This idea really caught fire with Cesar Millan on the Dog Whisperer where he preached the idea of “exercise, discipline, and affection” as a formula to make every dog happy and balanced. From this catchy formula the popular idea of “exercise as medicine” was born.
But, does it work?
The short answer is… maybe.
Let’s break it down a little bit:
- Your dog needs some amount of exercise: Like people, dogs vary in the amount of exercise they need to keep them happy and feeling good. If you have a high energy dog, you better become a high energy person, because if you don’t direct it, your dog will use the energy in ways you don’t like – digging, tearing up your trash, zooming around the house, etc.
- Keep in mind, it’s not just the exercise – When the Dog Whisperer walks a dog, he’s walking them in a very strict way. He’s giving the dog a job of heeling essentially and forcing them to pay attention to a task. Letting your dog meander around can also be good for your dog, but mental work is truly energy draining.
- Mental stimulation is key – It’s winter right now as I write this, so some of you can relate to the way you feel when you’re stuck inside for a day or two. Keep in mind- some dogs live their whole lives “stuck inside” (that includes being stuck inside a fence of a back yard). People get twitchy or even depressed when they can’t get out and about – now think what’s happening to your dog’s brain if he never gets out and about in the world – no social interaction with other dogs, no novel smells or sights – just the walls of a house and a yard they’ve had memorized since the first week they moved in with you. Walking your dog is the easiest way to get your dog out on the town.
- Pure exercise does help many things – With people, exercise can be one of the best treatments for anxiety, depression and other mental conditions. Movement is medicine. However, if you’re treating a dog with extreme fearfulness, aggression, or other major behavioral problems, exercise is just the base layer of your plan – meaning without the appropriate amount of exercise you might never solve your dog’s problem, but exercise alone won’t solve everything.
- Beware over-exercising your dog – When you have a dog that likes to misbehave, exercise can be beneficial to stopping the misbehavior. However, it can also be counterproductive because you may create a dog that just needs more exercise. After all, if you go out and run 5 miles right now, you may want to keel over and binge watch Netflix for the rest of the day. If you run 5 miles every day, suddenly that becomes your new normal and you have to run 10 to get that feeling of exhaustion. The same is true for a dog. If you exercise him all the time, you might create a dog that just gets twitchy if you happen to miss a run or a bike ride one day. You’ve actually created a need for a lot of exercise. My pack exercises a lot so when I’m down with the flu or something else that keeps me from providing for them, I can feel their twitchiness.
- Focus on the big picture – balance in a human or a dog is about fulfillment. As physical beings, we need exercise which is why Cesar Millan popularized his happiness formula. But people (including Millan himself) sometimes overstress the exercise and forget about the discipline and affection part of his popular formula. If we think of happy people, we would think of someone who exerts themselves in physical activities (exercise), does meaningful work for some type of reward – it can be money or even a good feeling from volunteer work (discipline), and then ends the day with friends or family bonding over a dinner table or at a restaurant or pub (affection). Dogs are not that much different. If your dog’s life looks like that – then you’re well ahead of the curve.
So get exercising with your dog – but don’t miss the complete picture for a happy life for you and your dog.