The Right Balance Between Rest and Activity For My Dog
Agility training on Mondays, obedience class on Tuesdays, dog dancing on Wednesdays, mantrailing on Fridays and constant training sessions during walks – nowadays, dogs often have hours of active time every day. Where is the time for relaxing strolls, or snuggling up on the couch? And what about time for the dog owners themselves? Of course, as in every extreme example, there is also the opposite case: dogs that do not get enough activity and are bored most of the day. But how can we find the right balance between rest and activity?
What kinds of activity are there?
First of all, it is important to know that there are different kinds of activity. Among other things, there is cognitive activity, or brainwork. That includes mantrailing, for example, and other nose-related work like search and retrieve or tracking.
Activity also includes the physical side, such as walking, jogging, agility and tournament dog sports. Balance training, like the Degility program, is a sub-category of this. The third type of activity is building social contacts with other dogs and people. These three types do not need to be practiced equally, but they should all play a part in your dog’s life.
How much activity should I provide for my dog?
An important aspect of activity is its intensity, in other words the level and duration of the activity. It is important to differentiate dogs by their age groups. As a rule, a puppy or a senior dog needs less activity than a two-year-old dog, which is at the peak of its strength. Among other things, that is because a puppy is very busy processing sensory input. A senior dog, on the other hand, just like us as we age, needs rest and time to relax.
But regardless of age, a dog fundamentally needs much more sleep than we human beings do – between 17 and 20 hours a day. In fact, dogs can experience negative health effects if they do not get enough rest. A dog may not have a job like us, but simply by adapting to our habits, they use up a great deal of energy.
Too much of a good thing
Activity can also become a vicious circle. If dogs are wound up from too much action, they have trouble calming down. As a result, dog owners often think they need to give their dogs even more things to do, when in fact they really need rest. It is also a mistake to think that only exhausted dogs are obedient. Exercise and mental training alone cannot solve problems like destructive behavior in dogs (chewing/gnawing on furniture, rugs, etc.).
It is also important to know that dogs adjust to the level of activity. In other words, if a dog is used to doing a lot, at some point it will demand that level of activity. So in that sense, less is more.
What is important about the balance between activity and rest, and how can I find it?
Try to set your own interests aside and find out what your dog actually likes to do. Watch the dog carefully – what makes it happy? Does he blossom during agility training? Does she like learning new tricks? You can also use the typical character traits for your dog’s breed as a guide, although they might not always apply. Make sure the training takes place in a relaxed atmosphere. If that is not the case, you should consider changing activities.
In addition to finding the right activity type for your dog, it is also very important to find the right balance between rest and activity. Give yourself and your dog plenty of breaks. You don’t need to feel guilty if you just take your dog for a walk one day and don’t engage in any other activities. It is good for you and your dog just to enjoy being together sometimes, and not to worry about training issues.
Another key aspect is balancing activity and rest not just in your day-to-day life, but also in the training itself. For example, if you take your dog to the dog park, you should teach your dog to relax there, too, so its energy level is not constantly high. Finally, you also need to find the right balance between the three types of activity we named above. Again, you should pay attention to your dog’s needs. In any case, it is very helpful and in your dog’s interest to use the three types according to your dog’s preferences.
Can too little activity have negative consequences?
A dog is getting too little activity if, for instance, you only take it for a ten-minute walk every day and there are no other activities. As a consequence, dogs will find ways to occupy themselves that people usually do not appreciate. They might bark excessively, run around the house or guard certain rooms in the house or the garden. In the worst case, the dog will turn its frustration against itself, chasing its tail or chewing on itself. These symptoms are not necessarily caused by too little activity, but they can be a sign of it.
Can too much activity have a negative effect on my dog?
If your weekly schedule is packed with various training sessions, as described at the beginning, and your dog hardly has any days off, the dog is probably getting too much activity. Even if you are only trying to do the best for your dog, scheduled rest and relaxation times are very important. Too little rest can cause behavioral problems, among other things. That is because too much training causes pressure, stress and strain. When the body is out of balance and under constant stress, it releases stress hormones, like adrenaline. If the stress persists over time, it can also cause physical problems and illnesses in dogs. Stress weakens the immune system, affects the digestive system, and can lead to kidney, circulatory and/or heart disease. It’s great to teach your dog new things, but don’t overdo it; instead, focus on balancing rest and activity. You will both be more relaxed and you will also enjoy the training more, which is the ultimate goal. Signs that your dog is under too much stress: restlessness, extreme panting, strong reactions to environmental stimuli, excessive bowel movements/urination, and a generally nervous disposition. Depression and increased aggression can also result from stress.
Some final words of advice for you and your person-dog team
You shouldn’t follow presumed guidelines. For instance, it’s a common misconception that dogs need at least two hours of exercise and activity a day in the form of walks. Even ten minutes of intense training, like “nose work,” can be so tiring that the dog has had enough cognitive activity for the day and a short walk is plenty. There are no generally applicable recommendations, since the activity length and type need to be tailored to each individual dog. See what is fun for you and your dog, how tired your dog is afterward, and then plan the next day according to the dog’s current physical condition. Dog activities that are too stressful are not doing any favors for either you or the dog. Give yourself and your dog time to exhale and time to be by yourselves, when you can just be a dog and a person.