Afflicted With SuperDog Syndrome

The idea of creating a “SuperDog” with too much exercise isn’t a new one to me. I’ve always kind of shrugged it off as unimportant. Even if it is possible to give one’s dog too much activity, I wasn’t certain it was a bad thing. Shiva is a high-energy puppy. She enjoys getting out and running around. For the most part, I enjoy it too. If we’re both happy, what’s the problem?

A few weeks ago, I read this post on the Paws Abilities website and I began to wonder if it is more of an issue than I thought. Perhaps I have not done my dog or myself any favours by keeping up our rigorous schedule. It might be possible I am setting us both up for inevitable failure. As I sit here exhausted after trudging through a blizzard, I am starting to question the madness.

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I guess it’s like the clichΓ© of the chicken and the egg. What came first? Shiva’s constant need for an outlet or our strict exercise routine? If I had been more casual from the beginning, would she have learned to get by with only thirty minutes of exercise a day? Or do we exercise so much because she just really needs it?

The article talks a lot about how physical stimulation can easily be overdone and how mental exercise is just as important for creating a balanced dog. I have always believed the latter. Life with a Shiva involves just as much training and management as it does physical exertion, if not more. I don’t think it is really possible to have the one without the other. There is no point in running one’s dog ragged every day if neither of you are actually learning anything. Agility training for us has been a lot more about keeping focus than it has been about athletic ability. The jumping around is easy. The brain work is much harder. And thus, much more tiring for the my nutty dog.

011 This winter has been rough on both of us. It’s the coldest we have experienced together. Too cold for even all-weather Shiva. When I can’t take her out for more than twenty minutes at a time, her need to blow off energy builds up. This lack of a real outlet makes her anxious. It also drives the cat insane. She does get to run around on weekends when we can hit up the dog park during the day. But I know it is not enough.

This quote from the aforementioned blog really stuck with me:

SuperDogs are hard to live with.Β They have come to expect, and even to require, massive amounts of physical activity. Missing a day is not an option. Sick with the flu? Too tired from a long week at work? Family visiting from out of town? The dog still needs exercise, or he’s going to be a nightmare.”

Yep, that’s my dog. When my parents were staying with us back in October, I made sure to get up super-early to get her walk in before heading out with family. When we returned home after a busy day of touring the province, I headed back out with the dog to get in her evening exercise. Things were stressful enough with all the new people in the house. I wasn’t about to make it worse my slacking on her activity levels. Furthermore, when I was sick in January while simultaneously gritting my teeth through a tailbone injury, Shiva still got her daily walks. Better to suck it up and get outside than to face a manic puppy.

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So maybe I have created a bit of a “SuperDog” after all. The good news is, all the work we have done together has given us a deep bond. The bad news is, I am not sure how we could ever leave her in someone else’s care, should that ever be necessary. I don’t truly mind battling snow storms to make sure her needs our met. But what if we have to hire a pet sitter or board her in a kennel? Will the decrease in physical exercise drive her insane?

017It is something I am starting to worry about. Perhaps I need to take a new look at our routine and see where I can implement some changes. It’s all about balance. Though Shiva will always be a super dog to me, maybe her status as a “SuperDog” isn’t making her the happy dog she deserves to be.

Do you think it’s possible to over-exercise your dog? Do you know or live with a “SuperDog”?

33 thoughts on “Afflicted With SuperDog Syndrome

  1. Wow, I never would have imagined that was even a thing. I didn’t think you could give your dog too much exercise. Hasn’t been a problem for me, since I am lazy! Mine never get too much, I go the other way not giving them enough. Good thing is that it sounds like you can reverse that some with Shiva. And you already do other things with her too, so maybe you can slow her down on all the walks, and increase the other, mental, training more. I’m sure a gradual change will get you where you want to be with her.

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  2. I’m lucky in that while Gizmo does need his daily exercise, he’s usually fine with a 20″ romp if I’m having a busy day, as long as he can run free…leashed walks do nothing for him (is he a mini-superdog in training?)…I do try and make up for it with extra long hikes at least once a week, and the day after one of those he’s pretty relaxed. I’ve admired your dedication to Shiva’s routine and hope that this article doesn’t make you question yourself too much…You and Shiva are so close and your routine seems to work for you

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  3. There really is a thing of too much exercise… if you are training your dog for a marathon, don’t be surprised when they become marathon runners. There is so much value in mental work that can take the focus off of physical work–there is also lots of value in teaching an off-switch and relaxation to crazy dogs. I learned this lesson the hard way with Shayne πŸ™‚ With Rio, I definitely did things a little bit differently and it’s been great having a dog with a nice off-switch.

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  4. Great post! I have done the same thing with my guys. I was always taught a tired dog is a good dog, but of course the endurance builds and builds until you can’t wear them out! And then a string of bad weather leaves you with nut cases! Also, you do have to consider the wear and tear on the joints as the dogs age…..

