Tag Archives: exercise

Think Outside the Food Bowl, Part 3

Part 3 Think Outside

We’ve been looking at thinking outside the conventional when entertaining your dog here and here already; now we are going to think far outside food-based enrichment to providing sensory, physical, cognitive and social challenges to help keep our dogs happy and healthy.


When you think of entertaining or exercising your dog, you probably have taking your dog for a walk on the list – perhaps that’s the main form of entertainment and exercise your dog gets.

But what if you consider, that just like food-bowls, taking your dog for a walk may be more of a human convenience device than entertaining for your dog.

Human/Dog Divide

Going for a walk for humans and going for a walk for dogs are very different experiences, even when there is one human and one dog, together on the same walk.

It will not be news to you that dogs love to sniff and although we recognise their love of all things smelly, we are often too wrapped up in the human end of the walk to facilitate sniffing for our dogs’ entertainment.


That may be because the preferred human past-time is walking while talking and taking in the sights – we live to take in visual information and that requires walking at not much more than a strolling pace.

Recently, Patricia McConnell shared this interesting paper looking at ways of improving animal welfare by recognising the importance of olfaction in impacting the lives of animals in our care. Scents are invisible and undetected by us, but their importance in our dogs’ lives cannot be underestimated.

Pounding the Pavement


Asking our dogs to walk with us, at our two-legged-sightseeing-pace, on a loose lead is a pretty tall order. Not only do dogs need to move faster so as to take in lots of smells, they also have twice the number of legs that we do so are very efficient at covering distance.

Not only is walking up, down, back and forth on suburban streets difficult for your dog (at human pace), it’s also probably pretty boring for them too.
To top it off we use devices that restrict their movement even further, sometimes painfully.

Sheesh! this walking-malarky is becoming more and more like a military drill…

See ya – Decker’s done with military style walkies

Human/Canine Compromise

What are you getting out of walkies?

  • healthier lifestyle
  • physical exercise
  • fresh air
  • social interaction
  • chats with friends
  • meeting & greeting
  • see your local world
  • time with your dog
  • a quiet dog, afterwards

With all this in mind, what’s your dog truly getting out of walkies…?

This might be his only opportunity to be exposed to something other than the same four walls so we gotta make it worthwhile!

Your dog didn’t choose this more limiting lifestyle, and indeed has probably been made for something much more exciting, so how can we make walkies-time the best-time?

Variety is the spice of walkies

You have one walk, maybe only one hour (or even less), let’s cram as much enrichment into that time as we can to boost the value of every walk, every outing and every activity.


Check out the human list of experiences – it pretty much covers our four categories of enrichment that our dogs need added to their daily lives. We can come up with ways to tick those boxes for our dogs too.

Sensory challenges:


  • Turn every walk into a sniff – choose locations, routes and times when you and your dog can devote a good chunk of each outing to just sniffing.
    Dogs find almost every area smelly, but particular favourites are those where other dogs have contributed, where wildlife or livestock frequents or where there’s plenty of traffic of different species.
  • Novelty is interesting for many dogs – bring your dog new places that will provide them with different sights, sounds, smells, textures, substrates and conditions.
    Take care and make sure that it’s not sensory overload.
  • Rotate the experience – if you are lucky enough to have access to varied landscapes, try bringing your dog to different places on different walks.
    Woodland, grassland, beaches and waterways all provide very different sensory experiences, especially when you factor in seasonal changes too.
  • Set-up sniffing challenges – you can introduce new and exciting smells for your dog, and what’s more this can be done at home too.Introduce new herb plants that interest dogs (and that are also safe) and by planting them in pots you can rotate them, hide them or arrange them so that they encourage curiosity and investigation.
    Some informative resources here, here and here.

    Use hunting scents (from different animals, available from hunting and gundog outlets online) and rotate these, set up trails or add to a special toy that you can hide and play with.

  • Scent work games will always be popular with your pet, no matter what you practice finding like food, toys, other items and specific scents – it’s what your dog was made to do!

