Energy Management

The first day after I brought Johnnie Cash home I thought, “What did I get myself into?” I came back from work and she started flying around the house doing zoomies until I was dizzy. For over an hour she would bounce around excitedly trying to play. I took her on a walk that night and couldn’t stop shaking my head at the little firecracker I had chosen to take home. “I’m active, but I’m not this active,” I thought. And then Johnnie & I returned home from the walk and she completely passed out in her bed around 8 pm, sleeping through the night. I realized she was a little more on my level than I thought.

That is the key to it all: using up Johnnie’s energy in intentional bursts so that she’s laid back the rest of the time – or, as Mark calls it, energy management! I’m sure a lot of you are rolling your eyes at me right now because – duh – you all have to do this with your dogs. But since I haven’t had a very “energetic” dog in a long time, I wasn’t sure if she’d have an off switch. Luckily Johnnie certainly does.  I generally take her on one hour-long walk in the morning and one-hour long walk in the evening – along with some games of tug, fetch and clicker training in between – and that pretty much does her in.

My point is that instead of saying, “This dog is nuts!” and dealing with her being generally active all the time, we experimented with different exercise amounts and mind games that fit both her needs and my capabilities to create a happy, settled dog pretty. Sure, it took a few days for me to get used to the fact that I need to spend a decent amount of time exercising her, but our walks together have become routine, pleasant and a de-stresser for both of us. They make me feel a lot better because I know she’s walking out any pent up heebie-jeebies, and they make her feel a lot better because, well, she’s walking out any pent up heebie-jeebies!

Another important part of Johnnie’s exercise needs is keeping her at a safe, productive level of excitement and activity. For the first week and a half I had Johnnie I would take her into the backyard and chase after her and we’d do glorious zoomies for a half hour, but when I wanted to be done, she most certainly did not. She would come back into the house, still in zoomie mode, and not settle down for another half hour. It got to the point where I was letting her get entirely too riled up and she was reverting back to her old bad behaviors because she was just too stimulated.

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I learned very quickly how important moderation is with J. When she gets too wired, it’s like her brain turns off. So we work on ways to keep her brain on. When we go to play in the backyard, I’m sure to bring a clicker and treats with me to practice sit, touch and other focus activities in between running around like a goofball. When we’re playing inside, I always practice impulse control with her toys, just to keep her mind working. Little J is such a happy puppy, but that can get the best of her sometimes. If I notice she’s getting too worked up, we stop the game and chill out on the couch. She’s very receptive to your energy levels, so when you stop moving around, she usually does too. . . eventually.

I let her be a dog. I let her bounce around and I play with her when I know she has energy to burn off and I give her expectations I know she can meet. I wouldn’t ask her to be calm at the end of the day if I hadn’t exercised her at all, you know? The more we figure her out and can tell when she just needs a little jog, the more understanding we are of her behaviors. Usually we both end up heavily snoozing at the end of the day and I have to drag her out of bed in the morning (which, by the way, is the cutest thing ever).

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If you’re interested in adding a mostly sleepy and snuggly, but sometimes bouncy, Johnnie Cash to your family, email peacelovefoster@gmail.com.

10 thoughts on “Energy Management

  1. It’s definitely true that sometimes more exercise does not leave you with a more tired dog … you figured that out a lot faster than me!

    Certain fosters I’ve had get ‘riled’ and then it’s all over. Keeping their brain/body stimulation at about equal levels seems to help a lot. My post today includes a video of a K9 Nosework search, and Edison is bouncing all over. How did we get to class that day? Jogged the three miles there. He certainly wasn’t exhausted :)

    P.S. You do realize that two hour-long walks means you’re probably doing 6 miles a day, right? That’s awesome! You might be doing this already, but I always try to vary my walking routes as much as possible from day-to-day. The novelty seems to wear them out more than just the exercise alone.

    • haha yeah, we do walk a lot but it feels like they go by so quickly! definitely keeping me in shape though :) Thanks for the tip about switching up our route! We’ve sort of started a morning route and nighttime route, so we’ll probably start mixing it up.

  2. Laurie

    Great post! I have a *very* high energy dog and finding our exercise niche was a little tough in the beginning. Doing crazy chase games didnt help him burn off energy – they just wound him up more. I used to put him on the treadmill thinking that was the best way to exercise him, but it turns out it was only increasing his stamina and not fully wearing out his mind and body. I finally found that training mixed with fetch is a great way to tire him out physically, and then I follow it up with nosework or relaxation protocol – things that tire out his mind. Also, ditto what the person before me said. Varying your walking route is another stimulant since it’s a new experience. We go hiking on weekends now and an hour of that tires him out more than an hour walk around the neighborhood he knows so well.

  3. We like to work on the “go crazy” and “enough” commands. We “go crazy” and run around and get Ed revved up, and then “enough” when we are done and to settle down. At first, you keep their energy level pretty low and slowly build up. It helps teach them to come out of their high energy state quickly and on command. But we definitely learned to take it SLOW to make sure Ed didn’t get too revved up. Ed was a “red zone” dog, so if he got to that level he didn’t come out of it. This has helped, although we still have work to do.

    • Wendy H

      I would really appreciate it if you could give me a play by play of how you did this with your dog? I have a foster who sounds similar with getting wound up, and doesn’t seem to know how to get control if herself. Eventually she’ll stop, but I’d like to know how to get her calmed down immediately on my terms, not hers.

      • Wendy – I’ve learned with Johnnie that a lot of it depends on how wound up I let her get in the first place. If she starts doing zoomies, I try to call her over and give her treats. Because she’s very food motivated, this usually zaps her into work mode and out of zoomie mode. Then I’ll release her and let her go run around a little more, only to bring her back in a minute or two to re-focus. If I left her to her own devices, she’d run around like a nut job for 20 mins and then come inside and drive me nuts. No thanks!

        You can also teach the “enough” command like Hannah mentioned. Start very low energy, like maybe inside while she’s pretty calm. Bounce around a little bit and get her a little excited, but then stop and as soon as she calms down and sits, give her a treat. When she’s responding well and completing the task like you want, start pairing the “enough” command with it. The more she gets the hang of stopping & sitting when you bounce around, the more animated you can get – wave your hands around, yell, etc. and then stop, say “enough” & wait for her to sit again. Make sure you’re not moving too quickly through the exercise and getting her too riled up, therefore setting her up for failure. She should be good at re-focusing with a low stimulus before you move to more difficult/distracting situations.

        Basically the best thing we do is fit clicker training in with everything we do with Johnnie. It helps to keep her focused, working and not too distracted! Good luck!

      • Yep, Wendy – Pretty Much what she said! The big key as she alluded to is not too get her too riled up too quickly. You need to be sure you can bring her back down.

  4. Kirsten

    Sounds like Vinnie! Unfortunately I don’t have much of a yard to speak of, but he gets 4 walks a day, 2 of which are at least half an hour, and we never take the same walking route two times in a row. In the house, we weave training into most things – running through a series of commands for meals or new toys, for example – so his brain is also exercised. He does have an ‘off-switch’ at home, which is great, but we’re still a work-in-progress on channeling energy positively outside the house (see: Walking Group).

  5. Pingback: Seeking is Fatiguing! | Peace, Love, & Fostering

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