In this post, I’d like to talk about the role that exercise plays in making sure your dog is well-trained. This stems from a question that I’ve received a lot over the years, thanks to a certain dog trainer named Cesar Milan.
Now, I’m not going to claim that I know much about Cesar Milan. Don’t think poorly of me, but I don’t really like dog TV! I don’t watch the big Thanksgiving dog show, I don’t watch dog training TV shows, and I’m not really even interested in movies where dogs are main characters. So I could probably say that I’ve seen five or six Cesar Milan episodes over the years, and I don’t really have any criticism. What I saw was a man who seems very naturally talented with dogs, and those who know him also speak highly of him. No bad opinions here—but
I believe that Milan talks a lot about exercising your dog. In one of his shows that I saw, he was dealing with an aggressive dog. He threw on some rollerblades and took the dog through the town, and an hour or two later the dog was tired out. Now, I don’t believe for a second that this is the core of his training. But I do think that after watching him, some people have picked out the idea of “exercise” as the most important thing.
As an example, people often bring aggressive dogs to me and say: “We tried what Cesar Milan said. We put a backpack on him and did a ton of exercise, but he’s still aggressive.” My guess is that Cesar is doing a lot more than just that, but people sometimes think that exercise is a substitute for training. It’s not.
Exercise should be a supplement, a component of fixing problems. Sometimes it can be a bigger component than others. I’ve sometimes dealt with destructive dogs whose main need was better exercise. I also remember a client of mine whose two dogs fought in the home. We got them completely over that habit, but once winter came the owner called and said they were fighting again. Sure enough, they weren’t getting enough exercise. In some cases, exercise is a critical component for success. You can do ten other things, but without exercise you won’t get anywhere.
But I still believe that you can’t rely on exercise as a tool. Here’s what happens if you do: you get sick for a few days, or something big happens at work, and you can’t get the dog out properly. The “responsible” answer to this problem is just to say that no matter what happens in your life, you should get your dog out. But life happens, and you can’t always do things perfectly with your dog. That’s how I tend to think of exercise: an accent to proper training. We must train well enough that we don’t rely on exercise.
Someone referenced the rollerblading episode of Cesar Milan to me once, and I had to wonder who has two hours every day to exercise their dog. Of course that would be cool, but I live in Utah and there’s snow on the ground for a lot of the year. No one’s going rollerblading! Two hours of exercise a day isn’t feasible. Victoria Sitwell also did a episode with a Boxer who was being destructive in the backyard. Even after she got up to two hours a day of exercise, the dog was still destructive and she prescribed even more. I was shocked. Getting your dog to be well-behaved shouldn’t be a full-time job.
Except in some rare cases, we should never look at exercise as the fundamental component of a training regimen. Instead, think of it as the whipped cream on top of your training pancakes. It’s great to have, but if you run out it’s okay. Training, training, training—and exercise as a supplement!