Does Your Dog Really Love That Activity?

Photo by Marcy Fenell

Photo by Marcy Fenell

There is perhaps no greater experience than participating in an activity with your dog that satisfies you both. The bonding experience created is unparalleled. This is something that all avid dog parents aspire to. The possible activities that this goal encompasses are almost endless. Simple pleasures such as walks and hikes or more active pastimes such as running and bicycling with a dog trained to run along, are among the options. More dog centered activities such as agility, scent detection, obedience, flyball, etc. give an almost endless source of choices. Add to that therapy dog work and even public events such as festivals, holiday celebrations, charity walks and parades show that there is an activity available to share with your dog pretty much at any given moment. Even dining is a mutually enjoyed activity in many cities, with outdoor patios catering to the dog enthusiastic.

But with all of the activities that your beloved dog can potentially share with you comes the responsibility of knowing what they will and won’t enjoy. The sad reality is that far too many dogs are placed in circumstances that they truly don’t enjoy. It is often the human part of the equation that has the desire to participate and drags the unwitting dog along. This happens in all of the previously mentioned activities.

Let’s start with Therapy Dog programs. I often hear clients say that they want their dog to become a Therapy Dog. I think in part, that some people feel this way because they think it gives some sort of elevated status to their dog. People love to feel important, even through their dogs. There is nothing wrong with wanting to feel important. It’s a worthy goal to do something that helps people. Therapy dogs are so uplifting to many. But ask the dog in question how they feel about it. Many dogs are simply not interested in being that social. It’s overwhelming to them.

With my own original dog crew, I made the choice to register only one of my three dogs that passed the Therapy Dog International test. Why did I choose that one? Because unlike the other two dogs, Kera actually was very social and enjoyed the attention of many people unknown to her. So I registered her. And although I did not do much in the way of formal Therapy Dog work, I had her accompany me whenever I visited my mother in a nursing home facility that she spent repeated time in. My mother enjoyed Kera’s visits as did the other residents. Win/win for both parties. Merlin and Siri would have hated all of the interactions aside from with my mother. But they passed the test with flying colors. Passing a test doesn’t mean excelling at the subject matter, however. But they were lucky. Their human mom happened to be a professional so I understood the subtleties. Sadly, that isn’t always the case.


Photo: Tamira C. Thayne

Agility is another common activity that some dogs are just not interested in. They might participate and do well but their heart isn’t in it. If you know your dog well and really accept what they say to you, it isn’t hard to determine the truth about how they really feel about something. Accepting that truth is a whole other scenario.

Conformation and formal obedience are other arenas that I often see dogs not enjoying the experience. The pressure that is coming from the human part of the equation is often intense and supercedes any chance of it being seen as fun. The competitiveness that drives so many of these activities often eliminates the fun for the dog. Activities that are joint experiences between humans and their dogs SHOULD be fun, not stress inducing.

One of the top areas that could win the prize for lack of enjoyment on the part of so many dogs are typical dog parks. Humans gather to socialize with other humans without asking their dogs whether they share that desire. I sometimes get the question from prospective clients on how can they, as the owner, can teach their dog to play nicer at the dog park. The easy answer is don’t take them there anymore. If your dog is a bully and confrontational with other dogs or if the opposite occurs and your dog tries to make himself invisible and is often hiding, then neither are enjoying themselves. Bullies are stressed as are the targets of bullies.

Charity walks are another activity that many dog parents think their dogs will enjoy. In truth, many dogs find the atmosphere over-stimulating and scary. Often strangers will reach out to dogs they don’t know subjecting a dog to multiple touches and invasions of privacy. If strangers reach out and touch you while you are walking on a public street, are you going to find this objectionable? Without question! Then don’t subject your dog to it please.

Adding to that stress are often equipment such as wheelchairs and large strollers and bicycles that most dogs don’t see in the quantities that are visible at such events. Over-enthusiastic children, exhausted parents and lowered stress thresholds make these events a perfect storm waiting to happen.

Parades and festivals are probably the worst place to take a dog, outside of a dog park. Loud instruments, fireworks, gunshots, large unusual looking silhouettes and loud speakers can all combine to cause a trigger stacking episode like never before seen. Dogs get frightened and startled and leashes are often not held tightly enough and then you have a lost dog alone in a crowd that does nothing to instill a feeling of safety.