Don’t forget to teach your dog to “Go Sniff!” on cue so that you always have a handy reward (that your dog loves) and so that your dog can get all his sniffing jollies:


Physical challenges:

Dogs are super efficient at burning energy (that’s why they are so easy to overfeed!) so for most dogs, if they are just trotting along beside you on a pretty military-style walk, they are probably not getting a whole lot of physical challenge out of it.


  • Change your pace – stroll, walk, trot, jog, sprint and then back to trot and up to sprint again and mix & match so that your dog (and you) need to adjust and compensate.
  • Warm up and warm down – make sure your dog has plenty of time at the beginning and end of activity to walk and trot, to loosen up and stretch before the real physical challenges begin.
    Speak to your vet or veterinary physiotherapist about the sorts of conditioning and warm-up exercises that would work best for your dog and activity.
  • Balancing exercises – introduce balancing on unstable objects to really get your dog’s muscles and body awareness working; but as always talk to your vet or veterinary physiotherapist so that you can match the best exercises for your dog.
  • Levels, substrates and terrains – rotate and vary the levels your dog must climb, the substrates he must cope with and the terrain he must negotiate as regularly as possible so that your dog gets to exercise different muscles and body awareness skills.
  • Play – teach your dog to play games with you and with you and toys and bring this on the road. This will help you to introduce varying challenges on each walk, changing pace and directions.
    Tug, fetch, jogging with you, flirtpole and chasing with you will bring lots of fun and games to your daily grind.
    Remember, always teach the rules of games first and make sure to help your dog warm up and warm down.
  • It doesn’t always need to involve walking – drive your dog to a safe spot for games or scent work, bring your dog for a swim or a paddle  or enroll in a dog-sports class such as agility.

Cognitive challenges:


  • Puzzles – don’t have to be elaborate or too complicated, just enough to cause your dog to pause and think a little.
    Why not bring a frozen Kong on each walk and have some downtime in the middle? This is an excellent tool for training better settling behaviour and a great way for you to catch up on sightseeing or just relaxing and chatting.
  • Training exercises – when is a better time to practice training exercises than in the very situations you are going to need those cues?
    Start by working in really quiet locations using really really high value rewards to build up some reliability and set your dog up for success.
  • Passive focus – teach your dog valuable focus with lazy dog training techniques.
    Just stop and wait for your dog to get distracted by something. Allow him to watch it but don’t move. As soon as he turns away from the distraction immediately reward with high value food rewards. Soon you, and this game, will become more valuable!
    If your dog has trouble looking away and back toward you, try moving further away, using super-dooper rewards and working for very short times (30 seconds).

Social challenges:



  • SNIFFING – it really is that great to and for your dog and it’s probably one of the main ways that dogs interact socially with other dogs in modern life.
  • Play-dates – we are not big fans of out-of-control-play at dog parks, daycares, group walks or just random meetings and find it much better for you and your dog to meet up with another like-minded duo to hang out with.
  • Meeting people – gentle introductions to a range of people types can be very pleasant for most dogs. Bring treats and work on polite greetings at the same time!
  • People-watching – sitting back a bit from the action and just watching the comings and goings can be really beneficial for many dogs, especially those who find being in the thick of it, a bit too much.
  • Just hang-out – you are the most important entity in your dog’s life. Hang out with him, do fun stuff together, just be with one another. Ultimate joy of living with and loving dogs!


Let your dog be the guide

Help your dog choose – free-choice exercise is probably more beneficial for mental health than addictive adrenaline-junkie-inducing activity.

Take some time out of each walk to allow your dog dictate the flow. I’ll bet his choices will involve sniffing at some point…!

Thinking beyond an everyday walk

Although walkies is traditionally considered the way to exercise dogs, this might not work for everyone and that’s ok too.

Bringing your dog out in the world can be great for lots of reasons but for some dogs alternatives may be even greater.

There are special considerations for puppies and growing dogs when it comes to physical activity. Check out this fantastic piece from Puppy Culture.

Older dogs or dogs recovering from or with injuries or surgery may benefit from much more controlled exercise such as physical therapy, just pottering around the house, hydrotherapy or gentle play.
Intense, regular walking on concrete is probably not terribly beneficial for anyone – another excellent reason for lots of variety in your daily activity.

