Training Your Dog’s Brain And Body
By Kathy Santo | Updated: Mar 20 2019
This week, a student came to class complaining that she had taken her 2 yr old boxer for a 3 mile run and even after that, when she went out to pick up her son at school, she came home to 2 shredded pillows and caught him in the act of chewing the leg of her kitchen table. That same week, a student came to class lamenting that she’d done a 30-minute, very successful training session with her labradoodle. But when she came home from the grocery store that same afternoon, she noticed that he’d ripped up the new crate mat she bought him, and had pulled the window drapes into his crate and was ripping them to pieces, too.
You’re thinking, “I Can Relate. This Happens On A Daily Basis At My House.”
So what was the issue? They’d both spent time with their dogs. One had done a great cardio workout, the other a successful training workout. Shouldn’t the boxer have been physically exhausted and the labradoodle mentally exhausted? Yes and yes. But the KEY to success is in wearing them out both physically and mentally in the same session. When I work out at the gym, I’m usually physically tired, but my mind is still busy thinking of things to teach to my students or what I’m going to write for my next column. Conversely, after a few hours of working on a project on the computer, my brain is tired and I just want to think about nothing for a little while. But my body has lots of energy, so I might want to do a short run to clear my head. I’ve often wondered what would happen if I was able to run on a treadmill at the gym and, instead of a TV, I could have my computer screen in front of me and work on my lesson sheets and columns. While that day may very well happen in the future for humans, it is achievable now with your dog!
“Excuse Me. But I Have A Life.”
And a job, and children, and relatives…. I get it. So do I. There aren’t many people who can devote hours a day towards the exercise and training of their dogs. But if I told you that you could accomplish that goal in the same session – that same 20-30 minutes that you would originally have been doing one or the other, would you do it?
“Of Course I Would. Where’s The Catch?”
There isn’t one. Except for a tiny bit of planning on your part, integrating the mind-body connection will be easy once you start thinking outside the box. Let’s look at a game that I like to start my beginning students with called “Wild Sits”. Taught as soon as their dog understands the concept of “Sit”, Wild Sits begins by having the dog on a leash while the owner runs around cheering, jumping up and down, doing anything that will make their dog excited enough to run wild with them. (Note: If a dog is meek, afraid, and/or sensitive, we tone the wildness down – the goal is an excited but not frightened dog!) Once their dog is suitably cranked up, they stop moving and ask him to “Sit.” (If he’s a puppy or new to training, you can put a treat in front of his nose before saying “Sit”.) He probably won’t the first time or two, so we help him succeed. After a while, they’ll be able to get him super hyped up and he’ll still respond to the “Sit” command.
“That’s Cool. But Why Do I Need To Do That?”
Here are my top 3 reasons why:
- Your dog is getting a cardio workout from all that running around!
- You’re getting a cardio workout, too. Your FitBit or Apple Watch will show you the numbers!
- YOU’RE TEACHING YOUR DOG TO GO FROM A STATE OF HYPERACTIVITY INTO AN IMMEDIATE STATE OF “Yes, of course I will sit, Mother.”
So, because of 1 & 3, you’re working your dog out physically and mentally at the same time!
Number 1 & 2 are great. But number 3 is H U G E! What state is your dog in most of the time when you need him to listen to you? A state of Hyperactivity! Which is the same condition that he’s in when the doorbell rings, or when he sees people on the street when you’re walking. And in the past, when you’ve asked (begged, pleaded, yelled at) him to Sit, he didn’t/couldn’t/wouldn’t respond, primarily because you’d never taught him how to go from wild dog to responsive dog. So now you’re teaching him how to be able to immediately pull himself back into a responsive, obedient state of mind. How great is that?
“I See Where You’re Going With This. Any More Ideas?”
Of course! How about practicing heeling with a cardio twist? Instead of heeling in boring circles at the same old lackluster, zombie pace, why not add in some weaving? Think of a slalom course in skiing. You can use folding chairs, orange cones, people, trees, signs, anything that will stand still long enough for you to walk around them! By doing this, you’re practicing:
- Change of pace – even if you don’t change yours! Your dog has to quicken his steps when you weave to the right if he’s heeling on your left side. And he has to slow his pace as you’re weaving to the left. If you do this exercise running, the cardio benefits skyrocket even more.
- Attention! Your dog has to pay better attention to you now that you’re moving to the left and right.
- The best one: You’re working his mind and body at the same time.
“This Sounds Like I’ll Benefit From This In More Ways Than One!”
Yes, you will. Besides having a well-trained and well-exercised dog, YOU will also reap the benefits of more cardio in your life. And while I’m not suggesting this to be an alternative to going to the gym, I am speaking from experience that by doing this your relationship with your dog and with your own physicality will definitely improve by leaps and bounds.
Kathy Santo has spent her entire career as a dog trainer and handler, training dogs and winning over 500 obedience, agility and Canine Good Citizenship titles. Working with her own dogs, she has achieved every competitive obedience title the American Kennel Club (AKC) has offered and earned the prestigious AKC “Obedience Trial Champion” title (OTCh) multiple times.
In Ramsey, Kathy teaches classes, private lessons, and oversees the training of her student’s dogs using her extensive knowledge, experience and intuition to handle problems from the benign to the serious. Her engaging personality has won her the respect and friendship of her many students, who now consider themselves part of her extended family.