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Too much exercise: is it possible?


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Hello,

So I've read so many conflicting things about how much exercise border collies need. "Two hours of free running per day" seems to be the oft-repeated but poorly-cited web mantra on the topic. All summer my presumed bc cross, Nico, was either swimming, chasing balls, or running on sand chasing waves intermittently for 1-2 hours per day. With that amount of exercise he was perfectly behaved in the house so I had settled into that routine. Based on the vet's guess when we adopted him, he's now between 15 and 18 months old, and I was already feeding this 40 pound dog the Canidae feeding recommendations for a 50 pound dog. After my vet was vague on Nico's weight--said he should not lose any and could stand to put some on but not to worry about it--I started to wonder if he was getting too much action, if I was basically running him to exhaustion to get good behavior when he would be better off with less running and more mental exercise. Although feeling incredulous about that possibility that he could possibly get too much exercise based on things I had read like a working dog can run 60km or more per day, I googled "too much exercise" and "border collie" and saw that in fact there is a great deal of inconsistency to be found. I read that when dogs perceive that they are working they do not know when to stop, and that unchecked exercise can lead to "OCD" behavior in herding dogs. Also I am switching him to a raw diet so the issue of the right amount to feed is again under consideration.

 

I did a "test" week with 1 hour walking on a leash (which takes a lot of concentration on his part to walk by my side) and more games and tricks but after three days of this he was bringing me shoes and pillows and pulling things of the counters and repeatedly wedging his bone under the bookshelf in my office. A happy medium must be in there somewhere, but I'm still interested in the hypothetical possibilities of overexercise. I understand the danger of exercising the dog when it is hot, or when the heat plus humidity is over 150 (?), so I'm really wondering about limits when heat is not a factor. Like 65 and cloudy, low to zero humidity. If Nico is by water he will swim or chase waves--and by "chase" I mean run in the surf 50 or so yards in one direction top speed, turn and come past me another 50 in the other direction, jumping over large rocks, evading other dogs, occasionally throwing a shoulder into a wave or biting it, turn, repeat, ad infinitum. When we are at the park with the river, if there are no waves from boats' wake and I do not throw anything into the water for him, he will go after twigs, leaves, bubbles, other dogs' toys, other dogs, etc., that happen to be floating past. Often I need to throw rocks into the water to distract him from swimming too far into the middle of the river after something or other. But at a certain part is he just compelled to do these things, regardless of a true need for exercise? Is this the kind of situation where I am the one who needs to impose limits? By comparison, when we are at the small, boring dog park he will just lie under a tree or maybe accept play from another dog if I do not throw a ball for him, but then he is restless later at home. He has mysteriously sliced open both "elbow" pads on his front legs when he was at the park, and we only noticed later b/c he was licking them before bed. After a 7 day camping trip on which he seemed perfectly happy, he had a slight limp for 2 days once we got home--actually, he started limping right away once we got off the water and into a hotel room.

 

This weekend he was at Lake Superior where the waves are nonstop, and I planned to just let him chase them until he seemed a little tired. After 20 minutes (I timed it) of constant running as described above, there was little perceptible change in his speed or enthusiasm and had the crazy look in his eyes like "Can't you see the waves are getting away!? Stop distracting me with your boring treats and silly commands!" His tongue was not even that long, but I made him take a 5 minute break anyway, after which he was more than happy to go right back to streaking up and down the beach. Since the humans were trying to hike 4 miles along the water, I really felt like I did not know how to monitor his running, or even if I needed to. On the way back we ended up going inland so he couldn't see or hear the water. After a day like this, he will ask to go into the tent and sleep when we get back to camp but he will not slow down "in the moment." I read that when dogs are not interested in food or affection, they are over-tired. Food, OK, but we are constantly showering this dog with affection--should he REALLY get excited all the time? While my friends were very tolerant of my concern, I do feel silly worrying about it when he appears to be "playing" but the fact is that I have never had a dog with much athletic ability so the potential for overexercise never came up.

