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Dog Training 101 - Ultimate Guide to Exercising Your Dog

True enjoyment comes from activity of the mind and exercise of the body; the two are ever united.

- Wilhelm von Humboldt

Dog looking at camera while sitting

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The premise of the PAW Method of dog (un)training is Piloting, Activity and Work. Simply utilizing these three components will create the bond of communication you are working towards with your dog. And the communication is key to alleviating some of those unsavory behaviors, such as jumping, barking, and even reactive dogs. In previous posts, I've covered the basics of Piloting and Work, but let's not skip over the big issue: exercise/activity.

Let's just be blunt: most likely your dog is not getting nearly enough activity. I know, I're not a stay-at-home dog parent, and you can't spend 2 hours every day hiking your dog. But just because you're stretched for time doesn't mean your dog can just suddenly not have energy. But dog training and exercise go hand in hand.

At least 70% of my client's issues with their dog's behavior stems from lack of exercise and and abundance of energy.

The problem is everyone thinks that the only way to exercise a dog is by walking them, but that's just not plausible for most dog owners. I would have to take my Border Collie, Arwen, on at least an 8 mile hike everyday to wear her out.

So while yes, I do enjoy hiking, I don't think it's sustainable as an every day adventure. So let's come up with some better ways to wear out your dog.

Walking your dog is still mandatory to prevent Rapunzel Syndrome.

Okay, I made Rapunzel Syndrome up, but run with me on this. What happens after you let Rapunzel out of the tower?

She's either imploded

Or exploded.

In other words, there's too much stimuli happening, and she can't process it. Same thing with your dog. Unless you have them acclimated to the outside world, they will be complete twerps when it is time for the sporadic walk.

So walks are imperative, but don't have to be the way you wear your dog out. There are plenty of other ways to wear your dog out.

Aim for a 10 minute daily walk with your dog at a minimum.

You can do 10 minutes. And it doesn't even have to be very far; remember to never go farther than your patience level allows. For some of my clients, that's around their block. For others, it's merely up and down their driveways as they and their dog learn the basics of leash walking, as I outline in this video. Some need to start even smaller: walking around in house with their leashed dog.

Wherever you are in your journey to walking your dog without drama, remember to start small. You can always build up.

The collar you choose is important. If you've done a training session with me, you'll see I choose a slip/show collar. This is mainly because it's exceptionally difficult for a dog to wiggle out of (looking at you, harness users), as well as providing a better communication method with your dog. Learn more about leash walking here. And my favorite leashes/collars? Check out below.

Walking Your Dog: Leashes and Collars

If you've dog a dog training session with me, this is the exact collar I use.

Pros: Thin enough to be comfortable, yet durable. All in one design works for people and dogs of all heights. This is my go-to leash, and what Arwen and Ellis walk with. Wonderful for smaller dogs who are hard to fit.

Cons: Can be a bit chafing on your hands until you get used to how to properly hold a leash.

Pros: A bit more comfortable in hand than MayPaw. Slips easily through ring to ensure a safe walk.

Cons: A bit too thick for smaller dogs.

Pros: Use your favorite leash with this collar for a good hand-feel while walking. Durable, and lightweight.

Cons: Can be a struggle if you have a large dog, especially for smaller people, so be sure to size properly.

So enough about collars and walking. Let's get on to the good stuff: How to wear out your dog effectively, without you needed to be involved every step of the way.

Dog Back Pack

Black dog walking with owner
Sparta circa 2007 wearing her backpack.

The single most useful thing I've ever purchased out of all the 1am Amazon/Chewy dog supply splurges ever: a dog back pack/day pack.

*Note: I only use these on dogs who are 6 months or older. Talk to your vet before using otherwise.*

All of my dogs have worn them in some fashion. A tiny amount of weight in the pack (more on that below), and you've got a pooped pooch. They wear it all day, as long as you are supervising them (i.e., don't leave them home alone with it on, don't crate them with it, don't go to bed if they're still wearing it). This is the single most effective way to wear out your dog. Learn about how I used it with Ellis here.