    Jimmy is VERY vocal when he hasn’t had enough exercise. This time of year, after work, I take him in the basement and work Rally moves and his trick repertoire. Ten or fifteen minutes does help take the edge off.

    And, yes, I can’t imagine leaving them with someone who would only take them for a short potty walk. My boys would eat them alive within a few days πŸ™‚

    PS The Love Dog booked has arrived already. I am in a couple of chapters already! Thank you!

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  5. I never thought about whether or not Maggie and Duke are SuperDogs before. They definitely have to go on multiple walks a day, the morning one is up and around a really steep hill field. Right now the snow is higher than them, so we’ve been going up and down the basement stairs for fun. They usually do a few wind sprints around the back field every day, but then they’re pretty chill in the house. They’re crack dogs and try to get the cats to play chase if they don’t get enough time outside. The Mr. is going to go snowblow a loop in the backyard for them now. πŸ™‚

    This reminds me of when I used to do competitive trail riding, which meant at least 5 days of riding at least 2 hours a day plus a long ride on the weekend. I kept up the conditioning until it got really cold and then had to deal with a super fit crack horse that was so hyper he was not fun to ride, especially when dealing with snow and ice. The next fall I gradually cut back to shorter rides and then ramped up again in the spring. We tend to do the same thing with the dogs, your post reminds us why this is a good idea!

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  6. Oh, this is something I think about a lot! I always feel as though Chewy needs to RUN, for at least two hours a day. I often wonder what would have happened if he was a city dog, or lived with someone who wasn’t willing to get out there, no matter the weather, and RUN him…..would he be a different type of dog? Have I made him a junkie for speed?

    We’re taking the mutts on vacation with us this year, and the house doesn’t have a fenced in yard. I wonder how I will wear Chewy out if he isn’t able to RUN. Then, I think, maybe I’m worrying for nothing. Other dogs (including a couple of my own) live their whole lives without a fenced in yard…..and they’re happy, well balanced dogs….

    Hopefully all the vacation food he will be eating will put him in a food coma.

    (Oreo runs, but Chewy RUNS – balls to the wall)

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  7. Certainly not living with a super dog. Just a dog that impresses me daily with how far she has managed to come from such a bad start. I agree that mental stimulation is vital. It often times tires the dogs out far more than physical activity.

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  8. I’ve had mostly small dogs and big yards, but our hyper Old English Sheepdog who couldn’t get enough exercise did mellow out around 7-8 years old and let us know that she preferred mind games to her previous twice a day runs.

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  9. I think it must depend on the breed (Greyhounds are fine with two 20 minute walks a day, but will go further). I am sure that if a dog isn’t walked it will get bored and could look to other ways of getting it’s kicks, ie…being destructive, barking when alone, I think the list goes on. There’s no doubt that dogs love to go out for a walk. They picking up their pmail and leaving their replies:) Would you want to be stuck indoors day after day? Saying that I do think there are times when we have to change our routine whether because we are ill or weather conditions are terrible. I still take Polly out, but perhaps not for so long.

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  10. I think it can be possible to overexercise your dog. Of course, I’m also willing to be quite lazy, and once it gets super cold and icy, we don’t take our daily 4ish mile walks, but rather concentrate on the mental exercise (feeding toys and trick training), with forays into the backyard to play tag (since the tennis balls are frozen). In general, Elka seems to accept this. When the weather is nicer, she pesters me for walks again and we settle into that routine again.

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  11. Hmmm. Something I hadn’t thought about before. It’s so much work to get Silas out that we only go for “walks” a few times a week.

    Our best wear-’em-out games are things that combine brain and brawn. So, we’ll play tug for a few seconds, then I take back the toy and have him do a trick. Then he has to wait for his cue to get the toy back. Repeat. Or, we do something similar with fetch or chase.

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  12. Good question. Brut’s no super dog but he was always very good about telling time. Once we had 6 dogs, we take fewer walks for shorter distance walking them one at a time. I double that with my own one on one walks when they need some distance, about once or twice a week. Plus always doing mental games. They are all fit and pretty calm for a bunch of nervous nellies. It may not be the most exciting life, but it’s all my husband and I can manage with the two of us.

    I don’t miss that build up of energy that Brut used to get on our timed walks, but going every day he walked better than he does now. πŸ™‚

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  13. I do think you can over exercise your dog. My dogs are super but they are not SuperDogs. I guess I could make them into one if we really put our minds to it, but I’m not quite sure how happy that would make them or me. We take walks, and we try new things, like carting, swimming and backpacking, but not all in the same day. We switch things up which I think keeps it interesting.
    My dogs certainly don’t have the energy that Shiva has and while they need to blow some of that energy off, it’s not an everyday sort of thing. I admire your dedication to Shiva’s needs:)

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  14. I don’t necessarily think you can “over exercise” your dog, but I do think you can create your own monster for sure. I see it with Kolchak a whole lot. The more outings and exercise Kol gets, the more he seems to want. So, for us variety and inconsistency is the key! We don’t walk everyday (I know!!), but we do *something* every day to make sure he’s stimulated. The less routine it is, the better or else, he gets that crazy dog look in his eye.

