How to Bring out the Best in Your Dog
The Exercise Junkie
EJ can be a demanding, pushy, and obnoxious housemate, especially without his daily run. This dog is a perpetual motion machine, rarely relaxing on his own. It is tempting to take EJ out and run his legs off every day in the hope of bleeding off some of his energy, but beware—you can inadvertently train up an elite athlete who needs more exercise than you can give him. Limit repetitive games like fetch to five or ten repetitions at each end of another, less intense activity. Teaching EJ to relax with a daily massage and some soothing music can go a long way in helping him learn to settle. You can also help EJ to calm himself by fine dining him each evening. Ask him to lie down beside you and feed him his meal piece by piece over the course of half an hour to an hour. Only feed him when he is lying down, so that he learns that being in the down position is when food comes. As he develops self control, you can take him out and fine dine him outside, and eventually at the park where he can learn to settle down and watch the world go by.
The Busy Intellectual
Maybe you live with a canine-stein who specializes in finding the optimal angle to pull out the security lock on the dog-proof garbage can, and who can open all the baby gates in the house? BI enjoys a good mental workout, and training activities that challenge his grey matter are a wonderful form of stimulation. You can make up your own activities—from basic hide-and-seek to more complex games—or shop the canine brain-teaser market where Nina Ottosson’s products have been a big hit (check out nina-ottosson.com). For more on challenging BI’s IQ, read Brain Boosting Games at Modern Dog online (/articles/brain-boosting-games/1721). Look for good intellectual outlets, but don’t underestimate the benefits of physical exercise; regular aerobic exercise is as important for BI as it is for brainy humans who only think best when they keep fit. Unstructured off-leash exercise will do, or you can satisfy both body and mind with cognitively demanding sports such as herding, tracking, or treibball (a very cool new sport of ball driving; check it out at americantreibballassociation.org). Daily exercise will prevent BI from using his extra energy to memorize your banking data. Ignore his needs and he just may amuse himself ordering dog toys off the Net while you’re at work.
The Lone Wolf
LW is completely on her own agenda, a bit like the high school loner who just seemed to march to his own tune. LW benefits from activities that support developing a solid and trustful relationship with you. Hand feeding, short daily training sessions, and regular predictable routines that include teamwork can encourage LW to increase her interactions with you. Teaching LW tricks like closing doors or lights, putting her toys away in the toy chest, or fetching you a cold soda from the fridge can balance her need for personal space with your desire to have fun with her. Just because she’s not a cuddle-bug doesn’t mean she isn’t interested in learning new skills and earning some praise and treats along the way.
The Couch Potato
At the other end of the spectrum from EJ is CP. She may have attracted you because of her cuddle-bug personality, but if you let her avoid all exercise, she may end up overweight or ill. A vigorous daily walk helps CP to stay trim and fit. An inner athlete may lie deep within your couch potato that will come out when you find just the right sport for her. I have what must be the LAZIEST Beagle in town, whose idea of a fun time is spending the weekend with my dad watching TV, snacking, and snoozing. When I throw a Frisbee, he tells me to fetch it, and laughs at dogs who fall for agility, yet his eyes shine with excitement over tracking. If you have a short-nosed couch potato like a Pug or Bulldog you’ll have to choose your exercise outlets carefully. These dogs can get into breathing problems and overheat quite easily, so run your plans by your veterinarian before upping CP’s exercise regime.