Dogs have managed to fill a niche in our society, and there will always be a place for them in our lives. Should it not be our duty to make their lives more interesting?

It is often said that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. This is only true because the dog has used a significant amount of it’s stored energy to exercise. How much exercise is enough? This all depends on the breed, but most dogs should be getting a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise daily. Brachycephalic breeds (those with the flat faces) such as pugs, bulldogs and boxers should only have moderate exercise and at times of the day when it is not too hot. Puppies should also not be exercised too much as this can put unnecessary strain on their newly formed bones and joints.

Is there a right type of exercise? Well, yes. Running on a treadmill in the gym is tedious and boring to say the least. Your brain is not involved at all, other than on autopilot. A run on the road or better yet, in a forest is a lot more interesting as your brain becomes activated by the senses. You get to smell the pine trees, see the different houses along the way, your feet are running on varied surfaces and you hear a whole array of noises. The same applies to our furry companions. Taking your dog for a run on a tight leash is not the way to go. Yes, your dog is getting exercised but its brain is on autopilot. Dogs lead very uneventful lives; they wake up, they’re fed, they are put outside for 8 or more hours without human contact in a garden they have spent their whole lives in, they get fed again and then it’s bed time.

By dedicating half an hour to your dog on a daily basis you’re able to make a very dull day become a stimulating one. Teach your dog a new trick, enroll him into an obedience or agility class, take them to the beach where they can run off leash, let them run in a dog park. Playing a game of fetch or tug-o-war is also a great way to expel some energy in a good, positive way. Even a leisurely stroll around the block allows your dog the opportunity to smell and sniff and get the gears of the brain going. Thirty minutes of exercise coupled with mental stimulation has more positive effects on your dog’s well-being compared to a 2 hour run on a tight leash. If you do not have any areas close to your home where your dog can run off leash, and your only option is to take him around the block, try to change your route a bit. Put him in the car and drive a few blocks and then walk him. This change of route will be refreshing and also offer new and interesting smells.

Dogs really enjoy being taught new things as it’s a great bonding time between companion and owner and it also means that there is reward involved. No dog is too old to learn something new, as long as you find what will motivate him to learn. Rewards do not always need to be edible. There are many classes offered to cater for your dogs needs and are usually inexpensive. Just be sure to enquire that the classes offered are reward based and not involving punishment of any sort (this includes yanking on a dogs chain to “correct” behaviour).

Remember, training is meant to be fun for your dog, otherwise it defeats the point and the brain does not become involved in a positive way.

Happy exercising!

© Melissa van der Merwe

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