5 Exercise Tips for Your Dog's Body, Brain, and Behavior

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You come home after a long day at work and find out that your four-footed angel has shredded your favorite throw pillow and tipped over the garbage, strewing it across the house. Your frustration is second only to your desire to find out how to stop your dog from behaving this way.

This scenario is more common than you think and has a simple explanation. We tend to think of dogs as being completely domesticated and an extension of our human world, when, in fact, they have more in common with their wild ancestors that you might realize.

Dogs make great human companions. Unfortunately, what we neglect to remember is that your dog is a relative of wolves and once you look at their habits it is easy to see why your dog might be acting up. Old habits die hard-- dogs were never meant to be cooped up and get no activity and if your dog is a working breed this might exacerbate the problem even more. So, if your dog is chewing or destroying things in your home it is likely because he is bored.

With no outlet for that boredom, many dogs will engage in undesirable activities, and even worse, they may become anxious and depressed. Need more convincing? Check out these reasons why exercise and play can help you deal with your dog’s behavior problems.

#1. Reduce Your Pet’s Anxiety

Think about those days when you are so restless you just have to get out of the house and do something. Dogs are no different, they were never meant to be couch potatoes while you go off to work and go about your day. That anxiety starts as pent up energy and the need for stimulation of any sort. Find games that challenge your pet such as hide and seek or letting your dog determine your walking route. If you have a working breed, consider teaching them a sport such as frisbee or agility. Not only will it be a good mental and physical outlet for them but it will be good for your dog’s human as well!

#2. Walks are More Stimulating Than You Think

You might think walking is boring, but it is for certain that your dog will not agree with you. His super sensitive nose will engage and Fido will probably spend more time sniffing around at his world than he will walking. All this amounts to stimulation as your dog explores his world with his nose. Add in a few new people and other dogs to meet and your beloved pet will be more a much happier dog. Keep in mind that your dog is a social animal-- the more comfortable he is with his surroundings and the more friends he makes the happier he will be.

#3. Give Your Dogs Challenges to Master

Training your dogs to do tricks has more benefits than just showing off to your friends. Teaching your dog a new trick gives him a way to keep his mind from being bored. Challenge your dog by teaching him to walk a balance beam or jump through a hoop. Not only does your social dog get time bonding with his human, but you are making his brain work as well as his body. If your tricks include exercise, don’t be surprised if he comes home from his training sessions ready to take a nice long nap.

#4. Give Your Dog a Job

Don’t let people tell you that it is cruel to give a dog a job. Think about how you would feel if someone tied you to your desk and never let you go outside and get any exercise. Dogs love to work and many of them are not happy if they do not get it. Retrievers love to retrieve and many of them will do so even if you do not give them a job. Herding dogs loved to herd and pulling dogs are happiest when they are at work. While you might not have a spare herd of sheep for your dog to herd, you can find exercises that can take its place and help them to engage in their natural instincts. Nearly every city offers agility classes for dogs and this is a great way to get working dogs moving and burning off energy. If you have a dog that likes to track, set up challenges for them to find or teach your dog how to play fetch or frisbee.

#5. Puzzles are Great for Mental Stimulation

If the weather or time prohibits a play or exercise session, there are a number of puzzle toys on the market that provide your dog something to do when he’s stuck inside or you cannot be home. Most of them involve the use of treats and make your dog work in order to get to them. This simulates wild behavior where dogs must hunt for their food. Making them work for their treat may help to eliminate chewing and scavenging behavior.

Playing and Exercise are Good for More than Just Your Dog

There are many benefits to engaging in play and exercise for you as well, including the facts that having a pet can reduce stress levels and going for walks is great exercise. So, you might find that while you are trying to improve your dog’s mental health, you might just improve yours as well.

A final word of caution, if your dog appears depressed or anxious it is important to have them checked by a vet. While most behavior problems can be solved by healthy activity, sometimes these symptoms can indicate a physical problem as well. A vet check can ensure your dog is healthy and ready to hit the agility course!