Just do it.
Okay, I get it. The holidays are here. It’s cold outside, and you’re just so busy. That doesn’t leave a lot of extra time for giving your dog the Activity that they require. Getting your dog’s daily quota of Work in shouldn’t be that difficult. You are feeding them with an enrichment toy, right? (If not, read this article to find out why Work is so important.) But just because you’re busy doesn’t mean that your dog’s need for Activity is suddenly gone.
Now, I want to go outside as much as the next person in this weather (Cleveland weather can be very unforgiving). But there are more ways to give your dog exercise than just with a walk. I currently have a pack of three, Sparta (100 lb. rottie/shep mix), Orion (7 lb. papillon) and Cody (a Labradoodle that I’m boarding). That’s a lot of dog and I don’t necessarily have the time nor the inclination to take each of them for a long hike every day. That’s why I cheat. There are plenty of ways to exercise a dog that don’t involve freezing outside.
Yeah, I know. I treadmill is definitely an investment in both space and money. But you can pick up a treadmill from Goodwill, Craigslist or Salvation Army for under $100. Do the math: how much damage has your dog done to say, your couch, because they had too much energy? That $100 you spend on a treadmill is actually an insurance policy to prevent your dog from destroying perhaps thousands of dollars worth of items in your home, including your sanity. Here’s a video on how to get your dog started on the treadmill.
When Sparta was 6 months old, my husband and I practically lived at the dog park. Sparta is a huge dog who had a huge appetite for Activity when she was younger. In the winter, that can be problem. So every night my husband and I would take turns with who would take her to the dog park. She would run and gambol among a pack of huskies who showed up every night, come home tired, and not destroy things. If you don’t have a dog park near you, what about just setting up a play date for your dog? Pick another dog of a similar age and similar playing style. Sparta, and my boarder, Cody, both love to wrestle together. Orion is a runner. That leaves him odd-man out, so sometimes I take Orion to my mother’s house to play with her dog, Kiwi, another runner.
No, agility doesn’t have to involve classes or joining a group. In my house, agility is two soup cans with a yardstick balanced across them. All the dogs in my house learn quickly how to jump over and go under on command.
“Over, under, under, over, under, over, over. Good girl, Sparta! Again! Over, under, over, over, under…”
Five minutes of this, and Sparta has had her energy levels at least topped off. When she and Orion were both younger, it could sometimes be difficult to manage their energy while trying to get rid of their energy. In other words, they needed to get exercise prior to going for a walk so the walk wasn’t unbearable. We would do agility for roughly 5 minutes before our walk, and that did the trick. It brought their energy levels down to bearable amounts so I could take them for a walk with more ease.
Another benefit to agility is that it gives you an opportunity for positive reinforcement, which helps you bond with your dog. You’re both working towards the same goal, and each time your dog hit that goal, you create the pack mentality of “we did it together”. Sometimes you really need that positive.
The video below shows how to train a dog to jump through a hoop. The concept is no different when training a dog to jump over a yardstick balanced on two soup cans.
I’ve been touting the benefits of backpacks for dogs for years. It’s a cheap, easy way to top off their energy levels. Sparta below is kindly modeling her backpack. She wears it on walks, but she also wears it inside the house.
When she was younger, Sparta would wear the backpack all day while I was home (never leave a backpack on a dog unsupervised). I would put about 1/4-1/2 pound of weight on each side, and the very act of carrying around that extra bulk all day would take the edge off her. When we would go for a hike, I would add another pound of weight to each side.
A good rule of thumb for a dog is to start out with 1/2% of their body weight total in the backpack. Work up from there, but never more than 5% max. Sparta currently has one package of coffee on each side of her backpack, for a total of 2 lbs. She’s getting older, and I don’t want so much stress on her back and her joints. At 100 lbs., that’s only 2% of her total body weight. I use things like dried beans, rice, coffee…things that disseminate evenly across the backpack (no water bottles, and nothing too interesting, like, say…dog food). No water bottles; they bang against the dog’s ribs as they walk, and are typically too heavy and bulky. Here is a link to the brand that I usually use.
Yes, your dog may love fetch, and it may take a while for them to get worn out playing fetch indoors, so why not make it more difficult? Sparta is not a fetch dog. I wish she were, but as I discussed in this article, you can’t make fetch happen. However, if you have a dog who loves fetch, go for it, but tweak it a little for inside the house.
I put utilize the soup cans and yard stick again from agility. Place it in a threshold through which you throw the toy. The dog has to jump over it to retrieve the ball, thus burning more energy. I’ll also throw the ball up and down the steps. What about putting the backpack on your dog (with a small amount of weight) while playing fetch. Think outside the, er…ball, and see how you can make fetch more of a workout for your dog.
I sometime wonder about the dogs in shelters, the owner surrenders. How many of them surrendered their dogs because the dog was unmanageable in the house, when what really happened was the house became unmanageable for the dog, like in this scenario. Riley never stood a chance against boredom and energy. He was starving for activity, and took his “meals” wherever he could find them…usually in an inappropriate way involving destruction and mayhem.
Piloting, Activity and Work. That’s the PAW Method. It’s a tripod – remove one of those three things and everything topples over. It’s not a smorgasbord or a buffet where you pick which items you want. Yes, getting your dog’s energy levels under control can feel like an insurmountable obstacle, especially if your dog is young. But utilize some of (all of!) these tricks, and you’ll find that good dog buried deep, deep down inside of your beloved canine.