You’ve traveled this route many times. Your footsteps are on automatic pilot and your dog is tired of smelling the same patches of grass. You continue your daily walks sticking as closely to the same path like a beagle honing in on a scent because your dog needs exercise for his health and as an outlet for pent up energy. Walking is what you are supposed to do with a dog, right? Well, yes, but there’s a movement afoot that challenges the traditional ideas of what dogs and humans can do together for fun and physical conditioning. So if you and your canine companion are getting a little bored with the same activities day after day, here are some suggestions to shake up your routine.
Follow the Dog
Try this twist for your daily walks. Instead of walking your dog, have your dog walk you. Wherever she goes, you go. Think of your dog as a four-legged, furry, walking GPS that isn’t letting you know where the final destination will be. You’ll be amazed where the nose will take the two of you.
Running with your dog is like multitasking — you and your four-legged athlete get to enjoy the great outdoors while increasing stamina and strengthen muscles. Dr. Lucy Spelman, renowned veterinarian, educator and author on domestic and wildlife animals, agrees that running with your dog is a great activity with one caveat: “Remember it’s your dog’s outing. You should be willing to stop when the dog wants to stop — to sniff and greet other dogs and people — even if that slows you down.”
Another high-energy activity is Flyball. In this competitive sport, dogs are part of teams and the rules of the game are similar to a human relay race. Dogs race down a course, which includes 4 hurdles. At the end of the first leg sits a box with tennis balls. The dog must stomp on this box to release a ball and then return to the starting line carrying the ball while jumping the hurdles. Once he or she crosses the starting line, the next dog takes off. The goal is to be the fastest team without penalties. Some penalties include dropping the ball or a dog taking off down the course before his or her teammate crosses the starting line.
If your dog has a lot of energy or pounds to burn off, find an agility group or class. This high-energy, running, jumping competitive sport is not only great exercise, but develops confidence and new skills.
Not all dogs are tracking breeds, but just about any dog can participate in the sport of tracking, a competitive event for dogs and handlers. A scent trail is laid out hours before competition. Once the trail has “aged” dogs, with the encouragement of their owners, begin the work of finding an object at the end of the trail.
A simple game of fetch can be all that is needed for your dog’s daily exercise fix. Fetch is easy to squeeze into busy schedules, as there is no need to travel far to fit in a game. A close-by park or backyard works great and on rainy days, fetch can be an indoor sport, played from the comfort of your couch.
The best forms of exercise for any animal are the activities they would naturally do. For dogs, playing with other dogs fits that definition. Dr. Spelman notes, “If you watch a group of dogs in this setting, they create their own games and expend their extra energy they way they choose.”
Don’t forget to exercise your dog’s brain. After puppyhood and the basic obedience commands have been taught, cognitive challenges tend to drop off. Find some silly, fun behavior to teach your dog, like high fiving or bowing on command or go for more advanced behaviors such as emergency down or command by hand signals.
Hide & Seek
Similar to tracking, nose work takes advantage of a dog’s innate scent capability. Training begins with simple tasks of finding a treats in a hidden box. As your dog gets better at locating objects the tasks get more challenging. Not only is nose work an excellent exercise as your dog bounds from place to place looking for the prize, but nose work also develops your dog’s focus and confidence as well.
If you’re a fan of Dancing With the Stars, you may want to try dancing with your dog. Based on obedience training, but with more elaborate footwork, movements are choreographed to music as you and your dog go through an original “dance” routine. Free Style also offers opportunities to strut your stuff in competition.
Taking your daily walk and following the same path isn’t such a bad idea as dogs like routine and continuity, but throwing in some new ways to work off pounds and energy and just enjoy each other will open up new opportunities to expand skills, become more confident and just have fun – for you and your dog.