|A Tired Dog is a Tired Dog
By Kathy Diamond Davis
Author and Trainer
tired dog is a good dog!� You�ll hear it everywhere. Got a
large, athletic dog with no job to do, except hang around the
house? Get the dog tired and you�ll have a well-behaved, happy
dog. A hard run before you leave for work, another when you get
home, and the dog settles. Does this work? Does it have a down
job for a dog needs to engage both brain and body. How does a
dog think? We can�t entirely know the answer to that, but we
know dogs have instincts that would help them survive in the
wild. They also have drives that have been shaped by selective
breeding to enhance talents that humans have desired. These
include herding livestock, retrieving, indicating game in the
field, searching by scent, chasing by sight, and other pursuits.
Different terms are used for these behaviors, but basically they
are �hard-wired� in the brain.
you need to change a behavior a dog is doing because of genetic
heritage, your best chance is to channel that behavior into a
similarly satisfying outlet for the dog�s instinctive urge.
Chasing something and fetching it works for a lot of dogs.
We�ll use it as an example here because it�s flexible and
fits many dogs, but of course there are other mind-and-body
pursuits you may find for your life with your dog instead. Your
dog�s thing might be therapy dog visits, educational work with
children, earthdog trials or any number of other pursuits.
who crave complex problems to solve can track, trail, or
air-scent to the target. These tasks are not only satisfying to
the dogs but are extremely useful to humans. When dogs know they
are performing a needful task (and dogs DO know), they feel just
as happy and fulfilled as humans similarly blessed in life.
retrieving, tracking, and searching; dog and handler work
together. Your dog is fulfilled and you are a part of it. It�s
not as easy as turning the dog loose in a field or dog park to
pursue wild things or scuffle with other dogs, but look at the
Scent work is hard work! It�s tiring for the dog, sometimes
even more so than the same length of time spent running. If your
dog needs an outlet for energy, searching the back yard for
something you place there makes a good one. You can even do
searching tasks in the house.
The dog who needs an activity mostly to keep busy can search for
a toy, treats, or even dinner. Keep meals served in this manner
light, since a dog should not be extremely active on a full
stomach. If you feed multiple small meals a day rather than one
big one, this is not difficult to arrange. You can also make the
physical work easier and the mental work harder by hiding the
object well, but in a small area for the dog to search.
Dogs doing mental exercise along with their physical exercise
are at lower risk of injury. If the dog is in pain or not
feeling well, you are right there to see the problem and
interrupt the activity to help the dog. Hard running without
handler attention can result in torn feet, toxic exposures,
contact skin allergy reactions, structural injuries, worsening
of any illness, and even occasionally sudden death. As dogs
tire, they become more prone to injury. If they are interacting
with other dogs when tired they can also be more easily
triggered to fight.
When dogs exercise their minds along with their bodies,
they�re getting smarter! Working under your direction,
they�re becoming more bonded with you, too. You are the one
who takes the dog interesting places to do these interesting
things, and sets up the fun games around the house. The dog
thinks you are awesome!
Unstructured exercise has effects on the dog�s other behavior
due to the chemicals involved in the body. The dog just
mindlessly running after anything that moves likely feels
something like a human �runner�s high.� This is addictive.
People tend to consider it a �good addiction,� but people
choose whether or not to do it, and can be fully informed of
whatever they might be doing to their bodies.
go with their feelings when we don�t direct them with training
and handling. They can�t make a connection between what they
did an hour ago or yesterday, and how their hips hurt now. They
can injure themselves because they tend not to feel as much pain
when highly excited.
wild activity, dogs can also push an injury that would have
healed with restricted activity into one that will require
surgery. Since the dog is running like a maniac, the human
can�t believe the dog could be hurt. Thus the dog doesn�t
see the veterinarian in time to get put on restricted activity
and heal the injury at a minor stage. Failure to recognize such
injuries leads to all sorts of other problems, including anxiety
you and your dog do things together, there will be pauses in the
action and chances to take stock of how the dog is doing. Work
with your dog on control exercises, too, including training to
stay. For their own well being and to be good companions, all
dogs need to know how to behave with composure. Training and
working with your dog should always include this ability.
need to learn to exit a crate or other doorway calmly, to hold
still for collar and leash to be put on and taken off, to ride
safely and quietly in a car, and never to exit a car without
permission. All of this will aid your active times together and
naturally fit into the training you do with your dog. Whenever
the dog seems like a runaway horse; stop, think about how to
slow the dog down and insert control points, and then start
training toward that goal. Training will be safer�and so will
your dog�s life.
