That is one of my favorite adages of dog training and management. Funnily enough, as I type it, I listen to a cacophony of sighs and snores coming from all corners of my office. Sacked out, as they usually are, at 11:00am. This is one of the benefits of owning senior dogs. They come with a whole raft of concerns too. Gargantuan amounts of exercise just isn’t one of them. Our life wasn’t always this way though. My old dogs are of high energy roots. Dalmatians, Springer Spaniels, and the bottom-less pit of energy that is a Jack Russel Terrier.
Rocco and the true love of his life. The Ball.
Exercise needs vary by age (I’m looking at my misfits here), breed (the pug at only 3, is not much of a go-getter), individual dog (his soul mate J.J. never was), and lifestyle. Us, with our pack of physically fit, highly trainable, too smart for their own good, very bad if left to their own devices, young dogs, well, we had to develop a whole lifestyle of energy expending activities. And use them. Frequently. Some of our formerly time honored tricks and venues were…
Dog Parks. Love them. Hate them. They are not for every dog. Rocco in fact, has never been to a public dog park. The potential for chaos is much too great for a chap like him. Rocco takes advantage of chaos. Still, the pro’s to off-leash running are often worth the risks. Risks like aggressive dogs, inattentive owners, pack mentality, misbehaving children, diseased mud puddles, and busy parking lots. Just to name a few.
Know your dog. Know your park. Have a strategy. Ours (which I almost don’t want to share) went a little something like this: Go early. Very, very early. We had a rule. If we couldn’t be done with the park, as in leaving, by 10am (at the very latest) on a weekend morning, we just didn’t go. The earlier you go, the less you are dealing with amateurs. Those people who don’t exercise their dogs until the weekend. Who want to take a casual stroll with their latte and their cell phone while their dog runs amuck. Avoid these people. Certainly avoid crowds of these people. Further, if you have ‘those dogs’ who can’t dog park, all is not lost. We spent years going to a private park. They are hard to come by. Check with daycare and boarding facilities, especially those in rural areas. We paid up to $7 for an hour’s use of a multi-acre fully fenced lot, with just our dogs and occasionally our friends. Even Rocco could attend.
It was recently mentioned in discovermagazine that dogs that are regularly taken out for a walk in parks are the ones that are benefited greatly as far as health is concerned because most dogs always enjoy a nice walk where they can get a breath of fresh air which has prompted most house owners to purchase a private park of their own so that it can be done close to their vicinity itself.
Walk/Runs. I wish I was a better runner when my dogs were younger. I wasn’t. Nowadays, I don’t have many candidates for multi-mile runs. Back then, we walked. Harder on me than it was on them. We tried to make up for that by keeping walks entertaining. Bring treats, go somewhere unusual, and by all means, make it a training walk. We intermittently practiced our sits, downs, waits, and all those other essential behaviors. Usually, when they least expected it. The goal is to keep the walk mentally stimulating. If they never know what you are going to ask for or when you are going to ask for it, they stay more engaged with you, as well as their surroundings. You can make even just a mile walk that much more difficult and exhausting by throwing in random training opportunities.
Training. Plain ole training, minus the walk. In the yard. In the living room. Wherever. Keep it short, but frequent. Even a couple 10 minute sessions an evening can take the edge off. Also consider goals. The most difficult thing I ever trained a dog to do? Weave Poles. For weeks on end, every night, Hannah and I would spend about 15 minutes outside working on our entrances and exits. Painstaking. Sometimes frustrating. Exhausting, for both of us. Want to work on an elaborate trick? Want a rock solid down stay? Working on it consistently will help your dog expend mental and physical energy, and probably improve your life in general.
Constructed Play. I’ve never been a fan of handing a toy over to a dog, watching them scurry off with my $10-$15 in their mouth, never to be seen or heard from again. Toys can be money wasted or an opportunity to interact. Tug, fetch, give, the obvious behavioral candidates. But, almost any toy can turned into a tool. Teach your dog to find a specific toy, then hide it around the house (Rocco’s favorite). Or collect all their toys and put them in a specific location (seen it, never accomplished personally). Short on time and on space? We still find these a great way to burn off energy, indoors or out. If you need your dog to auto-pilot without much interaction, skip the plush and go with durable toys where you can hide treats or that will auto dispense their dinner. Then try not to be sad when your dog destroys them anyway.
There are other options for dealing with the energy needs of our pooches. Those I took advantage of (Raw Bones and chews are very helpful) and those I didn’t (Daycare was too spendy for our multi-dog household). Back in the day, I had to pull out many (but, not all) of the stops. Just to keep everyone at an even keel. It became part of our life, and we were all healthier, more active, bonded and engaged for it. When my dogs now spend their Saturday mornings snoozing on their assortment of beds, as opposed to racing around the park for an hour like mad men, when they are all to eager too turn back after a little jaunt around the neighborhood, I fight the feeling that we are the biggest dog owning slackers known to man. To everything a season, I suppose. Back then, exercise made for better dogs. I am currently reaping the rewards of all that relationship building in the form of snuggly dogs who still think I’m pretty damn cool. I’m happy with the return on my investment.