It is important to note that there absolutely are dogs who enjoy many of these things. But it’s equally important to note that the humans who parent the dogs that attend any and all of the activities mentioned and any that I missed, should take it upon themselves to learn enough about dog body language and communication to know the difference between the two. Even dogs who love the activities that they participate in can have an off day and not be up to attending at times. The important thing is to know your dog and to know how to communicate effectively with him or her. Communication is a two way street and your dog depends on you to get what he or she says to you. You are their safety.

Below are some good links with tools to educate yourself on body language. I urge you to really look at your dog when you participate in any activity with him or her and accept what your dog wants out of that activity or not.



Quick & Dirty Dog Trainer Tips


tweet it post it Share It Plus It Print It

Positively Expert: Debby McMullen

Debby is a certified behavior consultant and the author of the How Many Dogs? Using Positive Reinforcement Training to Manage a Multiple Dog Household. She also owns Pawsitive Reactions, LLC in Pittsburgh, PA.


9 thoughts on “Does Your Dog Really Love That Activity?

  1. Gerry Glauser

    While I agree with all else, you really need to apply what you said here to dog parks, instead of only listing extremes. That you give the dog a chance to slowly adjust, and let the dog decide what he wants. My three and dozens of fosters have enjoyed the dog park, while a few of them were just not interested or too overwhelmed so they were given other activities that they enjoyed.

  2. Debby

    As a dog professional, I see far more problems associated with dog parks than benefits. I have no issue with supervised by dog professionals dog socials that some shelters and training facilities offer but I typically discourage regular dog park visits to most of my clients unless they are only meeting a select group of known friends with known dogs. I also urge clients to know their dog's body language well as well as to recognize inappropriate play styles by other dogs so that they can keep their dog safe before things go very far south. There are far too many people using dog parks with dogs that should not be there.

  3. Gerry Glauser

    As a rehabilitation behaviorist, I have had dog trainers watch my shelter play groups, but few ever enter or seem to have any idea how to manage large groups of strange dogs, especially when we assess those marked as animal aggressive. The "regulars" at the local dog park do a good job, and teach new people. But, you are right that there are too many people who should not be there, and they are the issue, there and elsewhere, and when they come we leave. But, when ready for it, dozens of foster dogs have learned good social skills at dog parks. I've taken some to adoption meet & greets where they had far better meeting and social skills than the resident dogs. Sure, I've seen incidents, but relatively few for over a thousand trips to dog parks.

  4. Debby

    Aren't all behavior consultants "rehabilitating"? That is certainly what I do on a daily basis with my client's dogs and I know that is what my colleagues do as well. Plenty of shelters have play groups with just the shelter dogs, carefully chosen and rotated. I don't think anyone should be managing a large group of strange dogs. That is simply asking for a problem, in my opinion and completely unnecessary.

  5. Gerry Glauser

    Debby, no, the simple behavior consultants are not doing rehabiliation. I work primarily with unadoptable dogs and issues you may never see. Very few shelters actually have play groups, although Aimee Sadler's Playing for Life ( is making some changes, as a national program, and they routinely manage large groups of strange dogs. It takes a certain amount of knowledge and skill to do so, and few shelters (or dog trainers) possess that. Aimee is trying to teach them, and has logged over 100 shelters. As for being unnecessary, Aimee gives some of the reasons on that web site.

  6. Debby

    Hi Gerry, I have worked in shelters since 1997. I am familiar with play groups. Play groups done correctly don't use aversives. Amy does use them. Many of her ideas are great but aversive use is unnecessary. Well done play groups are not large groups of dogs all thrown in together at once. They are small and dogs are rotated in and out frequently for best results.

    All behavior consultants working with aggression absolutely do what you are calling rehabilitative work. I see pretty much everything and aggression is something I work with almost daily. And have for quite a while. As far as "unadoptable" dogs, perhaps you are unaware of my other recent positively blog post? Can and Should Every Dog Be Saved? I suggest that you check it out.

