Exercise Your Creativity

Let me start off by saying that neither my husband nor myself are athletes, or even what you would consider “spring chickens.” In fact, the AARP seems to have recently taken a real interest in us. (Retired? What’s that?) And yet we have two young, energetic northern breed mixes who came complete with serious exercise needs. So how do we handle it?

My husband works full-time outside the home, while my schedule is more flexible. Each morning before he leaves for work, my husband takes one of our dogs out for exercise. During non-rattlesnake season (the winter months), he’ll take either Bodhi or Sierra hiking up in the mountains behind our house. This has resulted in his four-footed personal trainers getting him in better shape than he’s been in years. As he’s navigating the trails, I have the other dog out at a local park, exploring, sniffing, and walking for a few miles. As often as possible, on the weekends we engage in “urban mushing,” which entails hitching the dogs to a one-person scooter they pull on a level dirt trail. It’s incredibly fun for the dogs and for us. Still, we’re always looking for new and creative ways to exercise our fur-kids. Since so many dogs are under-exercised (which, of course, leads to less than desirable behavior), I’d like to share a few thoughts.

We’re all multi-tasking twenty-four/seven, yada yada yada…you know the situation. But if I could wave a magic wand (we trainers all have them, you know) and give you a few days worth of what life would be like with your dogs if they had truly adequate exercise, you’d be super motivated to keep providing it. But with limited time, how can you realistically provide enough exercise? Well, most people already find the time to squeeze in a daily walk or two. For many these are “potty walks,” meaning fifteen minutes or so in the morning before and after work. The dog eliminates and the walk is over. (Tip: many dogs learn that pottying ends the walk, and it then takes them longer and longer to go. To avoid this, allow at least a few minutes of walking after your dog eliminates before turning back toward home.) Get up fifteen minutes earlier so your morning walk is now half an hour long. (If you can swing forty-five minutes or an hour, even better.) If your dog is fit and has no physical issues, add a doggy backpack. Do your research and buy one that is comfortable and fits well. Start off very light. As your dog gets accustomed to the feel and the weight, you can add a bit more weight. (Manufacturers and your vet should be able to provide guidelines.) Small water bottles make it easy to manipulate the load. Most dogs become accustomed to backpacks very quickly, and the nice thing is that you are not spending any more time than you usually would on your walk, yet there is more exertion required by your dog.

If you bicycle, you’ve got a great, fun way to provide exercise. There are a number of attachments that will allow you to fast-walk or run your dog next to your bike, including the Springer and the Walky Dog. The bicycle should be introduced carefully by allowing your dog to walk next to it first. Offer treats if necessary. Once your dog is comfortable, start with short distances, and choose dirt tracks as opposed to pavement whenever possible, as it will be easier on your dog’s joints and paw pads. The nice thing about the attachments is that they absorb shock so that if your dog pulls, you won’t get pulled off the bike. There is also “bikejoring,” where your dog is out in front of the bike pulling. Google it for details.

Another pulling sport is mushing, on snow if you get adequate coverage in your area,  and urban mushing if you’re pretty much snowless, like we are here in southern California. Your dog needn’t be a typical northern breed to participate—Labs and other breeds can pull as well. An online search will turn up instructions, discussions, and groups in your area. Strong, heavily muscled dogs can even participate in tire pulls and other weight-pulling sports.

Now, if you have a Chihuahua, pulling heavy objects is probably not going to be in your future. But there are plenty of ways to exercise smaller or less athletic dogs. Even on a normal walk, smaller dogs and those with shorter legs are working twice as hard to cover as much ground as larger dogs, so you’re already halfway there. Typical play such as chasing a ball or running off-leash in an enclosed area may be perfectly adequate to wear your dog out, but if you are unable to provide that sort of exercise (and unable to hire someone else to do it), and/or are house-bound, try the Chase N’ Pull tug toy. It resembles a fishing pole with a furred squeaky toy on the end. You get to sit in a nice, comfy chair as you cast the toy from side to side while your little fur-ball happily chases after it. Speaking of furred squeaky toys, playing tug is another nice way to burn off some of that canine energy, whether by using a plush toy made for the game, or a rope tug.