 

I know that above all this is one of those situations in which I need to learn from my own observations of my dog but any insight you have from your experiences or guidelines you've developed with your dog are much appreciated!

(And are cold temps a factor? He has played in sub zero conditions and was not shivering. But I guess it comes back to the question of if you can trust their body language if they are intent on doing something? And if the answer is "maybe", how is this a proposition that can be safely tested?)

Thanks for reading!

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IMO there is a risk of "too much exercise" in two areas:

 

1. If you get a dog used to 2 hours of heavy exercise/day he'll likely need 2 hours of exercise every day or you'll see behavior issues. You effectively are creating a super athlete at that point. This issue can be somewhat addressed by teaching an off-switch. You should be able to find threads on that by doing a search of the board as there have been a number of good discussions in the past.

 

2. If your dog is under 18 months to 2 years of age there is some thought that too much hard exercise can damage joints. To avoid this, the common suggestion is to allow free play, but do not force the dog to continue play/running/fetch if they show signs of tiring or wanting to stop. Let them dictate their activity.

 

All three of my dogs are herding mixes (two are ACD crosses, one is a corgi cross) and none of them *require* two hours of exercise to be sane in the house because we've worked hard on instilling that wonderful "off switch". My two youngest dogs would be thrilled with hours and hours of exercise and often get it on nice days and weekends, but during the week, they are generally satisfied with one or two 1.5mile walks, some fetch in the house, and some mental activities (stuffed Kongs, training).

 

Currently my youngest (and highest energy) dog is on crate rest - if he were used to 2 hours of exercise every day this would be a nightmare, but because he's been taught to settle and is used to some days where exercise is minimal it's been bearable with the help of lots of chewies and Kong toys. :rolleyes:

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1. If you get a dog used to 2 hours of heavy exercise/day he'll likely need 2 hours of exercise every day or you'll see behavior issues. You effectively are creating a super athlete at that point. This issue can be somewhat addressed by teaching an off-switch. You should be able to find threads on that by doing a search of the board as there have been a number of good discussions in the past.

 

This is key, and I know because I am guilty. I got Mal in January, and his muscle mass and endurance was so bad, that a walk down the street would leave him exhausted. So, I thought I was doing him a service by taking him to the park and either going for a long hike, or a brisk run every other day. I did this for a few months, only skipping a handful of times. I created a monster. This summer, when it was triple digits for the entire month of July and most of June and August, there was no way we could excersise outside for more than 10 minutes. This dog was psychotic, he no longer had that outlet of energy that I had provided for him. He couldn't settle down at all, was constantly pacing the living room, getting into things and had to be in a crate most of the time. Now that it's getting slightly cooler, I've picked back up on our regimen, but I'm more aware than I was before, so it's changing. I'll gradually wean him off of park-time every other day, and with any luck I would like to change it into park-time once a week. Since we have agility class two nights a week, that will help immensely in physically wearing him out. I also bought a Kong and he gets that on days when we used to go to the park (for now, I would like to wean that back too), but we don't anymore. I do feel bad that I ruined this dog's off-switch and I won't forgive myself for a while, because I got a Border Collie as a pet, not to sit in a crate even when we were home and watching TV on the couch with the other dogs because he couldn't calm down.

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Good points by both Erin and Katie, and I want to add one more. Walking him for an hour and requiring him to stay by your side for much of that time is very counterproductive. Mental stimulation makes his brain work to figure things out - your walk that day likely just frustrated him.

 

Trick training, training him to be useful around the house, (think service dog things like picking things up, helping you balance, etc) the agility you mentioned, find it games/tracking training, teaching him the names of his toys or people in his life, this kind of mental work is what you need to be offering him. Repeating cues he already knows will bore him and he'll continue to seek stimulation.

 

Teaching the chill out cue and enforcing it will take you some time at this point, but you'll thank yourself and so will Nico.

 

Good luck, and let us know how you do.

