It's no great veterinarial mystery that dogs benefit from regular physical activity. What may surprise some pet owners, though, is that not all doggie exercise is equal. So while you may feel grand for popping the back door to let your terrier cavort in the backyard for a half hour a couple of times a day, you're actually doing little to help your pooch. The proper remedy, however, is only slightly more taxing: taking your dog for a nice walk.
Dogs benefit a couple of ways from regular controlled exercise: They use up energy stores, but they also learn discipline while they're at it. The most basic exercise is what trainers call a controlled walk. When you take your dogs for a walk, don't allow them to walk in front of you and don't let them sniff everything in sight. You'll quickly notice that your walks become training time for your pet, as gradually he or she will come to understand that you're the one in control. Soon enough, you'll see that your dog will begin to look to you for social cues. Once you've established this relationship, you can then move on to some more advanced controlled exercises, such as running, hiking, biking, skateboarding, and so on.
Besides the benefit of training your animal and establishing a social hierarchy, walking the dog also helps tire restless dogs out. Much of this fatigue may be attributable to performing physical exercise, but a fair amount also comes from your dog exerting mental energy once he realizes you're the one in control. That may sound odd, but consider all the random stimuli dogs encounter on a walk – a running squirrel, a wind-swept plastic bag, other playing dogs, or a sunbathing cat. The act of resisting all those temptations by focusing on you, your cues, and your commands, is a real brain drain for dogs. (Humans too, actually; try working out while studying a physics or calculus textbook and see how extra tired you get.) The double energy exertion of a controlled exercise, then, is going to keep your dog focused on what you are trying to accomplish and, at the same time, tire him or her out more quickly – and we all know a tired dog is a well-mannered dog. To the contrary, if a dog is left to its own devices, running amok in your backyard, the potential for it to get in trouble increases dramatically. Be a good owner and give your dog a proper exercise routine.
MensJournal.com contributor Taylor McKenna is the head trainer and a co-founder of The Confident Dog in Brooklyn, New York.