Whether your dog is large or small, young or old, training sessions are an excellent way to provide exertion. You may not think of training as exercise, but put it this way: what would make you more tired, taking a thirty-minute walk or a half hour of balancing a seriously unbalanced checkbook? (I know from experience which one would make my head explode.) Mental stimulation is tiring, so make the most of it: Training sessions, interactive toys such as Kongs that have to be unstuffed, puzzle toys such as the Nina Ottoson toys…the choices are virtually limitless nowadays, and it just takes some trial and error to find what works best with your dog.

There are so many more options for exercise than I’ve listed here, but I hope it’s given you food for thought, and motivated you to try some new things with your dog. It’s worth the effort. Being well exercised translates to better behavior, which will make you happier as well. And who knows, your personal trainer might just end up getting you both into great shape!

* The amount of exercise your dog needs depends on age, breed, health, and activity level. Consult with your vet before starting any canine exercise program.

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Positively Expert: Nicole Wilde

Nicole Wilde is the author of ten books and lectures worldwide on canine behavior. She is a columnist for Modern Dog magazine, and blogs for Positively, the Huffington Post, and her own blog, Wilde About Dogs. Nicole runs Gentle Guidance Dog Training in southern California.


20 thoughts on “Exercise Your Creativity

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Exercise Your Creativity | Victoria Stilwell Positively -- Topsy.com

  2. peter Kelly

    My friend has taken into care from her daughter (due to her having a baby)a small dog that they have been unable to cope with due to it continually barking and attacking anyone or thing that enters the house,they are considering having the barking stopped by having some surgical procedure done to the vocal cords???of which I am totally against,or having it put into care!
    and have told them that training is the best answer,but I think they just don"t know how to!Any suggestions????

  3. Mark Moore

    In regards to the doggy backpack. We do this regularly and I have found that dried beans work great for adding weight. Simply buy some dried beans at the grocery store and either leave as one pound bags, or separate into smaller ziptop bags for in between weights. ?In the warmer months, you can freeze the bags of beans and then use them as a cooling jacket on the walk.

    Good tips in this article.

  4. Mildred Ellison

    I have a young Springer Spaniel and could never keep up with the amount of exercise he needs. I am an avid bicyclist (road and trail) and started teaching him to run next to one of my hybrid bikes (I call it 'Bear's Bike now.' It's terrific for both of us, and he just loves it. I have to remember not to go too fast or too far, so he doesn't get injured or start to hate it, but otherwise, it's great!

  5. Jeanine

    I walk my dogs, I try to get them to a puppy daycare to play with other dogs. I fill Kongs with meals and use puzzles toys with treats. A favorite play toy are the Kong Zingers rings, a great throw toy that turns into a tug toy for my two as they fight over them on the way back to me. I also purchased a kids bubble machine that I set out on a table and let the bubbles fly around the yard, the dogs love chasing them. It takes some thinking to keep two young Welsh Terriers busy!!

  6. KarenJG

    Boy, this post is timely! I am currently fostering a dog with much higher energy than I'm used to (and higher energy than my own dogs, as well). I have joint problems that preclude longs walks for exercise. For those in similar situations, I'd like to share a new game I've invented: I call it "stair fetch." It actually has two purposes - exercise and practicing the "give" command.

    I stand at the bottom of the stairs, and throw one of his two favorite squeaky toys up to the landing at the top. He, of course, runs to get it. I then squeak the second toy (still standing at the bottom of the stairs). He runs down (carrying the first toy) to get it. I use the "give" command (while squeaking the second toy I have in my hand), when he releases the first toy, I throw the second up... you can guess where it goes from here.

    If he's not into toys, treats work too, only practicing the "come" command (instead of the "give") after he runs up after the first treat. That is, call the dog down, give him a treat for coming, show him the next treat, then throw it up. Rinse and repeat until dog is tired (but not exhausted - you don't want him stumbling while going up or down the stairs).