  7. mkwithrow

    Excellent article! I just posted about this on my Facebook page this morning. I know of one bar in particular that is relatively new, they have decided to make it "dog friendly." Sounds nice, right? But wrong for the dog's sake and the sake of the business. The night I was there a small fight broke out, neither dog misdirected on any person breaking it up, BUT it's not IF but WHEN a patron gets a bite or another dog injures another dog, I don't think your insurance company is going to like that and when you then have to change your policy to be "humans only" you are going to be the GOAT when you have to turn folks away because you have changed your policy. Can we please let dogs be dogs? Thank you for this article, excellent.

  8. Gerry Glauser

    Debby, you appear unfamiliar with those play groups where you NEED to deal with hundreds of new dogs with limited people. Where using your alternative means only a fraction of that number will ever get out, and even they will have limited exercise and time to learn social skills. Where many dogs marked aggressive will soon die unless you find out that's wrong. Your views there appear to be consistent with those views on dog parks. In both cases, "well done" should be defined more by ethology, behavior and need than a person's opinion. As for your comment on "...dogs all thrown in together at once.", I've never seen Aimee ever do that and I have never said or done that, so I don't know where you came up with that. Nor is "aversive" a black/white word, but often needs to be defined in terms of the dog's response, and not the trainer's opinion, else most dog owners and dog trainers I've known are using unnecessary aversives. (See O'Heare, 2014, LIEBI Algorithm and definition of "aversive", Assoc. of Animal Behavior Professionals.)

    I've lost count of the number of people who have told me they know play groups. But then I bring them in with a group of dogs and they are lost when I ask them what is going to happen next. Where I had to do a M&G for a guy who runs play groups as he couldn't predict if the new foster dog would fit in. How yesterday we were bringing into play group some dogs where had been marked as animal-aggressive. Where most went fine, until one dog where the other play group manager and I both immediately saw a likely issue, and both of us reacted together. Where, out of more than a dozen people (and dog trainers) it's only the two of us who can consistently and accurately predict behavior well enough to handle any dogs.

    I agree that all behavior consultants are doing what you understand to be rehabilitative work. However, there remains a difference between repairing a door and building a house, in the number and depth of skills needed. I've worked with a local Karen Prior instructor who does behavior work, and we work well together, but our worlds are very different. I've referred some cases to her or her students, but she knows the types of dogs and issues who have come for several weeks of rehab before then moving to one of her students for training. Both are necessary and important parts, but also different.

    Debbie, I just read that blog you suggested on "Can and Should Every Dog Be Saved?". Your first example there is an extreme, which is rarely the issue. I agree with some other points you make, but you appear to remain only at extremes. As for rescues who rehab aggressive dogs, there certainly are those such as you describe, but others are very different, unless you feel that Karen Overall and Jean Donaldson promote "old fashioned" training methods. And by far the much larger problems involve not only lower levels of aggression, but also a variety of other issues. These together with a lack of capable resources.

    So, should you save 100 dogs with great temperaments, or 25 dogs who have no training and limited social skills, or 15 dogs who seem to be afraid of the entire world, or 6 who seem aggressive?

  9. Debby

    I'm sorry that I didn't see this when you wrote it. Gerrie, we will never agree. I see your views as extreme and inaccurate. I repair houses every day according to your analogy. I don't look at the little picture. I look at the big picture. IMO, those who are placing themselves above other experts with far more experience, are the dangerous ones out there for the dogs. The majority of the dog experts out there work well together and don't place themselves above each other. Sadly, that is not what I am reading here. Now please go about your own business and don't worry about mine. Thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Episode 838 - Nicky Campbell

What do the Beatles, Rolling Stones and Long Lost Family have to do with dogs? BAFTA winning radio and TV presenter, Nicky...

Episode 837 – Beyond the Operant

Obedience training has long been the accepted path to teaching dogs’ manners, but the concept of obedience might be doing dogs a...

Episode 836 – Free Work and Adolescent Dogs

What is Free Work and how do dogs benefit? Dog behaviour expert Sarah Fisher joins Holly and Victoria to discuss how Free Work is...

find a vspdt trainer
Schedule a consultation via skype or phone