Exercise. Can a Dog Have Too Much?
The couple both have full time jobs and two very young children. My own daughter can barely manage this and is exhausted a lot of the time. Imagine adding a young dog that needs his own time and attention too.
This is the case of the young couple I have just started working with. They have a beautiful Greyhound Labrador mix called Dexter. Dexter is two years old.
As time has gone by, the training games and mental stimulation they used to offer Dexter have decreased. Now it can sometimes seem more of a duty to look after and exercise him that has to fit into their busy day.
These things can creep up on us.
To ‘multi-task’, they combine their own running for fitness with ‘walking the dog’. When not running, they are chucking a ball for him.
Exercise has created a super-fit, souped-up machine!
Dexter pulls from home to the place where he is let off lead. On lead he is agitated and on the lookout for cats. He is ready to bark and lunge at any dog he might meet. The young lady in particular gets really cross and frustrated with him – understandably – and her lead corrections do no good at all.
The problem is that this lovely dog, polite, child-friendly and sweet at home, becomes a bit of a devil when out and especially when encountering smaller dogs.
Except when he has a ball stuffed in his mouth!
Off lead, Dexter submits to bigger dogs. Smaller dogs he may see as prey, something to chase at least. It starts with stalking. Then he charges them.
He has now slammed into a King Charles Cavalier and, the other day, a Cockerpoo puppy.
The scared little dog is bowled over and then Dexter gives it multiple little nips. No physical damage done, but a very frightened little dog that now himself may become reactive to dogs and a justifiably upset owner.
Dexter gets ‘nibbly’ when aroused, as I experienced for myself when left alone with him for a short while and I was fussing him. It seems a logical conclusion that if extremely aroused he may become more nibbly.
Instead of giving Dexter a calm and controlled base from which to encounter other dogs, they are doing the very opposite. Like many people, they wrongly believe that physically tiring out the dog with exercise should cure all problems.
The opposite is often the case. Too much exercise can do more harm than good.
The dog is bonded with the ball, not his humans.
When not running with him, they are relying on a ball. He loves his ball. The young man bounces it as he walks down the path which stops the dog pulling.
Dexter’s relationship is largely with the ball, not them. When he carries it in his mouth it shuts him down – like a dummy. It blocks out everything around him.
Once at the field and Dexter let off lead, the ball is thrown – repeatedly. Imagine the dog is clockwork with a key. Repeated ball throwing is like winding him up until over-wound.
The ball is a gift really. I now suggest they only use it for associating other dogs with good things, for redirecting his urge to chase – but only when needed. No more firing him up with it. They can use it as a dummy or plug in his mouth in emergency only.
It goes without saying that when Dexter sees another dog, off lead and with no ball in his mouth, he is highly aroused. He is ready for the chase.
The chase drive has been constantly conditioned by all that ball play and running.
When he gets to a ball he grabs it. What should he do with a small dog? He doesn’t want to kill it like prey, but he can’t play with it either. He is highly aroused. What next? It seems he repeatedly nibbles at it.
It’s about living in the moment, not stressing to get running or chasing.
They will be working hard on engaging with him more, both at home and when out, so that they can get his attention when it’s most needed. He will be taught to walk on a loose lead because he wants to be near them.
Meanwhile, they must prevent further rehearsal of the unwanted behaviour. Each time he does it he gets better at it. A puppy may then be condemned to a life of being scared of bigger dogs which isn’t fair.
A mix of far less physical arousal but more mental stimulation and enrichment along with ‘engaging’ with him more, should make a big difference, given time.
It can be hard to convince people that less is more where exercise is concerned. Looking at what the dog would be doing when out, without humans involved, seems the logical way to approach at it.
Street dogs can decide just what they do and when. Little of the day is actually spent running or chasing, even in hunting or herding breeds.
With so little time, they don’t need to spend much longer on Dexter than they do already.
They can be doing something different in the time they already spend.