For owners of special needs dogs, getting proper exercise can be especially challenging. Without proper exercise, many naughty behaviors can erupt at home, because a dog full of energy and no outlet for it, is a recipe for disaster. There’s a whole lot of truth in the old saying that “A tired dog is a good dog.” While I tend to think that all dogs have good in them, getting our dogs to a tired physical state can really help special needs dogs.
Part of the trouble is that special needs dogs are often reactive or anxious, or even aggressive on walks. They don’t always do well in new environments, and they are often very difficult for their owners to manage on a leash. So a crazy cycle gets repeated over and over. Owners, in an effort to exercise their dogs, continue to expose them to the very behavior they don’t want….over and over. What happens next is that their dogs get a strongly entrenched habit of behavior established. The dog becomes even more reactive, more anxious and more aggressive with practice.
What if we take a different look at how we walk our dogs? Exercise is exercise. It’s not about where we go, it’s all about the length of time that we’re walking. You can walk your dog briskly for 30-45 minutes in your driveway and guess what? You just took your dog for a 30-45 minute walk without even leaving home!
You can try walking your dog two mailboxes away from your house….back and forth to and from your house for 30-45 minutes as well. Again, you just took your dog for a 30-45 minute walk! This sort of pattern can also help any of you who just have rowdy dogs. Over time, you can expand your walk to three mailboxes and then four, and so forth, until your dog is able to cope with a walk around the neighborhood. I’ve worn out many, many dogs in a client’s driveway, and that can really make a huge difference in exercise and training!
For special needs dogs, it’s perfectly okay to never leave the yard or driveway for exercise. Just focus on keeping up a brisk pace, and you’ll do a fine job of exercising your dog. Remember, the idea is to wear him out, and that’s hard to do if you meander or mosey. You need to break a sweat, and keep your dog on the move!
For Rugby, walks in the neighborhood of any kind are completely out. He has far too many triggers to cope with anything, and there’s just no way that I can control the environment. When I take Rugby for walks, we go to a local cemetery. Yes, you read that correctly. I walk Rugby in cemeteries. Most large cemeteries have nicely paved roads, and you’ll have to agree that it’s really quiet! I never encounter the usual neighborhood distractions, like joggers, kids on bikes, other dogs being walked, etc. Rugby can’t cope with any of those things, so a quiet walk in a cemetery gives him an outing, some exercise, and we can come through the ordeal unscathed for the most part!
So give these ideas a try! Remember that it’s not about the distance that you go away from home. It’s all about the amount of time that you’re walking! Have fun, and be sure to let me know how this works for you!