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How far should I walk my dog?

How long should I walk my dog? How can I be sure my dog is getting enough exercise, how much is enough, and what happens if he doesn’t get it?
_ Amit Tewari, Lucknow

This is a frequently asked question, especially by new dog owners. The answer to this is not a one-response-fits-all solution, as it depends on many factors. For example, the size and age of the dog and even its fitness level will help you to determine how long to walk your dog. Let’s start with what happens if your dog doesn’t get enough exercise. Just like people, dogs can become overweight without physical activity. But it can create other problems for our furry friends and you, including:

the house, getting into the trash, destroying items in the household, or increased aggression toward people or other pets can be caused by lack of exercise. However, there are other things that can also cause this type of behaviour.

Some dogs will become withdrawn when they’re not getting enough physical stimulation. If your dog was very social, and no longer runs to the door in anticipation of a walk or acts disinterested when you enter the room, they could be depressed. Again, there are other things that can cause this behaviour.

Hyperactivity when they are on a walk. If your dog gets over-excited when you take out their leash or when you’re about to head out the door, it may be a sign of restlessness and a need for more physical activity. Excessive leash pulling can also mean that your dog needs to burn more energy. That being said, leash pulling can be caused by other things, so consult a trainer.

Your dog may bark and whine a lot if they aren’t getting enough exercise. Coming to your original question, how do you know how long a walk your dog needs. Every dog, just like every person, is unique, but what breed (or breeds, in the case of mixed breeds), age, size and overall health can tell you a lot. Also, a general rule of thumb is that your dog should spend between 30 minutes and two hours being active every day.

A general guide for exercise per breed size is:

Small breeds. This group includes dogs from the Chihuahua to the Bichon or Shih Tzu. They have moderate exercise needs with a daily walk of 20 to 30 minutes. The exception would be the toy and miniature poodle which are more active and also intelligent, so require a little more physical activity and plenty of mental stimulation.

Giant Breeds. The Giant breeds include the Great Dane and Saint Bernard. They have moderate exercise needs because they have to move such a large frame. However, it is important to still be moderately active to keep their joints and bones strong and for weight management. A 30-to-45-minute walk is sufficient. Also, many of the giant breed dogs are keen swimmers, so swimming is a great exercise for them because it’s low weight-bearing.

The dogs who need the most exercise – 60-to-120 minutes daily – are:
Sporting breeds, like Retrievers and Springer Spaniels, Standard Poodles.
Working breeds, such as Dobermans, Huskies and Rottweilers.
Herding breeds, like Sheepdogs, Collies, Shepherds, Cattle Dogs, and Corgis.

Others need 60-to-90 minutes per day:

Terrier and Vermin Breeds, which include Bull Terriers, Airedale Terriers and smaller terriers such as Jack Russel, Yorkshire Terriers and Westies.

Scent Hounds, like Beagles and Basset Hounds.

Dogs that need little exercise are brachycephalic dogs – those with a squashed face like Bulldogs and Pugs.

Because they have pushed-in faces, they are prone to overheating. They require a 20-to-30 minute walk a day.

The Bottom Line: All dogs need daily exercise to stay happy and healthy. If you’re just starting a walking routine with your dog, start slowly. Observe their responses, and add longer walks as they get stronger. Your dog should be happily tired and not exhausted. And remember that increased activity doesn’t mean they need more food! If you have any concerns about whether your dog can handle a long walk or whether you should implement a dog exercise plan for her, talk to your vet and get expert advice. Keeping up with routine veterinary care visits is arguably the most important part of responsible pet ownership. Routine veterinary check-ups can provide insight into any changes in your pet’s health, and give you an opportunity to ask any questions you may have about your dog and their current life stage.

