Can modifying the daily exercise regime improve behaviour?
By Linda Cooper
Below is the introduction to the thesis, and the entire paper is available for download in PDF format here:
The importance of regular exercise for dogs is well known. The benefits to physiological and psychological well-being are widely documented by the veterinary world and organisations that support animal welfare (McConnell, 2006; DEFRA, 2006). Providing a dog with daily exercise can help maintain the heart and circulation, keep the dog at a healthy weight, develop good muscular structure, prevent urinary infections and ensure the dog is less susceptible to psychological conditions such as depression (Reusche, 2011; Stilwell, 2014a). As smell is the most important sense to the dog, mental maps that are conjured when the dog is allowed to sniff its environment are vibrant and beyond the scope of human imagination (Tenzin-Dolma, 2012). Walking should not merely be the act of providing physical movement; pausing for calm quiet sniffing expands the mental horizons of the dog and provides it with information of incidents that have occurred recently in that particular environment - a dogs ‘daily newspaper’. An exercise regime that provides an appropriate combination of walking and sniffing time will result in a happy, well stimulated dog (TenzinDolma, 2012). This advice is sound for a large majority of dogs but is it appropriate for dogs that are highly reactive or aroused on a daily walk? If a dog becomes highly aroused or stressed by the scent or movement of another dog, is the mere act of exposing such dogs to their reactivity triggers on a daily basis really providing these dogs with optimum health and well-being? The focus of this study is to discuss the issues that arise for reactive dogs when out on a daily walk or during their daily exercise regime and to consider whether periods of rest and calm activity can be more beneficial to their health and well-being than constant exposure to their stressors. The majority of evidence available to date appears to be anecdotal. Therefore, the problems of finding scientific literature in this area will also be considered in this essay.