Dogs who are fearful, reactive or highly distractible may be pushed beyond their coping abilities when brought out and about. Until some work can be put in place with a suitably qualified behaviour professional it may be better to limit exposure to too much, until they have some help with coping better.

Hey! Be more dog. And make sure your dog is too.

Daily dog walks are not the be-all-and-end-all – dogs need daily activity, enrichment, entertainment and exercise, not necessarily in the form of walks.
Try and mix it up and add and rotate different challenges into your daily adventures.

But always remember to strike that balance between mental and physical exercise, with plenty of downtime and calming thrown in for good measure.

Just be

What ever happened to doing nothing?

I can’t remember what I used to do when there was any sort of lull in the action before I had a smartphone.
Anything other than constant stimulation and I am reaching for my iPhone…


The movie Bolt struck a cord when I saw it a few years ago.

It’s about a canine star of a TV show, Bolt, who plays a dog with super-powers saving his person Penny from the Green Eyed Man, week in, week out.
Except, that nobody told Bolt it was just a work of fiction and that he isn’t really a super-dog.


When the cameras stop rolling Bolt is kept in a permanent state of readiness, to fend off attacks by his enemies.

What about pet dogs? 

We certainly invest lots in teaching them to do lots of stuff, to increase their responsiveness, to build their love of learning and interaction.
And we put lots of energy into keeping them active, getting them moving, in the hope that a tired dog is a good dog (but is it?).

When do they get to just be?

‘Just being’ doesn’t necessarily come easily

Pretty much every type of dog was developed for some sort of job and in modern pet-dom most dogs are unemployed.

Our efforts in guiding dogs from wild to pet, whether intentional or not, selected for characteristics such as wariness, reactivity, inquisitiveness, attachment and activity.

Our pets’ lives, just like our’s, continue to become more and more sedentary with us substituting real-life pursuits for those that are easier to participate from a seated position – even sport is a less serious outlet for pretty serious behaviour.

Without outlets for our behaviour, it is channelled somewhere else – I have a Smartphone but what do our dogs have?

Would we know a dog ‘just being’ if we saw one?

It can be tricky to spot a calm, chilled out dog.

With great access to knowledge you might think we have a better handle on canine signalling, but unfortunately our awareness (or lack thereof) is affected by popular media’s interpretation of “calmness”.

Shutdown is not the same as calmness

A dog who is overwhelmed by a situation and can’t use behaviour to escape something they find unpleasant, will often show signs of ‘shutting down’.

This happens because the dog is unable to escape and his requests for relief have gone unheard/unanswered. This is typified by a very still dog – the absence of behaviour is not calmness.

Shut down dogs interact minimally with their environment, their body may be still and tense, if they are moving their posture may be low slung, they will often be frozen, you may see them yawn, lick their lips, and squint and blink (outside of normal contexts for these behaviours).

Eileen Anderson’s clip gives you a run down of some examples, mistaken for calmness:


Calmness myths and mistakes:

  • The absence of behaviour is not calmness (nor ideal)
  • Stillness because there’s no way out, ain’t calmness
  • Stillness through restraint ain’t calmness
  • Lying down through uncomfortable handling or contact ain’t calmness
  • Compliance because they can’t escape ain’t calmness
  • Compliance due to the application of training equipment or techniques (that the individual finds aversive) ain’t calmness
  • “Settling” due to exhaustion, ain’t calmness (is a tired dog, a good dog?)
  • Less behaviour is not necessarily better than more behaviour
If you want less behaviour, maybe the one in the middle ain’t for you…

What does a ‘just being’ dog look like?

A chilled dog is loose, breathing deeply, he may still be monitoring the environment but not really on his tip-toes, he may still be responsive but not in an overly enthusiastic way – but the biggest difference?

The chilled out, calm, ‘just being’ dog is choosing to chill, be calm and be.

Back to Eileen Anderson for her ying to the yang clip:


Teaching a dog to just be

Start by helping your dog to learn that settling, and being calm is excellent!
Check out Week 2 training games from our Train Your Dog Month here.

