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Meeting Your Dog's Needs: Pt 1. Structured Exercise

Our canine companions have 3 basic needs for them to be happy and to live a well-balanced, harmonious life with us.

1. Physical exercise

2. Mental stimulation

3. Structure

As a trainer, I often see the lack of these needs being met. Usually, it's a combination of all 3. When these needs are not met, unwanted and inappropriate behaviors develop. These can include:

  • Behavior problems: aggression, anxiety, resource guarding, leash reactivity, etc.

  • Destructive tendencies: chewing, digging, etc.

  • Pushy/Bossy manners.

  • Disrespectful dogs.


Dog breeds were developed with a purpose, for a job. Yet, the majority of dogs in society are not getting near enough physical activity for their breed's genetics. Look up what your dog was bred to do and ask yourself, is your dog physically doing enough for what they were bred for? If you have a breed that was intended to work daily, does your lifestyle match those needs? Every dog has a different level of exercise requirement that needs to be met. How much does your dog need? A walk around the neighborhood after work probably isn't enough for your dog.

Exercise is important. We all know that. But more importantly, it should be a structured activity that helps wind down the mind as they exercise. Heard the saying "a tired dog is a happy dog"? Well, that's not completely true. Some exercises will mentally wind up your dog and do more harm than good which most often develops over time. These types of exercises do not have to be eliminated from your dog's life, but should not be the main outlet for them.

Does your dog love the game of fetch? Coming home from work every day and only throwing the ball to make them tired, is going to mentally wind their mind up by throwing it over and over and over and over and over. It may work in the beginning to tire out your dog, however, you will create a dog with stamina and endurance and a mind that can't settle down afterward. A game of fetch isn't a bad thing! It just shouldn't be the only outlet for exercise for your dog. Try adding some obedience and tasks in between each throw to help that mind settle down.

Like to send your dog to doggy daycare or meet up with your friend after work for them to burn off excess energy? Oftentimes, playtime that is regular with no structure can create problem behaviors mentally and socially. Social time should not be a source of regular exercise. As a trainer, I have seen a lot of unwelcoming behaviors from dogs that attend regular unstructured daycares. Mostly reactive problems and pushy dogs. Daycares are not bad, but they should not be your main go-to for getting your dog exercise. Be sure to look for a daycare that has structure in their program and truly understands canine body language in a pack environment! Most, unfortunately, do not.

Listed are some great structured exercises you can provide to meet your dog's needs.

  • Running - enjoy having a running buddy!

  • Hiking - never hike alone!

  • Swimming - perfect that doggy paddle!

  • Treadmills - a great way to get a workout in for your dog at home!

  • Dog Sports - try something fun with your dog! Agility, dock diving, weight pulls, etc.

  • Herding - utilize those herding genes!

  • Bikejoring - hit the trails!

  • Fit Paws - improve balance and build strength!

I encourage you to add more structured exercise to your dog's life! Your dog, and you, will be glad you did!

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