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Why A Tired Dog isn’t Always a Good Dog

five dogs
"Winnie" holds drop with my team and our friend Juno

As a dog trainer, I cringe repeatedly when I see people who are desperate for help with their dog – the dog is destroying the house, chasing the cat, barks the neighbourhood down or has separation issues etcetera - and the dog owner is being given the really cliched advice to take their dogs for more walks. Take their dog running. Get their dog to run beside the bike. Exhaust that dog before you head off for work and you won’t have an issue.

Wake up world! You're building yourself an exercise junkie. A really badly-behaved exercise junkie. And we all know that junkies need more and more, and more to be satisfied.

As a dog mum and dog foster mum, I understand the reality is that most people simply do not have the time, energy, or inclination to take their dog for an extensive exercise session before heading off to work, simply to make sure that they are exhausted enough to be well-behaved, when they are simply going to have to repeat that day in and day out.

The Role of Exercise and Stimulation

a border collie
"Winnie" working on her loose lead walking

Now, I’m not saying don’t walk your dog. Or run/bike with them, whatever you and they enjoy. Please do. Make sure that it’s appropriate to their age, health, and energy requirements.

But this all needs to fit within your abilities and lifestyle as well.

The Limitations of Physical Exhaustion

We need to understand that physical exhaustion might indeed have the side effect of making a dog too tired to play up for a while, but that doesn’t make the dog a well-behaved dog. If they don’t receive the same level of exercise or more, on the next occasion they’ll certainly revert to their usual poor behavioural choices.

They are just temporarily tired.

What’s more, as their adrenaline addiction grows and their fitness increases, they’ll certainly need more and more exercise. It’s important to have a fit and healthy dog, but you might just be creating something you cannot handle. They’ll quickly become much fitter than you can ever hope to be.

Mental Stimulation Matters

a border collie
"Winnie" learning to hold her long drop

Instead, think about providing ways for the dog to truly use their brains. This process, if you get it right, is exhausting for them.

Think about the way that we feel if we have spent a day sitting in a lecture hall, learning something that is challenging for us. Even though we are not using much in the way of muscles or physical energy, the learning process is tiring, if not downright exhausting.

Finding the Right Balance

Similarly, getting your dog to use their brains and learn something they have never learned before, don’t want to learn, or that takes intense self-control, is likely to leave them exhausted AND simultaneously improve their obedience or manners.

Whilst there is a massive commercial push these days towards using dog toys and puzzles to occupy and stimulate our dogs (and I’m not averse to these as part of a well-structured life) I’d much prefer to suggest the following sorts of exercises for your dog to start learning, practice regularly and use routinely:

a border collie waits at the door
"Winnie" waiting patiently to be invited inside
  • Teach them a long drop-stay or mat-stay and work on building that under distraction into something they can hold for an hour minimum – practical for you, requires intense concentration from them, and builds a life skill

  • Work on something behavioural that they will find challenging and that will make life easier for everyone when they succeed such as not pinching food off the table or chewing the kids’ toys when left lying on the floor

  • Teach them a boundary, such as not rushing in or out a door or gateway or never coming into the kitchen, where you can also teach them to self-regulate for a gradually extended period of time

I teach my dogs, my foster dogs, and my clients' dogs all of these and more (and you too can access them today if you want to in my program Creating My Canine Teen-Angel!)

Building a Well-Rounded Canine Citizen

a border collie
"Winnie" the Border Collie

All these things should work together to build general listening skills, impulse control, manners, self-regulation and a generally respectful demeanour.

By all means, also incorporate the things that our dogs need and want:

  • Playtime and games with you

  • Proper walks during which they can learn solid walking skills

  • Activities that fulfil genetic needs

  • Walks during which they can sniff and explore politely

  • Tricks and puzzles

But one or all of these will not teach your dog to behave nicely whether you are present or absent.

The amount of effort that you might need to put into your training, manners & behavioural exercises, as well as the play, walks and other fulfilment activities, will vary a great deal depending on the age, breed, and activity level of your dog. Hopefully, you’ll have taken some of these things into consideration in your choice of dog, but if not then now is the time to make sure that you can give your dog what he needs so that he can give you what you want.

Case Study: "Winnie"

a dog and a cat
"Winnie" holds drop no matter what the cat does

“Winnie” was a very energetic young Border Collie, a happy and cheeky young girl who was untrained and into everything. One day her family arrived home to find her in a lot of pain.

With a tummy full of compost, “Winnie” was in dire straits and required surgery to save her life. She was a very lucky girl and came through with flying colours, but post-recovery she was no better behaved and in fact, her behaviours were heading in the wrong direction, in spite of games, fun and an awesome, energetic life.

When we began training, “Winnie” was challenged to learn to sit, drop and stay on her mat no matter what distraction was presented or how long it was required. Drop for an hour became an easy achievement for her over time. Staying on her mat for even longer was a challenge to begin with but she was up to the task. We asked her to learn to not come charging through an open doorway, unless invited, no matter what was going on in the house, and to leave the cats alone full stop. These things were not only practical for the family but required intense impulse control from "Winnie".

The more we asked of her, the more tiring the training became, but she adapted so well and turned into a fun and friendly girl who was a lovely dog to spend time with. Being left at home alone gradually became something that we could contemplate, though perhaps with no compost heap just in case.

So, if you're relying on walks and exercise currently to try to get things under control at home, I suggest you consider a holistic approach to life, training, and fun times. Give your dog what they need genetically. Give them what they want to have a fun life. Challenge them to give you what you want, and need, and make it truly challenging. They just might surprise you.

If you set your bar low, they can reach that.

If you set your bar high, they can reach that.

About A New Leash on Life Dog Training

a lady with three dogs
Zander, Keryn, Jaffa & Miki

Because I use a balanced approach to dog training if you choose to train with me, we will be using positive reinforcement and rewards, but we will not be using food. I prefer not to rely on food because I don’t want to take food with me every place I ever go, I don’t want my dogs to learn to ignore me if I have no food or run out, and I don’t want to end up in a situation where I might still be of less importance to my dog, even with food, than the dog he's playing with or bird he’s chasing etc. Additionally, I do use the word no, and I do teach a consequence process for ignoring me or for an unacceptable behavioural choice, but without resorting to fear, intimidation, or pain.

So, for me, I train my dogs the way that I feel aligns with my belief system – rewards for listening and good behaviour but without food reliance – consequences without violence for inappropriate choices.

What do you believe in?


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