From ‘excited-by-everything’ to just-be

This dog needs help coming down from the highs, and to better control his swings from up to down.

  • play games with rules:


  • make play training and training play


  • play jazz up/settle down


From ‘let’s go go go’ to just-be

This dog needs help learning that they don’t need to be ‘on’ all the time – good things happen when you’re doing nothing too.

Both in training sessions, and in life, mark and reward doing nothing – even if it’s only a split second – the more you reinforce nothing, the less frantic behaviour you will see.

  • make sure to put behaviours on stimulus control – this means that the dog learns to offer behaviours when you cue them only, rather than as soon as he thinks there might be a reward or he thinks it might be time to work


  • teach calm-focus exercises rather than laser-focus-on-the-task activities

Week 4 of our Train Your Dog Month program

  • make doing-nothing your new job


  • take a break/breath



Hanging out

When we might only have limited time with a dog, whether that be because we are visiting, working long hours or the dog is in a rescue/kennel environment, of course we want to make the most of our time together.

But, a dog who hasn’t been getting too much human attention will be pretty wound up and anticipatory waiting for it. Sometimes, it’s better just to hang out with them – this gives them the opportunity to calm down, bond and be.


Just be…a dog

Don’t forget, that before the dog can just be, he must have an outlet to just be a dog too.


The Joy of Boring Rewards


Do you, your dog and your training a favour and teach your dog to work for, to love and to get excited about more boring rewards.

Many pet owners describe how they ask their dog to wait for their food, before putting the bowl on the floor.
Take that a step further – don’t be uncomfortable with the idea of having your dog offer desired behaviours for each piece of that food rather than the whole meal in one go.

One major benefit to teaching your dog to work for their food, is that their regular food takes on extra significance and extra value.

When it’s harder to get, all of a sudden we want it more…just like these dogs:


This means that your dog is learning to use behaviours to get things that he wants, even though this stuff may not be steak or roast chicken.

Now transfer that to when you want and need behaviours from your dog, when you need your dog to reign it in, when you need your dog to pay attention, you want to teach him a new behaviour  or you just want to divert your dog for a couple of minutes.

If we use our big guns for the most mundane situations, what happens when we really need better ammo?

Here’s Decker and I playing with kibble when out and about – in the first bit there are other dogs, walkers, joggers around us in the park and in the second bit we are walking near the wild deer – not too close because I don’t want them to approach us either!


The most boring of boring kibble is what has his attention here – it’s fun to hang out with me and cardboard-kibble!

Catching and searching are favourite games – by pairing this fun with kibble, the kibble gains more value.

If I wanted to do something really special or tricky or use food to help Decker better cope with a fear or concern I have lots of bigger and better guns in my arsenal such as cheese, chicken, salami, tug toys or tennis balls.

Before you reach for the big guns…

…make boring rewards more fun:
  • make a training mix


Don’t worry if you don’t feed kibble; lots of ideas for other foods here too. 

  • get rid of those food bowls (you knew we were going to say that, right?!)


  • play with your food


  • turn sniffing out food into a brilliant game



  • teach your dog to sniff out food on cue


  • use sniffing games as a reward


  • pair other more valuable rewards with lower value rewards

This works by teaching your dog that every time they accept a boring reward, something they love even more is coming. With enough pairings, in the right sequence, the more boring reward takes on greater value to your dog.

Here Lottie learns that eating kibble makes a tug game happen:


  • check your dog’s stress or worry levels

Dogs who are feeling under pressure, are concerned about something in the environment or are exposed to stressors will be less likely to eat. They may not even want higher value rewards.

Here’s a great outline of signs that your dog may be experiencing some stress and may be overwhelmed, from 4PawsU.

If it’s all too much for your dog, take them somewhere else, bring them away from the hustle and bustle and just let them be – remove the social pressure.

Pain is a major stressor so always be sure to check in with your vet if you are concerned about your dog’s stress levels.

  • check how much food your dog really needs

Something that’s so easy to forget is that dogs are incredibly efficient when it comes to using and taking in energy.

That means that they probably need much less food than they would have you believe.