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Digging Deep for treasure

Chewing bones is a favourite pastime of my dog so much so that he even buries his beloved bone in our yard.
Nina Chavan, Pune

Whether it’s a bone, a stinky shoe, their favourite toy, or your human child’s favourite toy (uhoh), our beloved canine companions often find themselves digging knee deep in a hole, stowing away yet another wonderful treasure. Sometimes they even pick your couch cushions or your new duvet cover as a great place to hide pilfered goodies. No matter the location, it appears dogs often find it necessary to store away preferred items from any potential robbers. Including you. But why? To us, this canine behaviour may seem odd, so why do dogs invest so much energy in burying their prized possessions? The reason why a dog buries something is to save it for later. When you don’t know when you’ll find your next meal, it makes sense to hide leftovers. The act of burying bones is a type of “food caching,” that is, storing available food supplies for the purpose of later access. It’s a common behaviour in many species of birds and mammals, including in the canine ancestors of domestic dogs — grey wolves — which is where dogs inherited their burying instincts. While wolves, which are known for their cunning hunting skills, tend to stay in a scavenge area long enough to devour their prey entirely, they will occasionally carry and bury the remains of a kill, according to a 1976 study published in the journal Ethology.

(Wolves and other canids are known as “scatter hoarders,” meaning they stash their leftover food in hideaways located over fairly large areas.) This same study showed that even wolf pups’ cache, and will move their cache to keep it from being discovered by a sibling. So, when dogs exhibit this seemingly unusual behaviour in your backyard, rest assured — they’re simply following their instinctual “inner wolf.” Most dogs today don’t need to store food because they have doting pet parents to feed them, but that doesn’t mean their natural urge to squirrel things away for later doesn’t still exist. Sometimes, the instinct to bury things has nothing to do with storing food or protecting it from scavengers. According to dog behaviourist Cesar Millan, burying can be a dog’s way of savouring cherished objects, so they can be enjoyed again later. It can also be a way for bored dogs to initiate play with their owner, or a method of stress relief for anxious dogs. Meanwhile, some breeds, such as terriers, are simply more prone to digging, whether to bury food or to burrow holes for no specific reason at all. Dogs specifically bred to hunt or chase critters into their dens often like to bury toys, bones and treats. So, it’s not uncommon to see a Dachshund burying a bone under the couch pillows. If a dog doesn’t have a burying instinct, it shouldn’t be cause for concern. In severe cases, a dog may feel the need to hide or guard all types of items they find really valuable, and this can lead to resource guarding, a more serious issue that needs attention from a certified canine behaviour consultant or veterinary behaviourist. To prevent your yard (or your living room) from becoming an excavation site, always offer your dog daily enrichment opportunities that engage both their mind and body. Take them for walks and let them sniff, play games of fetch and tug, and do some fun trick training using positive reinforcement. Schedule time in your day to practice basic skills so your dog gets access to stimulating reinforcement opportunities every single day.

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Anger Management

I have a German Shepherd, who is two years old now and he loves people but is terrified of dogs. Lately he has been showing aggression to children. He’s nipping, snarling and even lunging at kids who try to pet or play with him. He’s never shown this kind of aggression before and I don’t know what to do. Is it because he isn’t fixed? I need help. If this problem isn’t foxed soon I could get complaints or he could hurt a kid: my worst fear. Please give me your opinions.
– Rohit Aggarwal, Kolkata

We are sorry to hear that you are experiencing this serious issue: if your dog is aggressive towards children you are dealing with the most serious issue possible. The key to gradually stopping this behaviour is to figure out the cause of it (most likely fear, possibly developing from the fear with dogs). The first thing we would do is take your dog to the vet ASAP to have a thorough check up to eliminate any health issue. Some dogs act out because of pain or illness, so if this is the case it needs to be addressed. Your vet will be able to speak about neutering. There is some connection between neutering and behaviour, but it doesn’t guarantee “stopping” aggression. It’s actually quite unlikely neutering will eliminate a problem that is established and growing like this – even if it decreases somewhat you will definitely need to address this with a trainer assuming the aggression isn’t due to an injury or illness. We would also recommend speaking to your vet about a safe and appropriate muzzle to have your dog wear until the behaviour is addressed. There are serious legal liabilities for you having a dog who has these known issues (even unknown ones), and obviously you also do not want anyone to be hurt. Please, your #1 priority is to keep your dog away from children and other dogs and muzzled because you have a known nipper and lunger. If your dog is healthy, then we absolutely without a doubt urge you to work with a professional trainer/ behaviourist to sort out the route of this issue, and devise an action plan to address it. You are dealing with a serious problem, and it would need to be addressed with a professional that has experience in addressing these things. Even after working on the issue, know that life going forward may involve not having your dog meet children… and this is OK. Some dogs are simply nervous around strange humans (especially children), and we do not let them interact directly – this is a life-long plan. It’s much better than risking a bite. But a behaviorist can hopefully help you get to a point where your dog is not as dangerous, and that’s worth every penny and minute of effort.

