We all know how important it is to exercise our dogs, to: walk them, play with them and even train them. We are now as a society also realizing how important it is to exercise their brain and provide mental stimulation (see one of my previous blogs). Do you also know how important it is to teach our dogs to switch off? To teach them that they can be calm and happy just… doing nothing!
Not only is this an essential skill to teach your dog in order for them to fit into our often busy lifestyles but it’s crucial for your dog to learn that life is not always go go go; putting too much emphasis on exercise and physical activities increases levels of both adrenaline and cortisol. These stress hormones are healthy and normal for short periods, however it’s important to allow our dogs to have down-time in order for those hormones to return to baseline levels so as not to impact on long term health.
I’ve heard the myth many times that more active dogs need ‘3 hours of walking a day, multiple games and to be worked constantly in order to calm down at other times’. Although it is absolutely true that our dogs need adequate exercise and environmental enrichment, having this mindset could be detrimental to our dogs and make it impossible for them to relax when we need them too, due to increased levels of the stress hormones mentioned above. There should be a balance and our dogs naturally should be sleeping and resting more than us humans, activity should be followed by adequate rest times.
I am sure you’ve heard that routine is extremely helpful when raising puppies and in this I agree; making their environment predictable allows them to understand what is expected of them. When creating a routine that works for you and your dog I advise adding calmness and sleep into the plan. I often ask my clients to consider having a daily layout that roughly adheres to the following pattern:
1. Physical exercise (game, walk, sports, play).
2. Mental exercise (training, scatter feeding, scent, puzzle feeders).
3. Calming activity (natural chews, stuffed Kong, lickimat or snuffle mat).
4. Rest and sleep (can be combined with the previous step in your dog’s designated quiet area).
This pattern can be repeated 2 to 3 times a day depending on what works best for you. Use food to your advantage, as I have mentioned in previous blogs, consider reducing food given from a bowl and save it for the routine. When feeding kibble I often save this for: training, scatter feeding, snuffle mats and puzzle feeders. When feeding wet/fresh/raw I use these for stuffing Kong, Topp’ls and similar toys.