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"This dog just needs more exercise."

There is a common misconception that if we give a dog lots of exercise, the dog will "fine."

I wish it was that simple.

It is true that exercise is important, and l love to walk and play and work with my dogs; but tiring a dog in and of itself will not solve most behavioural issues.

If a person is scared of the dark, swimming for an hour a day will not make him more confident in a dark alley.

So, why do some people believe that if a dog is aggressive, giving him a lot of exercises will change that?

If a dog is very “hyper”, tiring the dog out physically may give the owner a few hours of peace, but it will not teach the dog how to have better impulse control.

The dog will never learn when and how to be calm and content no matter how much you exercise this dog.

Physical exhaustion will not change the dog’s ability to control his emotion or teach him how to make better decisions when he is not exhausted.

I have seen a lot of dogs who have been exercised a lot daily yet were still constantly struggled with anxiety, confusion, fearfulness, and many other issues that made them very unbalanced and unstable. They were certainly not happy dogs, although they were often very tired from the amount of exercises their owners gave them.

On the other hand, l have also seen how these dogs became a lot more stable and balanced when they were able to receive something they had been craving for their entire life that they never had — leadership — which made them much happier with or without a lot of physical exercises.

It is important for owners to understand this concept.

It is not the amount of exercise that is making the dog happy, it is the depth of connection the owner has with the dog that is going to change the dog. Once the dog has a focal point in life, once they have someone they can lean on and look up to, their perception and out look on life will change, which will in turn lead to more “happiness.”

Exercise is not bad. I am not saying don’t exercise your dog.

I have seen owners with really happy dogs who are very well exercised. These dogs and their humans have a great relationship. The connection they have is beautiful to watch. Their dogs are always hiking, playing, and doing lots of fun staff with their humans. When these dogs are running, hiking, playing..., they still pay close attention to their human and they still view their humans as the most relevant. They enjoy the exercises; but most importantly, they enjoy spending time with their human doing those exercises.

I have also seen dogs who were very well exercised but also very entitled, anxious, unpredictable, disengaged, reactive, and aggressive. These dogs do not care about their humans once they are having fun. They pay no attention to their humans. Everything is more fun and interesting than their humans — and often, their humans see nothing wrong with that. They would keep rewarding their dogs’ disengagement by giving the dog lots of "fun exercises" as the dog totally ignores the human. The more exercises they give the dog, the more the dog is addicted to exercises and the more disengaged the dog becomes.

Because such a dog sees no relevance in the human, the dog does not trust nor respect the human. The dog has no one to look up to so he/she would become defensive, anxious, processive, and aggressive when he/she is triggered, and no amount of exercise can solve that problem. No matter how much exercise this dog has, the void for guidance is never fulfilled and the dog will remain unsatisfied and imbalanced.

A lot of owners unfortunately don’t understand this concept. They don’t know that the priority should be placed on the connection the dog has with the human, not on the amount of exercises the dog gets.

When the priority is misplaced, we will often see a dog who loves to exercise but still acts very unstable, unpredictable, and even dangerous.

In our training, we seek to reset the balance in dogs who come to us lacking such balance. We do provide them with lots of play time, exercises, walks...but we also spend lots of time on the most important thing — to teach the dog how to make better decisions by viewing the human as the most interesting, important, and desirable person in the world.

It should not be the amount of exercise that makes the dog happy, it should be whom the dog is doing those exercises with and what the dog can learn through those exercises that really matter.

Hope this helps.

Thank you.

Reactive dog board and train dog training with Vancouver dog trainer behaviourist Richard Chan

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