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A Bite Out of the Blue

I have grown up listening to stories and watching films about how Golden Retrievers are such a friendly breed until Austin, who lives in the same gated community as me, suddenly bit me on my hand when I tried to pat him. He was wagging his tail and that bite came out of nowhere. What went wrong?
– Krish Khanna, Noida

You’ll often hear that a previously friendly dog suddenly bit a person “out of nowhere.” But did he really? Or did stressors pile up till the dog just broke? Two sentences dog trainers and behaviour consultants hear pretty much every week of their lives, which you have also mentioned: “But he was wagging his tail!” and “The bite came out of nowhere!” We have often highlighted the fact that most dogs speak clearly with their bodies; many humans need some help with the translation. To understand what a dog is communicating, look at more than one body part, and at the body as a whole. Body weight forward indicates likely approach; body weight back suggests the dog would prefer to retreat. The higher a dog carries himself, and the stiffer and more tense his muscles, the more amped he is. A tense dog isn’t necessarily about to aggress, but proceed with caution unless you know him well.

What Does a Tense Tail Mean?

A high, tense body often goes with a high, tight, stiff tail held in a C curve. But all curved tails are not alike. Some tails are set relatively high on the dog’s back, or hold a C curve even when the dog’s relaxed. And there’s a good rule of thumb: the stiffer and more still the dog and his tail, the more careful you should be. Avoid engagement until you see the dog relax. Even then, consider what the dog was so tense about and how quickly he settles down. But keep your distance from any dog who’s holding his tail high, tight, and stiff, and who has oriented toward you. Also, many dogs in a state of great excitement or tension will lash out at anyone who touches them. So, even if you know the dog, keep some air between you till he settles down. Stay back from a tense, high-standing dog whose tight, high tail is moving slowly back and forth. That is the classic “But he was wagging his tail!” position; a dog who’s approached when sending this offensive signal is probably going to lunge, at the very least, if you come closer. Obviously, it’s harder to read a tail that isn’t there; the best you can do is watch the position and movement of the stump. A friendly wag — unmistakably friendly — often involves the dog’s whole back end. His tail moves sweepingly back and forth. If he’s really excited about the person he’s greeting, he may even wag in big, fast circles. Butt wiggles also come into play. The whole friendly-dog package usually includes a slightly lowered body, open mouth, squinty eyes, and ears somewhat back. This dog might knock you down if he’s overexcited, big, and unmannerly, but otherwise his body language is about as close as you can get to a safety guarantee. Bear in mind that you should evaluate each context individually, though. A dog who’s friendly on the street may snarl and lunge when you come through his front door. And the dog who barks at passersby through the partly open window of a parked car may be thrilled to see those very same people as soon as his owner lets him out. What about a lowered tail? Sometimes it just means that the dog is super relaxed. But a dog whose tail is clamped down, maybe even tucked between his back legs, is not having a good time. If you’re just meeting a shy or fearful dog, resist any temptation to get close and comfort him. A fearful dog may explode if he feels cornered. Instead, let him check you out at his own pace — just hang out quietly as if he’s not there. You can watch his tail and other body language to let you know when he’s ready to make friends.

