Using Structure & Exercise to Change Behavior


Some dogs need a great deal of mental and physical stimulation on a daily basis to help them get rid of their pent up energy.  Anything that happens fast, quick or obsessive is burning physical energy while slow things based in working, waiting or concentraing burn the mind.  Its important to burn both. 

When you combine exercise with a strucutred routine you can even get the most difficult dogs to change their ways.  

Ways to mentally fulfill a dog include:

  • Walking with a loose leash.  Preferably with the dog by your side
  • Walk with a backpack on the dog.  Put 2-10 lbs of sand or rice in the pack OR start with an empty pack and stop along the walk and have your dog wait while you slowly fill the pack with weight.  Helps dogs concentrate
  • Long downs.  Get your dog to laydown and stay in that position until they are completely calm and relaxed before releasing them.  Start with 1 minute and work up to 30 minutes.  You can do the same with a long sit.
  • Search games
  • Obedience work - getting dogs to concentrate and perform tasks for you is a mental work out and a great way to bond with your dog.
  • Go to social places like a Farmers Market or Home Depot and practice long downs until they are calm and relaxed.  Then reward.
  • Having a dog be calm when other dogs are excited is a mental challenge for many dogs.
  • Sheep herding

Ways to physically fulfill a dog include:

  • Running
  • Playing fetch games 
  • Rollerblading
  • Biking - biketowleash.com
  • Treadmill (its also mental until they get used to it)
  • Agility (its also mental until they learn it)
  • Dog parks and playing with other dogs
  • Swimming
  • Sheep herding

Combining Exercise with structure into a daily routine:

There is no perfect routine so the idea is to create a daily routine that gives your dog what they need and that fits your schedule.  All dogs need mental and physical exercise and for many that is all you need to "fix" your dogs issues.  Others may need to do more structured in order for the changes to happen.  

Structure is order to a dog.  Having a daily plan of what your want from your dog and then executing that plan is what structure is.  The more serious the issues the more structured you need to be.  

Putting your dog in a "place" while you eat dinner and making them stay through the whole process is an example of structure.  Some dogs need to be anchored with a leash to help them understand the concept.  Have a "place" in each area of the house and that is where the dog goes when you are in that area of the house  

The daily routine below is what I use when I have owners who really need help.  Adjust the routine and exercise to fit your schedule and needs.  

  • Long mental walk first thing in the morning
  • Free time in the yard or house to relax
  • Feed 
  • Next, they need to be in a "place" while you do your morning routine.  They must stay put during your entire routine.
  • Then work on basic commands for 5-10 minutes.  Down, place and come are useful.
  • After the obedience practice I suggest playing with the dog doing something they enjoy.
  • Wait for them to calm.
  • Bring them inside and let them relax for about 10 minutes and then crate them.  The dogs have been exercised, played with, worked with, eaten and now its natural for them to rest.  You can leave them crated for several hours and have no problems as long as they are fulfilled.
  • They must be calm before they come out of the crate.  Not sure how to do this?  Check out the link about getting your dog calm
  • Let them out of the crate and out to use the bathroom.  This is a good time to play with them.
  • End the games and get them calm before bringing back in.
  • Dinner is another good time to "place" them.  They must stay put during the entire dinner. 
  • Now feed them.
  • Evening walk
  • Wash, rinse, repeat.