As far as what you put in it: rice, dried beans, unpopped popcorn. As far as how much weight? Always err on the side of caution. My Border Collie, Arwen, is about 30 lbs, and she only has 3/4 cup of rice on each side. Seriously, take it easy. It's also advisable to call your vet to get their blessing, especially with dogs who are prone to hip dysplasia, floating patella, etc.

Here are some of my choices of backpacks that I've used while dog training throughout the years.

Pros: Hands down my favorite. This is the pack that Arwen currently uses. I love the velcro fasteners, the ease of putting it on, and especially how most of the weight is carried closer to the shoulders, rather than in the center of the backpack. It's also durable enough for my Arwen-geddon, who hasn't been able to destroy it yet.

Cons: Honestly, I haven't found any yet. Although I do wish it came in other more visible colors.

Pros: This is the one Ellis wore (nonstop) when I first got him, and it was very durable. It's definitely more...rugged, and more suitable for longer hiking excursions. I like the material, which seems breathable and dries faster.

Cons: More expensive. While more secure on the dog, it's a bit more effort to put on.

Pros: Budget friendly, nice, visible colors, and fast drying. I've been using this one since my own dog Darwin had his, almost 20 years ago.

Cons: A bit more fussy to get on. Not as rugged as other choices, so don't go hiking Appalachia with this one.

As I mentioned, a back pack is the easiest way to wear out your dog, provided you use it judiciously and don't overload it. I personally don't go more than 5% of my dog's body weight at maximum, and I have 2 young, healthy, energetic dogs. You can always add weight, you can never un-damage your dog. When in doubt, consult with your vet.

There are other ways to wear your dog out.

Doodle dog running

Treadmill Training Your Dog

A hard sell, sure, but definitely worth it. I bought my first treadmill for Sparta about 14 years ago off of Craigslist for $100. It provided an easy way for me to exercise her and Orion for years.

I finally bought a brand new one from Walmart for $300 simply because it folds up and fits under my daybed in my office. I found this similar one on Amazon recently.

Sparta would wear her backpack and keep a normal walking pace on the treadmill. Orion would forgo the backpack, but could run for a full 15 minutes on it at a pretty decent clip. Perfect for snowy days, rainy days, or days where I just can't work in the exercise they need.

Check out the (older) video below about how to treadmill train a dog. Full disclosure: the video is at least 10 years old, so don't judge the haircut. I thought I wanted bangs. Turns out I wanted a therapist. But shoutout to Geronimo the Jack Russell Terrier in the video, who learns the basics in under 10 minutes.

Other Ways to Wear Out Your Dog

Looking for even more ideas? Here's some more tools to add to your dog training toolbox. yourself a favor and don't Google this one. You will come up with exactly what you think you'll come up with.

However, it is one of Arwen's favorite things in the world, and one of the few ways I was able to wear her out before she was old enough to wear a backpack. You use it the same way you'd use a a fishing pole style toy with a cat (no backpack on your dog when playing with this we don't need any torn ACLs).

Enrichment Feeding Your Dog

Even how you feed your dog can change the amount of activity they get. Instead of feeding them through a stationary bowl or a slow feeder, try using enrichment toys for feeding time. Here are some I love:

If you've ever had a training session with me, you've probably seen this. It's my one-size-fits-all. Easy enough for any dog to use, but engaging enough to maintain the interest of my border collie, Arwen. Any sized dog can use it (I've had Chihuahuas and a Boxer use it in the same training session). So make sure you get the largest size (shown below) rather than the small size.

Bonus: Since it's one solid, round piece, it's very difficult to chew up, so perfect for Ellis.

Best for Uni-taskers and Herding Dogs: Busy Buddy Kibble Nibble Meal

My Sparta loved this toy. I loved that it was big enough to hold all of her food (at over 100lbs., she ate a lot!), so I didn't have to fill it over and over again. Sparta's food was a little bit too large to easily fit through the openings on the end; I easily rectified this by cutting out some of the plastic guards. Perfect.