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  15. Hi Kristine, like people, dogs are all different. Shiva is a high energy dog and needs an outlet for that energy. You’ll have to hire a qualified dogwalker or sitter who is able to give Shiva what she needs if you have to leave her for a vacation or whatever. Better put that coat and insulated snow boots on Kristine and get your respective butts out the door. Don’t forget to stop by for a glass of wine or a beer too.

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  16. By amusing co-incidence I came across an entry I wrote about my ex’s dog when he was still really my dog.

    “It just occurred to me how futile running with this dog to wear him out really is. He will adapt to the exercise far more quickly than me, and therefore I am just playing catch up.”

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  17. That is one of the reasons I worry about dogs that spend their days at doggy day care. It’s just SO MUCH stimulation! I know that a tired dog is a good dog, but that seems a little excessive to me. We have always kept Cali active. A walk in the morning and a play session at night was the norm when she was young and I don’t think what you do with Shiva is extreme. She DOES need her daily exercise . .but they also need to be able to relax . .it’s a fine line, isn’t it??

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  18. We’re lucky in that having a pack of seven there is always somebody else who wants to wrestle and be wild! As I’ve mentioned before (in various places) Callie doesn’t play well with others so she is the one that causes concern/worry with potentially being bored/hyper.

    The value of mental stimulation to tire out a dog is something we know quite well, having three blind dogs. A walk of an hour in the woods and they’re pooped after all that sniffing mixed in with the usual trail running.

    When left alone, all the dogs get a Kong stuffed with part of their meal and some canned food to keep it packed in tight. A few friends have commented, “That’s mean, packing it in really tight.” No, it’s not!! It gives them something to do and work at and they’re still hungry since they only had about half their kibble in their bowl an hour earlier. Every time, every Kong is licked clean!

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  19. Very interesting. We noticed this on a small scale years ago with our beagle. The more we ran with her in an effort to really tire her out, the more her stamina built up! Luckily with Rita, I think we have a pretty good balance of needing the exercise v. being able to take a day or two off. But then, that’s probably partly just luck with her personality. Sometimes I forget that the mental stimulation can be just as tiring and works well when the weather isn’t cooperating. Thanks for the reminder!

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  20. The Paws Abilities article was very interesting and it made some very good points. But as I read it, I didn’t get the sense that you emphasize physical activity at the expense of mental tiring.

    Perhaps an experiment? Try doing some formal nosework training indoors or feed Shiva using a really tough food toy that she has to work for when you cut down on the forced march in the cold.

    I’m in the same camp with acd6pack that stuffed Kongs are a gift from the gods for a high energy dog. It’s why I would never go back to feeding Honey from a bowl and even feed our foster pup in a food toy.

    The good news is you can use your blog as a journal to see if emphasizing more mental work during the winter eventually evens things out for her. It could be that you don’t have as much of a high-energy pup as you thought. Shiva might more accurately be a super smart pup. πŸ™‚

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  21. When I adopted my first Jack Russell, I was reading a lot about reactive dogs and people were starting to bring up the effects of over exercising, not just the fittest aspect but also that it takes days for adrenalin to leave your dog’s system and a lot of exercise keeps that adrenalin level up. It’s been many years since I read that so I can’t remember the source (was thinking Turid Rugass; had to look and found this link- http://blog.dogradical.co.uk/?p=1612 ) or if t was proven true, but it was enough for me to do away with the “tired dog is a good dog” . Ricochet did get exercise, but I made a point of not over-doing it and adding in a lot of training, games and rewarding relaxed behavior. So far I’ve managed to survive life with 3 JRTs and 1 Springer Spaniel and I have to say they aren’t hard to live with. They are happy to relax when I relax and happy to be on the go when I am on the go.

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  22. I’ve always joked that I can never tire Gina out with longer runs, she merely just keeps getting in better shape. While it’s become a joke, I do think there is some truth to it. While nothing really tires her out (not even four days of Camp Unleashed or three consecutive seven hour days of agility camp), regular mental stimulation really helps to keep her balanced and calm. I’m fortunate that when I got her at age 16 months, I could take her to work with me and now I work from home. So, when she was younger, I could do five minutes of training or a game of fetch every hour. She’s three now, and I don’t need to do quite as much. But, when she stays with friends with dogs, they have found her much easier to handle when she doesn’t have access to all the dog toys all day and she has a crate she can chill in. Otherwise, she’ll just go on lots of off leash hikes and still come home and want to play all day long. She’s like a Border Collie in a Lab suit.

