Why Your Dog is So Full of Energy & How To Put It To Use (Part 1)
by Lynn Stacy-Smith
The other day I was talking to someone whose friends recently adopted a shelter dog, a two-year old mixed breed who won them over with his loving personality, snuggle pup tendencies, and adorable mixed breed looks. When I had originally learned that they were looking for a dog to adopt I had promptly made sure that they had a copy of my book, Love, Laugh, Woof: A Guide to Being Your Dog’s Forever Owner to help prepare them for this new chapter of their lives.
“How’s their new dog,” I asked.
“Whew, he is crazy, full of energy! He does zoomies on his own all through the downstairs and leaps over the baby gate that they put up to keep him out of the kitty litter!”
“Yep, sounds like a two-year old dog to me!” I answered.
“He was so calm at first, he just laid around! I don’t know what’s up with that dog!” was the answer.
“Well, it takes awhile for their personality to come out, you act differently around people and a new place at first, too, don’t you?”
Fortunately for this young dog and his family they are taking him to obedience school where they should get tips on how to wear him out and wrangle that energy level so that the dog is happy and satisfied and that the humans are not pulling their hair out with frustration. I give major kudos to them that they are taking it in stride and working with him through training. Every new dog, whether rescued adult or puppy, should go to obedience school with their new owner even if that owner is a veteran dog parent.
The seemingly endless amount of energy that a dog has doesn’t surprise me, but it does surprise me that other humans are so caught off guard that their dogs are such energetic creatures. After all, dogs ultimately are descendants of some sort of wolf species and wolves are extremely active creatures. From there we have bred and fine tuned most dog breeds into doing specific functions for us, most of which focus on jobs that require a lot of energy and intelligence.
Let’s first think about our dogs’ original ancestors. According to an article in the New York Times, “When wolves are active, they are really active. On a daily basis, wolves burn about 70 percent more calories compared to typical animals of similar size.” The researchers note that while hunting, wolves may burn calories at 10 to 20 times the rate they do while resting.” Wolves sometimes walk eight hours a day, averaging thirty miles a day and 4,000 miles a year and spend 30% of their time sleeping. “
Of course it’s been a long, long time since our dogs were wolves, but then consider the functions for which dogs have been bred over the years. Dogs like the Labrador Retriever and the Newfoundland helped drag fishing nets in from ice-cold northern seas, and then the Labrador proved its worth in racing into frigid lakes and ponds and swimming and running long distances over and over again to retrieve ducks and geese that their humans shot. Dachshunds burrowed through tunnels and hunted badgers and other animals. Corgis chased after cows to herd them for people. Even the little Yorkie was bred to help hunt rats. The Rhodesian Ridgeback was bred to hunt lions. LIONS!
Since dogs and humans became friends it is really we who have changed, from hunters and gatherers, fishermen and farmers to accountants and analysts and actuaries. Of course we still want our beloved dogs by our side because of the incredible companionship that they provide. But they are still ready to go, go, go! They can’t wait to learn to do activities and jobs with us, to put those canine brains to work, to burn off that energy that our ancestors bred them to have, that they still hold onto from their wolf ancestors who had to hunt and travel all day. But then we leave them for the day to go to the office, we get home and take a quick walk around the block and settle down for dinner and TV, and then wonder why the dog is bouncing off the walls when all they’ve done all day is lay around in a sedentary lifestyle that they weren’t bred to enjoy.
Now, don’t get me wrong, plenty of dogs are happy with that lifestyle and just want to be home snuggling with their humans all evening. And in no way am I saying that someone with an office job or a moderately active lifestyle can’t have a high energy breed as their canine best friend. But if you find yourself with a dog who is bursting at the seams doing indoor zoomies and leaving you wondering if you could somehow harness their energy to help reduce your electric bill, there are tons of options for dog sports and activities.
Just like with humans, sometimes the best of exercise is just walking. Take your dog for a nice long walk before and after work, alternating your route each time to the extent possible. This is how I had a young, happy, well-exercised Labrador in a one bedroom apartment without a fenced yard for years. Babe and I walked forty-five minutes in the morning and about an hour in the evenings, taking different routes every time. Sometimes we would add a midday walk depending on my work schedule.
On weekends we took hikes through wooded state parks and the Indiana Dunes State Park or went to my Mom’s house so that she could play zoomies and bitey-face with her dogs. With basic long walks on varying routes as her primary exercise, Babe was quite happy and her energy was never overwhelming or on the verge of driving me crazy; she was happy, socialized and calm from two nice long walks a day where she got to sniff to her heart’s content and occasionally meet new people.
Of course the amazing benefit for dogs is that walks are not just physical exercise, but they are fantastic mental exercise too. The reason that long walks on different routes burn up so much energy is that a dog’s brain has a very large area dedicated to the business of analyzing scents. When you change up their walking route and they smell new things each time, you are working their brain, they are concentrating on the business of smelling, and in turn getting tired more quickly than doing mindless physical exercise.
According to a NOVA article on the PBS website dogs have, “300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, compared to about six million in us. And the part of a dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is, proportionally speaking, 40 times greater than ours.” Knowing how their brains are made up physiologically, it’s no wonder that a walk that provides plenty of sniffing, aka mental exercise, can use up all of that extra energy and make them a happy and satisfied member of a family made up of lower energy beings like we humans.
Watch for Part 2 of
Why Your Dog is So Full of Energy & How To Put It To Use
on Saturday, March 18, where we will explore a massive list of dog sports and activities for you and your dog to do together!
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