Alexandria, VA – “A tired dog is a good dog.” It’s classic dog trainer wisdom. But ask some frustrated owners, and things seem less clear:
Owner #1: “You want to know if the dang dog is getting enough exercise? All I do is walk that dog!” (Pardon his mood. His young lab mix just ate the kitchen molding.)
Owner #2: “Sheesh! We have a giant fenced yard, and another dog for her to play with. There are squirrels, for goodness sake.” (Her young husky mix just bowled over her daughter’s friends. They cried.)
Owner #3: “We know that mental stimulation is a big part of the equation. We go to training class once a week, and practice every day.” (Their young shepherd mix is barking her head off as we speak.)
It turns out that exhausting a dog is harder than it sounds. These owners are heading in the right direction, but they’re missing a key strategy. Dogs – especially those who are big, young, and bursting with energy – do best with a daily combination of things that offer exercise and stimulation: walks, training, doggy play, sniffing adventures, and a good long chew.*
“Who the heck has time for that, you Crazy Dog Lady?” (Yes, I can hear you from here.)
The fabulous answer is: you do. The magic formula takes one hour and 29 minutes per day, and it can multitask as your own exercise, stress management, and social engagement. After a few months you may well report that you have a beautifully behaved dog, and you’ve lost seven pounds, you feel closer to your neighbors, and your blood pressure has dropped!
The Daily Magic Formula is:
1. One off-leash 20-minute romp with a fun dog that is not a housemate. Unleashed doggy play takes the edge off of an energetic pup like nothing else. Find a neighbor or two and a fence, and chat over coffee (six feet apart, these days) while the dogs enjoy an approved outlet for those natural mouthy, jumpy impulses.
2. One 30-minute leash walk at a brisk pace, with half a dozen quick stops for training (sit/stay/down/spin/etc.). It’s amazing how much better walks go when you bring your treat bag and start rewarding great behavior. It’s more interesting for you, more stimulating (and tiring!) for your dog, and infinitely more bonding for you both
3. Three all-positive three-minute training sessions where the dog can earn treats, starting with sit, down, and touch. Adding stay, shake, and spin will show you how smart your dog is. Teaching “Bang!” will have you inviting people over just so you can show off.
4. One engaging solo activity like a good chew or a food puzzle. This one takes zero time once you’re organized, and is hugely rewarding for your dog.
5. One last 30-minute leash walk “sniffari,” taken at the speed of smell. Gathering scent is incredibly enriching for a dog. Oh, it’s raining? Play “find it” inside. (Ask your dog to stay, then hide treats. Release with, “Okay, find it!”)
Hit this daily goal, and the aggravating behaviors that come from boredom and excess energy will fade away. But the true magic is that by weaving this engagement into your everyday life, the bond between you and your dog will deepen, dramatically. Think you’re close now? Just wait.
*Oh, you have a young, big dog who never does anything unsavory and all you do is a little walk? Your human baby probably slept through the night at three weeks too. Your best approach is to say a little prayer of gratitude and keep mum.
Kathy Callahan, CPDT-KA, is the author of the forthcoming book 101 Rescue Puppies: One Family’s Story of Fostering Dogs, Love, and Trust. More about her PupStart dog training business at www.puppypicks.com. Follow her foster puppy adventures on Instagram @puppy.picks.