 

Ruth

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My dogs are working dogs. They *rarely* get two hours of sustained exercise a day, and when they do, it's usually something like setting sheep at a trial, which does not involve continuous running. What these dogs are capable of and what they *need* are not the same thing. Despite not getting much more than a couple of long off-leash walks a day, mine don't get tons of exercisem and yet all settle nicely in the house. As others have said, if you buy into the idea that border collies need X hours of exercise a day, then all you do is create a dog that needs X number of hours of exercise a day. Border collies especially are creatures of routine, and they know when you don't follow the normal "protocol." This is probably the reason your dog was pestering you on the days you didn't do your normal routine. Give him some mental exercise in place of the physical exercise and he'll be a happy dog.

 

Mental exercise means making the dog use its brain to learn new things--tricks, commands, etc. With stockwork, the mental work that goes into controlling the stock is far more tiring than any of the physical work. A dog, especially a young dog, can be worn out after just a few minutes of work--not because they are physically unfit, but because they have had to engage their minds and do so in a manner that helps them control other sentient beings with a minds of their own.

 

And as the others have pointed out, too much exercise for a young dog creates a very real possibility of joint problems, sooner or later.

 

J.

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This is probably the most interesting discussion for me as a prospective owner. I hear so many different things regarding exercise and border collies sometimes you're left not knowing what to think.

 

One of the dogs I train agility with is a nutcase. Lots of energy, lots of drive, zero control. She can't even do agility because she has such awful focus, one jump and she's running around madly and biting her handler. Her owner once was laughing saying he had to run her for two hours directly prior to class to get her to calm down enough to do agility. And from what I was seeing it really didn't seem to help. Their exercise routine was probably about 5-6 hours a day with her. He told me if I can't do the same then no way should I get a border collie.

 

It's interesting to hear other perspectives, though. Doesn't sound too much different exercise wise than I did with my other herders or even my current dogs.

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I'd been taught, and experience tends to confirm, that how you raise a pup sets its expectations for life. If you exercise a dog a LOT as a pup, and are always gogogo! with them, that's how they'll live their lives afterwards. If, on the other hand, you teach them an 'off switch' at an early age, you'll always have a dog that can settle when you settle.

 

So - Put in two hours of solid exercise every day, and yeah, you can create a monster. Train in bursts, and settle in between, well, you're more likely to stay sane. :rolleyes:

 

Mind you, that's just my experience, and I'm hardly an expert.

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One more opinion. Jin and Abby get about 1-2 hrs of active exercise day. That is running and jumping and hoppping in place. (esoteric reference to what movie?), that usually includes a couple of miles on the golf course evening twice a day. Additionally Jin works as a service dog so that can mean more exercise in a day as he accompanies me around and carries a pack. Both dogs also get an hour+ of mental exercise a day as well. Where is it games, doing tricks, impressing pretty girls.

 

Living in the desert I knwo that I can push both dogs into exhaustion in a very short time. I've seen Jin worl all out fo 30 mins then crash. That is something I don't usually do but his drive can do that to him. Even tired and hot he's ready to go. full bore.

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There's a difference between can, need, and ought to, I think. The other day Ted had to hike about ten miles total with me, and then do it again the next day, searching for our sheep that a malicious neighbor had let out. Then in the evening of the second day we found them nearly two miles away and he had to bring them back, doing several things he'd never had to do before that were really high mental pressure.

 

The next day I went over every sheep in the flock from head to toe, so another hour of hold and sort work.

 

Okay, so Ted CAN handle that kind of workload, thank goodness. But the next couple of days I was sick with a virus and Ted did nothing at all. Well, he laid on my bed. :rolleyes: His head didn't explode and he didn't start eating the drywall.

 

Most days he helps me take the sheep out somewhere to graze and then he just - lays there. For an hour. Then we come home and he naps until we go for a walk.

 

Sometimes I hear stories about people who spend hours entertaining their dogs and I think, "Dang, I'm way too lazy to own Border Collies."

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This is very helpful, thank you everyone. As we are heading into winter here in the upper midwest, it is great to get some new ideas. I will work on a settle command, and I was also thinking of seeing how he does with flyball for a winter activity. He can get a few objects by name, but that is something I would enjoy doing more. I'll report back on these things.

