your dog for a long high stimulation walk or repetitive ball throwing, Frisbee throwing bonanza, flyball or fast furious agility regularly, some come back even more full of energy than before, others sleep for a while then ready for the off again before you are. You create an animal with an obsessive-compulsive disorder and it’s distressing for the dog. A dog racing about with tongue hanging out, panting furiously, barking excessively is a dog with no ability to self-control. However, if your dog does this and in the next breath can stop and chill and have chill days, relaxed lead walks with gentle calm, pottering about sniffy times then you’ve got balance.
Everyone should have an off switch and if they don’t then they need to be guided towards a more balanced way of life and way of thinking. Domestic dogs are not dissimilar. Wild dogs have it, wolves have it, any wild animal has it, they live uncomplicated lives (not necessarily easy, but they don’t complicate their lives with guilt and over thinking and does my bum look big in this? Type of thing) Conserving energy and living a balanced life is what they do. They don’t run about like headless chickens totally out of self-control.
Dogs need balance in their lives as much as we do. We teach them to be full on and then micromanage the behavioural issues with “ Sit on that Mat!” Life needs to slow down, take your time to do anything and do it well, there should be no rush, there is no time or age limit to getting it right for you or your dog.
Take your dog for lovely walks on the lead and off lead, make every day different, whether that be location or activity or both. The walk should be enjoyable for both of you from the get-go, on lead in the house and beyond. On lead seems to be a swear word these days and people only believing that their dogs have fun off lead racing round agility and open fields. The truth is if your dog is in the moment with you and you with him, then fun is where ever you are and whatever you are doing together. That includes sitting and resting at home and resting out and about, playing mindful gentle games at home and on your outside adventures , like find the toy rather than endlessly chase the thrown ball and retrieve, which results in a visually reactive dog not a mindful thinking dog using the best sense he has and that’s his nose.
Learning to just be, is one of the most important lessons they can learn from us as youngsters. Start off how you mean to go on and there is absolutely nothing wrong, in fact, everything right in my opinion about having a chill day once a week with your dog, whether that be sitting on a beach or by the river or at home simply being and not doing. My Dad used to call these days “Recharging battery days”, days when you could just stare at the clouds and blue skies through the canopy of a tree in full leaf or those cold days wrapped up under that same tree on a cold frosty morning. Not a care in the world and time to just do absolutely nothing and not feel bad about it. For me being outside is the place I find most relaxing, no phone distractions, no computer to sit and write at and no housework to feel the need to get on top of.
Remember with your dog, you don’t have to go full steam ahead all the time on your walk, sit and be mindful of the world around you, massage your dog and just be still with your dog, you don’t have to talk, in fact it’s better to be quiet for you and your dog, close your eyes and concentrate on your breathing. Play quiet finding games that actually tax them mentally and get them using their noses not eyes, working with you as part of a team. Like children, if you play with them all the time they do not learn to just be or occupy themselves effectively and rely on you too much to be their provider of entertainment. I also love to be able to go for a walk and let the dogs just sniff and gather information about who, what and when on the way. Just stopping to spend that time in places where they can route through the undergrowth and dig and snort and sniff is so beneficial to their wellbeing.
Exercise is as important as good food within a balanced life. Rest and relaxation is equally important and if you do have an overactive dog (and don’t put this down to breed please, all dogs whatever breed you have can be over the top and demanding if we let them) then please do take time to educate them in the art of chilling. They and you will live longer and happier lives, guaranteed.
More information on how to achieve a balanced life and modify behavioural problems please do read “Why Does My Dog Do That?” by Caroline Spencer