When you have an intense dog that just can't get enough exercise no matter what you do, the solution may seem counter-intuitive.
My dog, Simon, has been an incredibly challenging dog. Extremely high energy, easily frustrated, and incredibly loud when things didn't go his way. There were days that he would run laps around my apartment with a crazed look in his eyes, then turn to frantic digging at his bed....or my bed (RIP duvet covers). He would bark full-volume in my face while trying to shove toys at me.
When I have clients with a dog like Simon, they reach the same conclusion most people would - the dog needs more exercise to tire them out. Burn that energy!
One client was walking her dog three times a day, for a total of 4 hours each day. Then after their evening walk, the dog would chase the ball until he was ready to drop. But, just as my client would sit down, her dog would start barking at her, pulling at her clothes, grabbing and shaking throw pillows, chasing the cat, making it impossible for her to relax.
After going through his behavior history and daily routine, I had one question: "How much rest does he get each day?"
How Much Rest Do Dogs Need?
I'm defining rest as a combination of sleep and relaxed awake time.
While the amount is largely affected by age, with puppies and senior dogs needing more sleep, adult dogs can sleep up to 14 hours each day. Obviously, that can vary sometimes, depending on the day - after a weekend running on the beach, Simon is OUT for a full day, waking up only to eat and go out to potty.
I want to to distinguish between resting and cuddling while getting ear rubs. Why does it matter? Because cuddling and getting ear rubs depends on your participation, which isn't really your dog relaxing on their own.
So many of these dogs become conditioned to need us to be a part of everything they do. That isn't good for them, or for us.
Work From Home and Sleep Disruption
During the early days of the pandemic, I noticed my change in routine affected Simon. Instead of having a quiet apartment to himself during the day, his sleep was interrupted by me talking on video calls, getting up to use the restroom and make lunch, and a whole lot of other interruptions he wasn't used to.
He also quickly figured out how much attention he could get when I was on a video call, and would come running in the room when he heard the start of a meeting.
Behavioral Wellness: Exercise, Enrichment, and Rest
Before anyone sends me angry emails, I'm NOT saying that high-energy dogs don't need exercise. Of course they do. But all dogs - not just high-energy dogs - need a balance of exercise, enrichment, and rest.
Dogs need exercise and there are plenty of dogs out there who don't get enough. But there are also dogs who only get high-impact exercise, running with their owners or chasing a ball until they drop. Every day. These dogs only have two speeds: High energy or exhaustion.
A good exercise program for a dog has a lot of variety. Ideally, it is a mix of leashed walks, toy play, dog-dog play (for the dogs who enjoy it), plus safe and legal off-leash exploration.
Obviously, few people can provide all of those options every day, or even every week. I certainly can't get Simon out for a half-day walk as much as we would both like. But finding ways to provide variety whenever and however possible is important for behavioral health.
The goal is to avoid only giving your dog one type or intensity of exercise.
Enrichment is exercise for the brain. We all need mental stimulation. For dogs, that includes learning new things, exploring places with new sights, sounds, and smells, problem-solving with food puzzles, and having an outlet for normal dog behaviors, like digging, chewing, and shredding.
There are a ton of enrichment ideas online, so I won't try and recreate them here. I also highly recommend the book Canine Enrichment for the Real World.
One of the easiest ways to provide enrichment is feeding your dog all their meals from puzzle toys. Simon doesn't have a food bowl. He gets all of his meals from puzzle toys - his favorites are the Tricky Treat Ball, the Buster Cube, and the Kong Wobbler. On the days I'm too lazy to fill up his toys, I scatter his food all around the living room and he gets to search it out, one kibble at a time. He loves it.
The benefit of this for high-energy dogs is they start to learn there are activities they can enjoy without relying on us to throw it or tug it. This was HUGE for Simon, who wanted me involved in everything.
Create a Rest Routine
So, you're starting to realize your dog needs more rest during the day, but how do you get them to do it? Dogs who have been conditioned to be entertained non-stop, need to learn how to relax. The best way to do it is to make it a regular part of your routine.
First, this assumes that your dog is already comfortable (relaxed, no whining, barking, or pawing at the door) being crated or confined to one part of the house for at least 2 hours when you're gone. If not, I strongly recommend you start training now - it is incredibly useful.
Every morning and afternoon, put your dog in their crate or room with a frozen Kong or other high-value and long-lasting chew. Something that will occupy their attention for 20-30 minutes. Dogs usually do well with predictable routines like:
Get up and potty
During this time, you are still at home, but in another part of the house doing your own thing.
In the evening when it's time for you to relax, grab a frozen Kong or Lickimat (not frozen). Before you sit down, let your dog enjoy some tasty meditation.
If you're still having a hard time getting your dog to settle, it may be time to work with a behavior specialist.
If you're not in the Seattle area, I offer a Behavior Helpline. We'll meet by phone or video and come up with a plan customized to you and your dog. After 1-2 weeks, we'll meet again to check your progress and make sure you're on the right track.
*If you have any questions or concerns about these supplements, or if your dog is taking medications, talk to your veterinarian first.
How Many Hours Does a Dog Sleep in a Day? S Mitchell, DVM, Petmd.com
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The interrelated effect of sleep and learning in dogs (canis familiaris); An EEG and behavioural study. Scientific Reports, 7, 41873.
Can sleep and resting behaviours be used as indicators of welfare in shelter dogs (canis lupus familiaris)? PloS One, 11(10), e0163620.
Sleep duration and behaviours: A descriptive analysis of a cohort of dogs up to 12 months of age. Animals: An Open Access Journal from MDPI, 10(7).