Dogs are incredible creatures. For thousands of years, they have lived alongside us. They have shared our homes, our food and even sometimes our beds. We have altered their physical appearance and even aspects of behaviour as a result of domestication and selective breeding. Indeed, the domestic dog is one of the most physically diverse species on the planet – ranging in size from the tiny Chihuahua to the giant Great Dane.
Despite physical differences, our dogs do have a universal propensity to learn and (usually!) a desire to be active. Granted, some breeds and types are more laid back than others and some dogs can be limited in the activities that they might be best suited for.
However, keeping our dogs moving and learning throughout life is beneficial for their health and wellbeing, as well as for us. Even regular walking helps our dogs explore their environment and manage their bodyweight – while also giving us exercise benefits too.
There are also a number of activities beyond walking that we can do with our dogs. All involve a degree of training and skill for both dog and handler, but they can be fun for all participants, regardless of age, shape, or size. With spring just round the corner, now might be a good time to think about a new activity for you and your dog.
The competitive season for many canine activities is also about to begin in earnest – you might even be inspired by some of the dog and person partnerships galloping around an agility course on TV or a demonstration of canine capabilities at a county show.
Let’s consider why movement is good and what activities might suit your dog.
The Magic of Movement
The dog, alongside the horse, is often described as an incredible athlete. Dogs do have an impressive capacity for speed and stamina and have a physiological and metabolic capacity to deal with high levels of athletic output.
Movement comes naturally to our dogs – running, playing, hunting, retrieving, chasing. These are all fundamental behaviours that we have exploited and developed during our history of living alongside dogs.
Different Dog, Different Activity
However, the wide range of dog breeds and types does mean that some dogs are more or less suited to certain activities than others. Northern breeds such as the Malamute and Husky have impressive stamina and strength as well as the ability to withstand sub-zero temperatures, critical for their original role as transport and draft animals.
The sighthounds are capable of short bursts of speed, but then need time to recover, whereas the intermediate canine athletes such as spaniels and hounds can keep going for longer periods of time, but often lack the top running speed of a Greyhound for example.
Many smaller breeds such as the Pug have been developed for their companionship and physical appearance rather than their athletic skills. Indeed, for our flat-faced dogs, exercise does need careful consideration because their breathing and heat tolerance can be significantly impacted by their physique. However, this does not mean that they are incapable of activity – rather, we need to be a little more aware of the type of activity they undertake and adapt it where necessary.
Did you know that sniffing is both rewarding and relaxing for dogs? Science even suggests that sniffing can make dogs more optimistic about their environment.
Sniffing is an entirely natural behaviour for our dogs. While we are a highly visual species, dogs tend to ‘see’ the word through scent. This makes sniffing and scent work a really valuable activity for our dogs. There are many dogs who earn their living through scent detection work, whether that is looking for contraband, searching our species of conservation interest or alerting their person to certain health conditions.
Even our family pets can take part in sniffing work though.
Lots of scent work classes are available where you can learn to work with your dog’s nose to find items and objects. Mantrailing is where you learn to trust your dog’s nose to find a ‘misper’ – a missing person.
As an activity that is stimulating and fun for dogs, but without the physical impact or athletic requirements of flyball for example, scent work is also worth considering for our older or physically less able dogs. Even young puppies can start basic scent work while they are still growing, and intense physical activity is not advised.
Tricks and Tasks
Your dog does not need to be running miles each day to be active either. Teaching them tricks and tasks is an easy way to keep them moving and keep their brain active too.
Tricks can be simply for fun and might include teaching your dog to give a paw, wave, hide their face and so on – you can be as creative as you like! You might even explore canine freestyle where tricks and movements are done to music – a fabulous outlet for the more artistic dog and human partnerships.
Tasks on the other hand are often tricks or natural skills that you can apply to real-life situations. Dogs that love to retrieve items can be trained to tidy up their toys for example or empty the washing machine. These skills mean that instead of your dog potentially ‘stealing’ socks and running away with them, they want to give them to you, typically in return for a tasty treat or other reward.
You might fancy the challenge of competing with your dog and most disciplines do have competitive options. Obedience, agility, flyball, working trials, heelwork-to-music, rally, gundog tests/trials and a host of other dog sports see dogs and people competing every week of the year all around the world.
Some of these activities tend to be suited to particular breeds and types, and competition regulations might limit participating dogs in some case. However, many aspects of these doggy disciplines can be incorporated into everyday training and fun with your dog.
If you do have competitive ambitions, there are welcoming communities of people in each discipline who would be delighted to help you out with advice and guidance.
Modern animal training for all species has a robust basis in learning theory and behavioural science. Good trainers work from a strong evidence base and employ training methods and techniques that are fair and centred around positive reinforcement. Such training is not only highly effective and consistently results in solid behaviours, it is also fun and engaging for dog and handler. Positive training methods can challenge our dogs’ minds and bodies, in addition to creating opportunities to build our relationships with them.
Always look for a trainer who can work with you and your dog as individuals and one who can support you in your goals and ambitions, whether that is the main ring at Crufts, or simply enjoying spending time together.
Keeping Your Athlete Happy and Healthy
Whatever you do with your dog, keeping them happy and healthy makes your life together more fun and fulfilling. Active dogs often benefit substantially from the physical and mental challenges of ‘doing things’. However, we do need to be careful that we monitor our dogs’ welfare carefully and look out for signs of fatigue, illness or injury and seek veterinary advice if we are concerned.
More generally, feeding well, ensuring adequate rest periods and providing a relaxed home environment can also help our dogs. You might also want to consider additional support for your active dog in the form of supplements for joint, cognitive or digestive health.
Science Supplements offer a range of high specification, canine supplements for your dog, whether they are international athletes or faithful family friends.
We offer options to support your dog’s joint, skin, and digestive health as well as supporting them during periods of anxiety or worry.
Top tips to keep your dog moving!
- Find a trainer who is experienced in your chosen activity – this can help ensure you are learning best practice as well as helping to keep training safe for you and your dog.
- Remember that learning new skills and movements means your dog will need time for their body to adapt – make sure to incorporate rest days as well as active ones.
- Training should be fun! If you or your dog stop enjoying or are unable to do an activity, there are plenty of other options available to explore.
- For many dog breeds and types, activities that meet their inbuilt skill sets are great places to start. For example, gundogs often love retrieving; hounds enjoy sniffing; collies enjoy herding – there are pet-friendly training options that can help to meet these natural tendencies.