When you and your dog exercise minds and bodies together,
you�ll get more good places to go. Join with other people who
have similar training goals. Learn the skills to continue
becoming a better dog handler�there is no limit, absolutely
none, to how good you can get at it. There will always be more
to learn. That�s part of the fun. Getting together with other
dog lovers and seeing your dog doing things he loves to do are
some of the other parts.
places you get to go with your dog for structured dog activities
tend to be safer than where you might wind up going just for the
purpose of tiring the dog. More people can check the grounds for
safety, the group can get property owner consent to work dogs
there, and the other dogs will be under the control of people
find a group of like-minded dog people, you might start by
contacting volunteers in local dog clubs. The American Kennel
Club website, www.akc.org,
lists AKC member and licensed clubs by state. Even if the
activity isn�t one the AKC offers titles in, active dog club
members tend to know about other active dog groups in the area.
One person may suggest another for you to call, and soon you
find the right group. When you have dogs and a specific dog
activity in common, likely you�ll fit right in.
in a Good Way
a sport or job to do with your dog may seem harder than taking
the dog out for a hard run once or twice a day, but is it really
harder? The trained dog�s training spills over into everyday
life, making the dog easier to live with. The various aspects of
training for any structured activity mean you have some things
you can do indoors on days when getting outdoors isn�t an
dogs learn, they also learn how to learn�so it becomes easier
to teach them all sorts of other things. Everyone who spends
time around your dog will appreciate the training you can do to
give the dog more composure and control. Your dog will be able
to settle down indoors without being exhausted first. The
ability to learn that you create through your work with your dog
stays with the two of you through the life of the dog, and all
sorts of future situations you couldn�t possibly predict will
be easier to handle.
choosing a dog for yourself, think about what activities you
want to fit into your life. Go observe those activities and the
kinds of dogs doing them. Get to know some of the people.
Volunteering to help out will give you a good taste of what that
activity is like. Make sure it�s not such a radical lifestyle
change that you just won�t stick with it.
the kind of dog who can happily fit into your lifestyle, and
train your dog accordingly. Your lifestyle will change somewhat
with the addition of any dog, but there are big differences in
the amounts of mental and physical exercise required by
different types of dogs. Having your own fenced yard helps. It
can�t replace training, though, and probably isn�t safe for
a fenced yard does do is give your dog a clean place to run out
and potty several times a day with minimal effort from you. You
can easily pick up the area daily so the dog�s time out there
is spent in a clean environment. And you can set up training
exercises to do together in the yard. All of this has the dog
off-leash moving freely around but safely tucked inside a fence
with you supervising.
you don�t have a yard, it takes more legwork from you to get
the dog out to eliminate. The dog doesn�t have the freedom to
run a couple of laps around the yard on each potty trip, either.
To keep life interesting and active, you could use a long line
to include a variety of quick training exercises on these
outings. Retrieving, send-away exercises, recalls with and
without drops, seek-backs to items you drop (maybe on a previous
walk to make it even more interesting), stays, full-attention
heeling and other synchronized movements with your dog are all
ways to keep your dog thinking.
or not you have a fenced yard for training, a high-powered dog
of the type that causes people to say �A tired dog is a good
dog� will need activity beyond home. A good way to start is in
a basic training class for puppies or adult dogs and from there
find one or more other groups training for something you want to
pursue with your dog. Keep that dog engaged, mind and body.
That�s much better than tired!
Diamond Davis is the author of the book Therapy
Dogs: Training Your Dog to Reach Others. Should the
training articles available here or elsewhere not be effective,
contact your veterinarian. Veterinarians not specializing in
behavior can eliminate medical causes of behavior problems. If
no medical cause is found, your veterinarian can refer you to a
colleague who specializes in behavior or a local behaviorist.