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?