Bite Out of Nowhere

Aggressive behavior is normal. It’s normal for humans, it’s normal for chimpanzees, and it’s normal for dogs to protect their resources and themselves against perceived threats. Not only is aggressive behavior normal; it’s a truism that any dog, if pushed far enough, will bite. The real question is what constitutes pushing far enough. The answer varies from dog to dog, and that’s where the “bite threshold model” comes in. The eminent dog trainer Jean Donaldson describes the bite threshold in her book The Culture Clash. A dog who perceives a threat experiences stress, and as stressors accumulate, the dog gets closer and closer to his individual breaking point – the “threshold” at which he aggresses. Here’s an example. Let’s say Austin’s family doesn’t often have new visitors or take him for walks in public places, and he’s gotten a bit shy around strangers. Since he never sees any, so no one has noticed that he’s now anxious around them. So what happens when you gaze into his eyes before patting him? He tries to get away from it all by biting on the hand that gets close to him. Again, individual dogs vary – some dogs reach their breaking point and will bite readily once they’ve been pushed far enough to growl. Others will stick with the growl even as stressor after stressor piles on. The most important thing to remember is that your dog may need your extra guidance and protection at times when multiple stressors are at work. And bear in mind that the physiological effects of a stressful experience can linger.

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What if My Dog Bites Someone?

My dog is well-behaved, but a bunch of society kids are always trying to tease him. Though I keep telling the kids to mind their ways, I’m scared he might bite someone one of these days. What to do if that happens? – Nishu Rawat, Gurgaon

If your dog bites someone, you will probably find yourself worried and upset. Will there be legal ramifications? Could your dog be taken away from you? After a dog bite occurs, your first reaction might be shock or panic. However, it is important to take swift action if a dog bite occurs. Don’t delay! if your dog bites someone, take the following steps:

  1. Remain calm.
  2. Confine your dog to a crate or another room.
  3. Help the bite victim wash the wound thoroughly with warm, soapy water.
  4. Be courteous and sympathetic to the bite victim. Avoid laying blame or getting defensive. This does not mean you need to admit fault. Remember that what you say may be used against you later if legal or civil action is taken.
  5. Contact a medical professional for the bite victim. Depending on the severity of the bite, an ambulance may be needed. No matter how minor the bite is, the victim should still seek medical care. Dog bites that look mild on the surface can get serious very fast.
  6. Offer to contact a friend or family member for the victim.
  7. Exchange contact information with the victim. Provide your insurance information, if applicable.
  8. If there were witnesses, obtain their contact information.
  9. Contact your veterinarian and obtain your dog’s medical records.
  10. Inform local authorities of the incident and comply with their orders.

Dog Bites and the Law

Dog bite laws can vary greatly depending on local jurisdiction. It is important that you research the laws in your area, so you will know what to expect. The victim can press charges against you under two provisions of the IPC — Section 289 (negligent conduct with respect to animal) and Section 337 (causing hurt by act endangering life or personal safety of others). The penal provisions could fetch a maximum punishment of six months in jail, besides fine. The victim can even ask for compensation. The following conditions typically apply in dog bite cases:

  • You will need to show proof of your dog’s rabies vaccination history.
  • A quarantine period may be required. The period will likely be longer if the rabies vaccination is not current.
  • Depending on the situation and your dog’s history, it is possible for your dog to be designated a “dangerous dog.” You may have to comply with specific laws regarding the handling of your dog.
  • Laws may require that your dog is euthanized if your dog is considered “dangerous,” if the injury was very serious, or if a fatality occurred. Also, you could be held legally responsible and face criminal charges.

Your Role After the Dog Bite

The dog bite victim may choose to press charges and/or file a civil suit against you. In either case, you should immediately hire an attorney. While you may or may not be legally ordered to cover the victim’s medical expenses, it is a good idea to offer up front to pay. This shows the victim that you are accepting responsibility for your dog. It may even help you avoid a messy lawsuit. Above all, it is the ethical thing to do, even if you have an explanation for the dog bite. In reality, proving your dog was provoked or somehow justified will be difficult unless it can be proven that the victim was committing a crime. Ultimately, this simply may not be an argument that is not worth having. If you are fortunate enough to get to keep your dog, it is your responsibility to prevent this type of thing from happening in the future. Take steps to prevent your dog from biting again. In most cases, a dog bite can be easily prevented by taking the proper safety measures. If you are able to determine what triggered the bite, try to keep your dog from getting into the same situation. Work with your dog to adjust his reaction to the trigger. It is absolutely essential to work on training and socialization with your dog as soon as possible after the bite. The best plan is to contact a professional trainer and possibly a veterinary behaviourist.

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