 

I have a Q about this comment:

Walking him for an hour and requiring him to stay by your side for much of that time is very counterproductive. Mental stimulation makes his brain work to figure things out - your walk that day likely just frustrated him.

 

Unless I'm totally misremembering, this is the way we were taught to walk him. He gets "free" breaks to sniff and such, so it's not as stringent as heeling. With being in the city and for at least part of the time walking past people, bikes, cars, and dogs, we were told that its safer for everyone to have him close and easier to control. When we first got him, he would lunge at anything. This is no longer the case but occasionally an especially fast-moving jogger or a bike will catch his eye at the last second and I need to be ready to redirect his attention and keep the leash short. I'm open to other interpretations and suggestions regarding the walk, though, especially if the consensus is that this is not an enjoyable activity for him. If we're not going to the river all the time we could probably find quieter places for walking and practicing walking off leash.

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I think leash walks the way you are doing them is fine, but I wouldn't rely on those to give him all his mental/physical exercise. I would opt for clicker training in the backyard or other mind games at home for the mental part. Maybe some structured physical exerecise in addition to the leash walks - is there a place you can play ball or frisbee with him?

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One of the dogs I train agility with is a nutcase. Lots of energy, lots of drive, zero control. She can't even do agility because she has such awful focus, one jump and she's running around madly and biting her handler. Her owner once was laughing saying he had to run her for two hours directly prior to class to get her to calm down enough to do agility. And from what I was seeing it really didn't seem to help. Their exercise routine was probably about 5-6 hours a day with her. He told me if I can't do the same then no way should I get a border collie.

 

While I certainly haven't met every dog in the world, every single dog I've ever worked with - my own and client's dogs - that was exercised heavily just before training class actually lacked the ability to focus and settle.

 

I tried this with Speedy waaaaaaaaaay back when he and I took Agility. It never helped him at all. Now that I do relaxation exercises with him at the beginning of classes and at competitions, his focus and ability to settle have improved tremendously.

 

I often find that it is difficult to convince people to try excercising the dog moderately, either in the morning or several hours before class, and then give the dog a chance to rest both mentally and physically, before going to class. All who have actually taken that leap of faith have been surprised to find that it helps.

 

As far as exercising my Border Collies 5 - 6 hours a day, it just doesn't happen. I don't have that kind of time.

 

My dogs get a moderate amount of exercise on a regular basis, and there are days when they get a lot more (on vacation, at camp, etc), and there are days when they get very little. They are all happy, healthy, and in excellent physical condition.

 

I think it is possible to do too much, just as it is possible to do too little. As in all things, I strive for a balance in this part of my dog's lives. It seems to work.

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As Julie said, it's far more important that your youngster get into a routine, than that it include more or less physical or even mental stimulation. An hour long walk can indeed be frustrating. But three or four five or ten minute walks a day take less time overall, but start giving your dog something amazing to look forward to.

 

What I keep saying is that the goal should not be to REQUIRE your dog's attention, but to become so wonderful that your dog doesn't want to let you out of his sight. Little training sessions are a part of this, but so is including you dog in walks to the mailbox, asking him to do something at certain times (like sit on a mat if you sit on the couch), and rewarding him randomly for just hanging with you like sharing bites from your plate (yup) and doing random "fire drill" recalls where you try to hide when he's not looking and he gets a big treat for finding you.

 

When you think more on a small scale, it is easier to incorporate these moments in your life and your time together will flow into a relationship, rather than being defined by "training" "playing" and "nothing" times.

 

Good luck!

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Unless I'm totally misremembering, this is the way we were taught to walk him. He gets "free" breaks to sniff and such, so it's not as stringent as heeling. With being in the city and for at least part of the time walking past people, bikes, cars, and dogs, we were told that its safer for everyone to have him close and easier to control. When we first got him, he would lunge at anything. This is no longer the case but occasionally an especially fast-moving jogger or a bike will catch his eye at the last second and I need to be ready to redirect his attention and keep the leash short. I'm open to other interpretations and suggestions regarding the walk, though, especially if the consensus is that this is not an enjoyable activity for him. If we're not going to the river all the time we could probably find quieter places for walking and practicing walking off leash.

