A lack of exercise is the number one reason so many of our dogs have behavior problems. This is true with my own dog, and I see this with every dog I know. The dogs that get enough exercise are the “good” dogs. The rest are destructive, nervous, hyper or bored. It's really that simple. My mutt is an anxious, annoying wreck if he hasn't had a walk. He follows me around crying, is obsessive about his toys and destroys things when he's left home alone. But if we run for a few days in a row, he is a different dog, close to perfect.
I recently read the book “Cesar's Way” by Cesar Millan, better known for his National Geographic Channel show, The Dog Whisperer. His book is a guide to understanding everyday dog behavior. Although Millan's book addresses many “issues” our dogs deal with, one of his strongest messages is to make sure your dog is getting the exercise he needs. I couldn't agree more. I really believe any dog owner can learn from reading this book, no matter how experienced she is with dogs.
Millan says dog owners need to provide their dogs with three things in this order: exercise, discipline and affection. The problem in the United States is that people only provide one thing: affection. Our dogs need exercise and leadership before affection, he says. And an easy way to provide both is through the daily walk. Unfortunately, most dogs don't get this kind of exercise, not even close. Many people think of walking the dog as a five-minute walk around the block so the dog can go to the bathroom. Millan recommends a minimum of two 30-minute walks per day. Of course, some dogs will need longer walks.
Throughout his book, Millan provides valuable information for any dog owner. He explains how a dog communicates by using energy. One mistake people make is to communicate with their dogs as though they are humans. We talk baby talk to them, we mistake their excess energy as happiness, and we lose our tempers and scream at them to get off the couch, to stop barking, to heel. But dogs communicate on a different level. They see a leader as someone with calm, assertive energy, like Oprah Winfrey. And this kind of leadership is lacking in so many households when we allow our dogs to jump on us, pull us out the door and pretty much do whatever they want. Dogs actually want leadership and structure in their lives, Millan says, but when their owner does not act as a leader, then the dog is the one who actually takes on the leadership role.
In his book, Millan describes in detail his formula for a balanced and fullfilled dog. He stresses over and over to provide exercise, discipline and then affection. He also provides tips for living happily with your dog. He describes the power of the pack, how we screw up our dogs and how to deal with dangerous dogs. It really is a valuable book that I hope more dog owners will read.
I especially appreciated the section on how to act as a leader from the first day you adopt a new dog. I took his advice seriously and began walking Ace right away. The first afternoon after I adopted him, we went on a long walk through our neighborhood. I also established rules with Ace from day one such as not allowing him on the furniture, having him sit before eating and before heading out for a walk. Continuing on with basic exercises like these and adjusting them to fit my dog's personality as I got to know him better have helped build a more stable relationship between Ace and I.
“Cesar's Way” really covers everything and is filled with all kinds of suggestions to deal with behavior problems such as obsessive barking, pulling, separation anxiety, aggression, nervousness, whining, even toy obsession, which I need to work on with my mutt! I really recommend that all dog owners read this book.