  7. Jo

    I used to keep four terriers on a 14 acre smallholding and barely ever walk them because of the space available, they had a daily burn out inside a 20x40meter indoor school. They were completely bonkers, chewed chairs and tables, peed, and pooped in the house and hounded guests. We now keep one shiba inu in a two bed cottage and walk her at least three times per day. One 30 - 45 mins in the morning including recall training and frisbee and the odd play with local hounds! One middle to late day walk around the estate (15 - 20 mins) and a late night wee before bed (10 mins). Down to the pub a couple of nights per week and the occassional long hike up a Derbyshire peak. Just life really but with her in it, she seems happy with that. Likewise since we had her at 8 weeks old I have made sure to cultivate rest with her and now if she can grab me in between exercise she will sleep on me allday. The cultivation of group rest is something that is lacking from most lives but it is priceless. If you want a calm dog teach the art of deep rest after exercise. Heaven. Even high energy dogs can go deep.x

  8. Annette

    I found an indoor dog park. It's a great solution for my two little Min Pins during cold Long Island winters. It exhausts them. But in the colder cliimates exercise becomes an issue for us. Unfortunately Min Pins can't pull us or tires. I tried the fish-pole toy. They hate walks in the cold sometimes. So exercise can be a challenge in winter. I noticed that my dogs need to get out of the house as well. It gets boring for them if they stay in all day long, so I take them to my mother's house to give them a change of scenery. But do you have any other suggestions for little dogs in cold climates?

  9. Nicole Wilde Post author

    Thanks all for your kind comments and for sharing your stories and excellent suggestions!
    Annette, I would set up an indoor agility course for your min-pins. You can make your own equipment, but they also sell mini-versions of real agility equipment as a set. The mental stimulation of learning how to navigate the obstacles combined with the physical exertion would be great for them.

    Peter Kelley, as your question was off-topic from the blog but I would like to help, please email me privately if you would like at [email protected].

    KarenJG, the stairs game can be great. I just wanted to point out to those reading that young dogs (under a year and a half or so) should not be running up and down stairs constantly for the same reason dogs should be that age or older normally for agility (stress on the joints). A creative game, though, and I'm sure exhausting for the dog.

  10. KarenJG

    Nicole, excellent point about the age concern. My foster is 4 years old, and I usually foster older dogs (3+) so I wouldn't have thought of that. And, I have another caveat - the indoor game shouldn't take the place of regular walks. It's just that our walks are shorter than he needs for exercise. Getting out and about, seeing new things, people and places, and smelling new scents is important for any dog to be properly socialized. It's just that for us, walks are short, and primarily for mental stimulation rather than exercise.

  11. Nicole Wilde Post author

    KarenJG, thanks for clarifying that the dog you're fostering is older than that. You know how many people read this blog, I just wanted to be sure others didn't try it with younger dogs. Thanks for the further clarifications, and the great information. 🙂

  12. Andie

    I have a border collie and a catahoula leopard dog who are both bundles of energy. I took them both (individually) to agility classes and then built some of our own equipment. It's easy to do using PVC pipe and fittings. The nice part is you can take it apart and store it under the bed. I put the equipment up in the great room in a circle around the furniture and we play agility. It's a great way to burn some energy for all 3 of us at the end of the day and works on the stay command for whichever dog is not participating.

  13. Nicole Wilde

    Hi Paige, I'm not sure, it just came up when I posted. Maybe because it's on my profile somewhere. Sorry not to be of more help--maybe email the website administrator.

  14. Chrissy

    I have a young heeler mix who isn't what I'd call extremely high energy, but he does need to run at least every other day. Living in a city can make this a bit of a challenge, but I have found ways. When the weather is nice I take him to a local park for some frisbee or a play date with my mom's dog. He goes to doggy daycare once a week and off leash hiking once a week.

    When the weather is really horrible we have found that 'hide and seek' is a great way to burn his energy. My husband and I will take turns hiding in the house and calling the dog. As soon as he finds one of us, the other calls him. After 10 minutes of this his tongue is hanging out and he's burned off a lot of energy from both running around but also using his brain and senses to find us!

  15. Pingback: Some Creative Doggy Exercise Ideas | My Doggy Genius

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