Physical Exercise vs Mental Exercise

“My dog gets lots of physical exercise. We walk an hour – sometimes two hours – every day – but he still has a ton of energy after we get home.” “My dog gets tons of exercise playing outside in the yard. She runs around and chases her toys, we play together for at least a couple of hours. But she never gets tired. I think she might be hyper-active.”

These are two of the most common complaints I hear from owners with dogs that seem to have unlimited, very high energy. Let’s discuss this.

Physical Exercise: Just like we humans, dogs need physical exercise to keep them healthy and to maintain proper weight. But too much physical exercise can actually have the opposite effect: It can make them more energetic, not less. This is because they start to build up a tolerance to the effects of dopamine [the “feel-good” hormone] released by their brain. When this happens, the dog requires more and more exercise to reach that “feel-good” state. What you end up with is a kind of super-athlete who can’t stop working out and who can’t shut off and relax. Hence, you end up with a dog that’s destructive, has possibly developed unhealthy, compulsive behaviors, and is over-aroused [too energetic] all the time.

Mental Exercise: While physical exercise is definitely beneficial to a dog, mental exercise is a critical component to helping your dog drain out their excess energy so they can shut off and relax. How does it work? It works by being used as fuel to help your dog focus and learn – much like we burn calories to get energy for our bodies. And the dopamine that gets released when the dog is learning and being rewarded finally starts to work properly again, too. In just one hour of stimulating and using that built-up mental energy, you can truly tire your dog so they can take a long, peaceful, relaxed nap. Just imagine if you did this with your dog every day: Can you imagine your dog tuckered out and happy?

Giving your dog sufficient mental stimulation is not as hard as you might think. All you have to do is set aside 30-60 minutes at least once a day, every day, and train your dog. Work on their basics; teach them new tricks; engage their brains by playing “find it” games with them. Play with them – and use their toys as training tools to help make learning basics more fun for them and for you. If you know their breed, find activities for them that will meet their needs – e.g. Border Collies need to herd, so give them something they can “herd” to a specific spot, and reward them when they succeed. “Feeding the breed” is immensely fulfilling for a dog, and it drains out that built-up excess mental energy. You’ll both come home feeling calmer, happy, and able to shut off and relax.

If you need help with your dog, please don’t hesitate to reach out. Give me a call, or send me a consult request. I’m happy to guide you so that you and your dog can finally get some rest.

2 Comments on “Physical Exercise vs Mental Exercise

  1. That’s very good advice. One of our dogs is very energetic but unfortunately it is difficult to go for long walks in Texas right now because of the temperature, but we can do more indoor play and training instead.

    • Hi Thomas. Thanks for your comment. I understand completely about the heat; it’s been extremely hot where I live, too. I’m sure you’ll find some fun, creative ways to engage your dog; if you run out of ideas, there’s a ton of information on the internet about different things to do that will give your dog the mental stimulation they need. 🙂 Stay safe, stay cool, and have a great day. 🙂


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