A Tired Dog is a … Less Anxious Dog

You’ve probably heard the saying, “A tired dog is a good dog.” Dogs who are pleasantly worn out have less excess energy to burn off by digging, destroying things, barking, and so on. But we seldom consider that a tired dog is also a less anxious dog. Purposely tiring a dog out can be advantageous in a variety of potentially anxiety-producing situations.

Consider the dog who’s nervous about having nails trimmed—well, that describes a lot of dogs, doesn’t it! Let’s imagine two dogs, both equally anxious about nail trimming. The first is Paco, a Chihuahua, and the second is a Bichon named Fifi. Paco’s owner takes him out for a long walk where he’s allowed mental stimulation through investigating the landscape with his nose and sniffing pee-mail left by other dogs. That, combined with the physical exertion, tires him out. Fifi, in the meantime, lounges in bed. Now the time comes for the nail trim: which dog do you think will be calmer?

I’ve found out over the years with clients’ dogs just how much difference wearing a dog out can play in cases of separation anxiety. The difference was very obvious with Sierra. Now, this was after we’d worked through the worst of her issue, and I was able to leave alone her for a few hours. (These were the pre-Bodhi days.) But on those occasions where I was unable to get her out for exercise before I had to depart, she was still noticeably a bit stressed. If she’d had her exercise, she was much calmer and would even fall sleep.

I have never heard it discussed or suggested, but I believe owners should be advised to take their dog for a long walk before a visit to the veterinarian. Most dogs are nervous at the vet’s office, and a lengthy, leisurely walk would most likely take the edge off that anxiety, not only for the dog, but for the owner who’s nervous about the visit as well.

These are just a few examples of how exercise and mental stimulation can contribute to a dog feeling less anxious in an anxiety-producing situation. Can you think of any other situations where it would help?

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8 Responses to A Tired Dog is a … Less Anxious Dog

  1. Steve S says:

    Dog shows and classes are another place where anxiety (which sometimes looks like excitement) often rears it’s head. Long walks are one way, proper games of tug or any kind of mental work often tire/relax the dog. With one of our Belgians we used to do a short fresh track or two outside the training club before going in. For him, using his nose (and larger part of the brain attached to it) really helped him settle down and be able to give us focused work in class.

  2. megan says:

    My dog is dog-selective and can be reactive, as well. Taking her for a long walk before a meet and greet with a potential foster dog always helps “take the edge off.” That doesn’t mean she likes every dog she meets when tired, but she is much less reactive and more likely to just ignore the dog she doesn’t like.

  3. Pam Boetta says:

    My experience with the long walks before a vet visit have shown me it does help make my dogs more relaxed. Several years ago my GSD, who has sadly crossed the rainbow bridge, had to go through a series of shots. She had to have 6 total spaced a couple of weeks a part. She always had a walk before going. The vet commented on one of her visits how amazingly calm she always seemed for having to come in so regularly for shots. Long walks are also worked in before my dog goes to the groomer. Just means I have to get up earlier to get it in before his morning drop off. But if it makes the experience better for both him and the groomer it is well worth it. Also before company arrives.

  4. I adopted P. when she was 6 months. At that time, she showed a special interest in children, leading me to believe she lived with them in her former home. Now she has been with me for two years with no real exposure to kids. Yesterday, a child asked if she could pet the dog. I said yes knowing that P. is a friendly labby. The child came rushing over. P. ran behind me and peeked out from between my legs. I have never seen her fearful of people before. What I’m getting at, is please instruct any children interested in meeting your dog to come in slow and let the dog adjust. I have never known P. to bite anyone, but it was obvious she was uncomfortable in that situation.

  5. Karen says:

    I just want to say that Sierra is one beautiful dog!

  6. Karen says:

    Richard, 400 acres to play in! Lucky dogs!

  7. LisaH says:

    I have found that an extra long walk with my dog before an agility trial helps take the edge off & his focus is better. And it makes me smile when I overhear other handlers discuss their dog needing extra rest before a trial …. just shows how every dog is unique.

  8. Katherine says:

    I have a very special dog. =) She is terrified of going on walks, but we find other ways to exercise. SHe is a GSD/BC mix and is terrified of people and the last walk we went on she was jumping away from parked cars- that we had walked by before and they were never a problem. I wish I could exercise her the way she needs it. Playing in the backyard can be more stressful if she can see or hear people, especially kids. For about a week she was scared to go out my back door to go potty because my upstairs neighbor’s baby was standing on their back porch. =( I use several tactics to help her deal with her fears and anxiety but they never help enough to the point where progress- ever so slight- can be made. When do you recommend getting prescription pills from the vet? I really don’t want to but she is sooooooo scared and nothing I do helps her to the point where she can get over her fears.

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