A vigorous…walk will do more good for an unhappy but otherwise healthy adult than all the medicine and psychology in the world.
- Paul Dudley White
I had a client about 1 1/2 years ago who had a very unruly 10 month old Goldendoodle. There was nothing behavior-wise that was wrong….the dog just acted like it was on a combination of adrenaline and espresso. Wiley wasn’t a bad dog – there is no such thing – he just couldn’t control himself. There was a lot of jumping, barking, and worst of all, a pretty bad case of the “zoomies”, where Wiley would just suddenly decide to run through the house like the Indy 500 for about 20 minutes or more. There was no controlling Riley at these points.
So I worked with Riley’s mom. I explained that all Riley needed was Piloting, Activity and Work. When we discussed the Activity part of PAW, I asked what kind of exercise Riley was getting. How long of a walk were they going for every day?
They weren’t. At all. No walks because, as Riley’s mom put it, Riley was just too unmanageable on a leash. After bounding through the front door like the Kool Aid Man, Riley would drag them, choke himself out, and generally act like Miley Cyrus in a nightclub with an open bar. It wasn’t pretty. I couldn’t really blame them for not wanting to walk Riley. He was a jerk. But the thing is, it wasn’t his fault. He was literally starving for activity, but trying to satisfy that need in all the wrong places.
I always think of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities in this kind of situation. In the book, the people were in such a state of poverty and deprivation that they resorted to trying eating grass. That’s what was going on with Riley – in the absence of appropriate exercise (for which he was famished) he got his exercise in utterly unacceptable forms.
So we discussed the various ways to get Riley the exercise he needed, which went way beyond a walk (see some ideas below). I wanted Riley’s mom to work smarter, not harder. We discussed how much exercise a dog of his nature would probably need once he was full grown, and why he needed so much as a young dog. We then went for a walk (Riley tried his utmost and did a great job, for the first time ever, at the end of the leash). Riley’s mom was receptive and seemed willing to put in the effort required. I walked out of the house feeling happy.
Unfortunately this story does not have a happy ending.
Two months later I got a call from Riley’s mom. My methods weren’t working right. She was Piloting Riley as I told her to, and had even bought him an enrichment toy to feed him through. He was still, in her words, being a jerk. I asked about the Activity he needed.
“We aren’t as good about it as we should be. We take him for a walk a couple times a week around the block.”
Now I was angry. Suppose I only fed you a couple times a week, and when I did, I only gave you a loaf of bread. It’s not enough. Activity and survival are interlocked for a dog. The need to be fast and agile, or strong and powerful, are very powerful in a dog. Dogs have one goal in their lives: the hunt. They are either hunting, practicing for the hunt, or resting from the hunt. There is no in between. Think about the games we play with dogs: fetch, where we mimic running down the prey. Tug, where we, uh, practice pulling our prey down (gross, I know). Even squeaky toys are designed with a dog’s prey drive in mind – it’s the sound of a wounded animal. In short, in a dog’s mind, how are they supposed to survive unless they are strong enough to hunt? They don’t understand that every day we will feed them. That humans have been able to evolve past the day-to-day survival techniques that have served dogs for over 40,000 years. They need to hone these skills every day!
As the famous violinist, Jascha Heifetz said, “If I don’t practice one day, I know it; two days, the critics know it; three days, the public knows it.” The same goes for Activity. You can’t glut yourself on it one day in the hopes of satisfying the need for an entire week. It is an every day thing.
Riley’s mom decided that Riley was a bad dog, and couldn’t be worked with. She ended up giving Riley up. Unfortunately, I don’t know to whom. He was a great dog who just needed a little bit of help with his Activity levels while he was growing up. I hope wherever he is, he is getting his mandatory dose of Activity every day so the good dog he is can shine through.
If you’re stumped for how to get rid of your dog’s activity levels beyond just taking him for a walk, here are some ideas:
- Invest in a dog backpack. The brand I use is by Outward Hound, It costs under $25. Put some weight in the backpack before you go for a walk (no more than 5% of the dog’s body weight at max – in other words, don’t put 1 lb. of weight on a 7 lb. Yorkie!!). Let them wear it around the house when you’re home. I use dried beans, rice or coffee in baggies for weight. Avoid water bottles or anything hard, as we don’t want them to be uncomfortable.
- Try a treadmill. You can get one on Craigslist for under $100. Here’s a video on how to treadmill train your dog. Start slowly and work you way up. The dog in the video took 15 minutes to treadmill train. Both my dogs took almost a week.
- Consider swimming. Are you near a lake, pond, stream, ocean? See if they like to swim! If you’re concerned about them, buy a harness and attach a cotton clothesline to the harness to if they get in trouble you can safely haul them back. Remember, not all dogs can swim!
- Doggie playdates. Nothing wears out a dog like another dog. Is there a dog park near you? What about a friend with another dog who’d like to romp?
- Fetch. Yes, it can indeed be that simple.
- Agility. In my house, agility for Orion involves a 2 soup cans and a yardstick. He goes over, under and around on command. It’s a nice way to top him off.
As you can see, there are plenty of ways to keep your dog happily exhausted. Use your imagination. Are there any other forms of Activity you use that aren’t listed here? Please let me know in the comments!