Professional dog trainers tell me it’s more important to tire out my dog mentally vs. physically.
More than one told me my weimaraner Remy should only need 20 to 30 minutes of exercise a day (Ha! Good one!), and that I should focus on trick training, impulse control and puzzle toys.
These are all great suggestions, but I put physical exercise FIRST for most dogs. Especially a high-drive, working dog like Remy.
Remy is a pet, but he comes from a line of dogs bred for serious hunting and endurance.
So as soon as we get up in the morning, we walk.
And several times per week we either run, head to the dog park or hike. We work on obedience training regularly, but we walk every single day no matter what.
Training and rules and impulse control and socialization are important, but exercise makes the most difference for the largest percentage of dogs.
When I used to volunteer to take shelter dogs to adoption events, I enjoyed handling the most “challenging” dogs with bad reputations. They were always well behaved for me, not because I’m an amazing trainer but because I took them running right before the event!
These dogs showed no sign of obedience skills, but they could behave in public simply because they’d had a chance to burn off some stress and energy. I don’t mean running them to exhaustion, I mean just running with them for 30 minutes.
We took Remy to the country for the 4th of July, and I got to see my exercise philosophy in action.
We spent a week with family on their ranch and camping in the mountains. Remy got to be off leash the majority of the time. We hiked for 10 miles, and he got to run and play with other dogs. Simply, he got to be a dog without the limitations of city life.
Once you remove all the extra energy from my dog, he’s a different guy. Calm. Easygoing. Doesn’t nip, jump or run off.
As a country dog, Remy did not obsessively eat dirt or pieces of trash or try to pick up rocks like he does in San Diego. He voluntarily took naps outside and even put himself to bed by retreating to his open kennel.
The difference was unbelievable. My dog’s true personality finally got to emerge.
“Yes, I’m a good dog,” he told me. “I want to be with you. I’m not as brave as I pretend. I’m not very assertive. I just don’t know how to handle my energy.”
Of course, Remy was also tired from meeting new people and dogs plus all of the new sights, smells and experiences. He had a good mental workout.
But you could almost see the energy relax around him after just one afternoon off leash—freedom to run as he wished, make choices and just be a weimaraner.
And now that we’re back in the city with all the restrictions of urban life, I’m looking for ways to continue that freedom for my dog—more exercise, fewer boundaries.
I’ve even loosened up my rules.
Does it really matter if my dog walks at a tight heel? Not really. Does it matter if he sits perfectly in front of me when called? Nope.
But will he stick near me and not run off? Will he pay attention when I say his name? Does he avoid conflict with other dogs? Can he handle himself in new situations?
Perhaps these are the training concepts that matter most no matter where we live.
And believe me, I’m all about training. This entire website is mostly about dog training!
I’m just trying to say that sometimes the solution to a problem is a lot simpler than we make it.
Remove the stress and energy and you’ll remove the behavioral problems too.
Sometimes it’s more complicated, of course. Often, it’s not.
A tired dog may or may not be a good dog, but he’ll have an easier time being himself.
That’s all I’m ever really looking for. Just letting my dogs be dogs.
Do you have a similar approach to exercise and training?
Or do you see it differently?
Let me know in the comments.
Update: Since this post was written, my dog Remy has been training for long-distance running. He’s a much happier dog now that he’s found his true work. He is a lot like the “country-dog” version of him I described in this post.
Also, thank you for supporting That Mutt on Patreon.