Check your dog’s body condition:


And have a look at the body condition scoring system and weight management here.

Have a chat with your vet if you have any concerns about your pet’s weight or body condition.

Boring Rewards ROCK!

Soon you will have a dog who is working hard to earn even the most boring rewards, while you still have some ammo in your arsenal for the real training challenges.

Is a tired dog really a good dog?

Well, yes and no….


Dogs need a balance of physical and mental exercise to keep them healthy and so that they continue to be easy to live with. If we don’t provide both and in balanced proportions we could run into trouble…

Physical exercise causes stress on the body – not necessarily bad stress, but the body needs to adjust to compensate for activity, for example, increased heart rate, increased breathing rate and so on.

Please note that mental exercise can cause this too so we must be aware of balancing this within each physical or mental activity, not just broadly balancing physical and mental challenges.

Stress, at a body chemical level, causes the body to become wound up, to prepare for this exertion, to cope with the stressors.


Look at your dog when they are physically exerting themselves…panting, tongue lolling, enlarged pupils, keenly focused on the ball (or whatever is the subject of their exertion)…maybe they jump up a little more than usual, maybe they mouth a little harder than normal…

When we push that physical exertion we can cause the dog to become more and more wound up – you may have made the observation that even after running around like a lunatic, your dog is still up for more even when you have had enough activity.

Where we might run into problems is with the excitement-addict…

Ever heard of the marathon runner who has become ‘addicted’ to the highs produced by exertion?
You will have certainly heard of so-called adrenaline junkies; canine excitement-addicts may experience this and want to put themselves in situations where they will hit those highs, over and over.


Don’t despair – you’re in the right place…

A few things can help here:

  • introduce lots and lots and lots of calming breaks during activity to help bring your dog ‘down’ from the highs – once he’s calmer, reward with the opportunity for more fun
  • increase mental exercise to achieve better balance
  • teaching the dog to settle calmly by rewarding calm behaviour
  • look at the type, amount and suitability of physical exercise provided

A dog that is relaxing peacefully, can calm himself and bring himself down from the highs will have had lots of practice and guidance in this and will be living a balance of mental and physical challenges.

(Is your dog getting up to 18 hours of sleep each day?)

Too much of a good thing…?

How do we strike that balance between physical exercise and mental challenge to ensure our dog’s happiness and health?


The amount of physical and mental exercise that is healthy, will depend on many factors, including:

  • the dog’s age and neuter status
  • the dog’s breed, type and conformation
  • the dog’s current fitness and overall health
  • the dog’s temperament and abilities, both physical and cognitive
  • the dog’s current ability to cope with excitement and stress
  • the season and weather
  • availability of suitable facilities for exercise
  • local laws and restrictions relating to dogs
  • the owner’s ability to exercise the dog
  • the owner’s goals for the dog, for example, is he to become a competitive sports dog?


Considerations for the challenges we present to puppies and young dogs are some of the most important.

Generally the rule for young and growing dogs is to allow them to decide how much exercise they take – allow them to potter, to sniff and to wander.

We often recommend to provide about 5 minutes per month (age) of structured exercise, such as leash walks.
Therefore for example, a 12 week old puppy should have about 15-20 minutes of structured exercise per day.

On top of those important concerns, mental exercise, downtime and appropriate challenges are vital for puppies and young dogs. Adolescent dogs particularly will benefit from extra attention to teaching them how to calm themselves and cope with excitement.



Puppy Culture from trainer and breeder Jane Messineo Lindquist has some really great resources on all aspects of puppy rearing, and this fantastic area on Appropriate Exercise.

It’s often the case that most petslive too sedentary a lifestyle so in many situations more and better physical exercise is required. But, if we bring in physical exercise we also need to put lots of effort into mental exercise too.

For some great ideas on introducing lots of mental challenges, without adding too much more physical exertion check out the book No Walks, No Worries (available from Amazon.co.uk) by Sian Ryan.

Look no further, you’re in the right place – our Train Your Dog Month 2016 program offers lots of ideas and guidance so that you can help your dog develop skills vital to becoming a pleasure to share your life with.