    Anyhow, it might be interesting to experiment Kristine… On weekends, work on some training for a few minutes every hour combined with teaching Shiva new things. And see if she’ll get tired faster and won’t need to walk as long. That being said, she is a very lucky dog to get so much physical exercise with you.

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  23. I don’t worry too much about this. Both my dogs love the hike, but when it’s done, it’s done and they relax. During winter months they get short walks around the block at night and longer off-leash walks on the weekends. With the exception being this weekend as we could not force our way through the three feet of snow into the park. They didn’t seem to mind as they got out of the house and got to check out the neighborhood.

    They’re pretty flexible if you ask me, and I have always said that mental stimulation is just as exhausting as physical.

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  24. Dexter naturally has such insane muscle tone that it is almost impossible to wear him out with exercise. 20 minutes of fetching at the park seems to do the trick. With him, it’s more about being able to have a good run than the exercise itself. While Vizslas have the capacity for incredible athleticism, they are more “attention” dogs than they are activity dogs. Running is good, but running while your human is watching is even better. When I work at my Dad’s place, Dexter & Jersey can come and go as they please to explore the countryside. They go off exploring about 15 minutes or so, but always come back and wait until I take them for a walk later in the day.

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  25. Great post, really interesting idea. People can overtrain and wear themselves out, why not dogs. I’ve never had a super active dog…Labs mostly who need exercise, but not high level. Right now our two labs are seniors and while SlimDoggy Jack was pretty hyped up when we first got him from the shelter (on Prozac!) with regular 1 hour walk or 30-40 minute run in the morning and a short walk in afternoon and then some mental gymnastics in the form of a treat ball, or some training and he’s good. I think the mental activity is just as important. Our other dog Maggie, also a rescue, from a breeding farm, never ever for exercise, so she’s simple. She loves it if she gets it…tucks herself into her bed if she doesn’t. Easy-peasy.

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  26. I would say that Taylor is quite the Super Dog…Jeremy and I can throw a ball across our apartment 30+ times in a row, and that would not be enough for her! In terms of over-exercising a dog, my gut feeling says that if you can tell that your dog has had enough but is still forced to exercise (such as running alongside his marathoner parent), I would say that is overdoing it. If certain dogs, like Shiva, do not get the amount of activity that they need, their energy will be exerted in other not-so-positive ways, as you well know!

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  27. One of my dogs is very high energy. I never seemed to be able to contain her energy and seemed to be running with her all the time. Over the past year, we seem to have developed a balance. I think balance and what you hit on with both physical and mental stimulation is an important factor!

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  28. Based on the description, I guess Georgia is a superdog too. She gets upset if we miss a single walk and lets us know it by sulking and turning her back on us. It’s quite disturbing. She still get 2 one hour walks every day though she plays less now and is no longer manic.

    Yes, I do think you can over exercise a dog. We learnt this with Rufus. When we got him at 8 months, all the reading we did said a malamute needed kilometres of walks every day. We religiously did that, trekking with him twice every day for the first couple of years. Belatedly, we read that over exercising a dog was not good, especially when the dog’s joints/muscles were still developing. I guess the human equivalent is letting a child lift weights? I’ve always wondered if that early over exercising had anything to do with his knee and joint problems. With Georgia, we’ve been advised not to use the ball thrower because it’s so harsh on dogs’ joints. So maybe, it depends on the dog and the kind of exercise. It’s a lesson in progress for us!

    Sometimes, when we miss a walk, Cushion likes to say “We’re not training an Olympian.” And I like to say “It’s good for her to learn about disappointment.” Any help there? πŸ™‚

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  29. I think it’s true. I used to train horses and some would get too fit. They would be bottomless pits of energy and we had to back off their training to let them get a little out of shape so they would be more manageable. I think dogs are the same. I have backed off my dogs exercise somewhat and I feel so much better about it. I used to be ademate that they had a 2 hour hike or off leash romp at the park with other dogs a day and never ever missed a day. Then I got a bit busier with work and cut it down to about an hour and they are exactly the same dogs. We even have a boring stay at home day once in a while and to my surprise no one spontaneously combusted.

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  30. I’ve actually noticed something similar lately. We definitely don’t have nearly as much snow and winter conditions here as you do in Halifax, but I’ve been having trouble getting out for solid long walks like Gwynn is used to. I haven’t noticed him going stir-crazy, but what I have noticed, which is wonderful, is that he’s playing with toys. he hasn’t played much at all with his toys since the first few months we had him – he just lost interest after that. Though now i’m wondering if i just kept him too tired out to be interested in playing with me after a long walk? Definitely not complaining, though – i’d much prefer a good game of tug to an additional hour on my walk lately.

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