Bonus: You can see how much food is left inside, as it's clear plastic.

Best for Senior Dogs/Dogs with Health Problems - Busy Buddy Twist 'n Treat Dispensing Toy

As my 5lb Papillion, Orion, got older, his teeth got worse, until finally we had to put him on a wet food regime. There are very few enrichment toys that work well with wet food, but this is one. By twisting the toy shut almost all the way, the wet food has a difficult time dumping out, making a perfect alternative to messy Kongs. Sparta had one as well, even though her teeth were fine. Hers was exclusively for peanut butter.

Bonus: Dishwasher safe (top rack).

Best for Noise Reduction - Omega Paw Tricky Treat Ball, Large

I've been using this ball for years (my beloved Darwin had one over 20 years ago!) It's made of a softer plastic (read: not for destructive dogs) so the largest size can be appropriate for even a small dog. My 5 lb Orion and 100 lb Sparta used the same size.

Bonus: Since it's quieter, it's good for shy dogs.

Best for Rough & Tumble Dogs: Kong Wobbler

Not as mobile as some of the other ball-centric toys listed, this one is a glorified Weeble (if you're old enough to remember those #me!) This used to be the one I used for years with the destructive dogs, until I gave it to Ellis ("Well, you TOLD me to get the food out, Mom!"), so it's not 100%, but most of my more chaos prone dogs have problems destroying it.

Bonus: One of the easier toys to fill.

Double Bonus: Off all the toys listed, I feel this one provides the most physical activity in addition to the mental work.

Best for Over-Achievers: Busy Buddy Tug-A-Jug

The unfortunately named "Tug-A-Jug" is hands down the hardest toy I've had the pleasure of subjecting my dogs to. Out of all the dogs I've had in my life (Darwin, Sparta, Orion, Ellis and Arwen), only Arwen was able to figure it out (see her in action below). However, I did bring it on a training session a few times, and a Jack Russell named Geronimo figured it out within 5 minutes.

She figured it out eventually.

Now imagine your dog getting a workout from their feeding time. Put one of the backpacks on your dog while feeding, and get an even bigger boost of exercise!

Dog Training Exercise: Wearing Out your Dog with Agility

Don't buy anything, and don't take any dog classes. Keep it simple, using a broom stick or yard stick propped up between two soup cans as a jump. It's a simple behavior to learn, dogs love it, and it also counts as mental work.

Check out the video below as I teach my pitbull, Ellis, how to start agility during a Facebook live video.

The more efficient you become with helping your dog with their need to exercise, the more you can start doing what you want with your bond with your dog. Maybe you want a dog who will calmly hike with you for 2 hours every day (it actually helps to eliminate some energy before you hike, especially with younger dogs). Maybe you just want a dog who is content to hang out with you on the couch while you binge Stranger Things.

Regardless of what you want out of your relationship with your dog, it's imperative you give them what they need: Piloting, Activity and Work.

Dog Running

Dog Training vs. Dog Life

By focusing on dog life, rather than dog training, our goals can become so much more attainable and clear-cut. Most of us don't want an obedient dog, we just don't want a dis-obedient dog. Robot-style dogs who are afraid of stepping out of line are for certain types of people I guess.

But that's not my style. That's why I developed the Piloting method of dog training over 20 years ago, a force-free method of dog training and puppy training that didn't rely on abusive shock collars or cruel prong collars, yet didn't constantly bribe with non-stop click-n-treat style dog training. I want a bond with my dog based on trust and communication.

Learn more about our Piloting method of dog and puppy training here.

Find out more about our private in home 30 Day Best Dog Ever and 30 Day Best Puppy Ever training packages here.

Have questions about our puppy training or dog training?

border collie dog

Kerry Stack

Darwin Dogs

Dog Training and Puppy Training

Greater Cleveland Area

Northeast Ohio

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