 

I believe the type of walking that you do with him requires him to discipline himself, and in those moments he learns that it's not always all about him. I just think that's important. You can even put a light pack on him where he carries something for you and make it a job. Giving him "free" breaks during the walk is fine. You can even intermittently stop and ask him to do a couple of tricks for you to make it interesting, or hide something in a bush for him to find. Set up a reasonable schedule of exercise, play, and training that your comfortable with, an stick to it as much as you can. If there are days you can't do it, don't worry about it. If you have a routine, he'll learn that down time is down time. Expecially if you stick to your guns and don't respond to those balls being thrown in your lap. Been there done that. :rolleyes:

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Their exercise routine was probably about 5-6 hours a day with her. He told me if I can't do the same then no way should I get a border collie.

 

This is what I refer to as the Border Collie Hype which made me avoid the breed for the longest time. I've had Quinn for four years and though our first few months together were hair-raising, he has been a wonderful companion since 6 months of age. He is ready to play, train, go anywhere with me at the drop of the hat but is otherwise a very mellow guy to hang out with. Sometimes I still wonder if that other shoe is going to drop and he will morph into the bored destructive Border Collie like those in so many horror stories I've heard. In fact, of all my puppies, he caused the least damage. Of course that could have been because I was too horrified to take my eyes off of him for those first months. :rolleyes:

 

I was fortunate to have friends familiar to the breed to offer me guidance as I raised Quinn. One of my main objectives with him was that he have an "off switch" or the ability to chill. With Quinn, I quickly discovered this off switch needed to be installed rather than discovered. I came up with a schedule that allowed him time to play and exercise, as well as time to train and relax. It probably also helped that he had to spend several hours a day crated and had little choice but to chill out. Finding a routine is very helpful with these dogs. I think even after all these months of lotsa exercise, Nico is young enough to settle into a predictable schedule that will not require hours of your time every day.

 

And yes, I feel that there can be too much exercise for a dog -- if he is still growing or if he is somehow unsound. And I've known a few dogs, one of them a Border Collie that died of heat stroke playing fetch. Another died on a run with his owner in temps of low 70's but high humidity. And a couple that have died in cars. So be very careful. And too cold has its own dangers even if the dog isn't shivering.

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This is what I refer to as the Border Collie Hype

 

 

20 miles a day, dude, 20 miles a day. That's what it takes.

 

:rolleyes:

 

No seriously, Odin is the same age as the OP's dog and he is simply too drivey to "tire" into good behavior. But even if he is run to exhaustion, he only needs a couple hours' nap to be completely ready to go again after extreme physical activity. So, we trained him to settle and relax, and now he doesn't need physical activity to be well-behaved inside. He doesn't tolerate deviations from our routine very well, though, as was pointed out here. While his daily walk is very low-key, physically, the routine and stimulation it provides are important. One day without a walk is tolerated fine, but two in a row will get him acting antsy.

 

After working sheep, which at this point is much less physically demanding than going to the park to play fetch, he is *zonked* for almost a day. He is thinking hard about what we did/learned, and then he is just plain tired from thinking. That is the "tired out" puppy I like to see!

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This is what I refer to as the Border Collie Hype which made me avoid the breed for the longest time.

 

Yeah I kind of discounted everything he was saying based on the fact his dog was exactly what I don't want to live with. I'm sure not going to take his advice on how to raise a proper collie. I actually do do 2 hours a day of exercising my dogs but they're expected to chill too. We do a 1 1/2 hour walk at least daily, but it's more for mental stimulation than anything else. We meander and they sniff. Towards the end we stop and play some fetch usually. It's a very busy area filled with strange sights, just yesterday we passed a guy walking a goat on a leash down the side of the road. We've also had elephants cross the road in front of us too. So yeah... it's more to give them some sight seeing time instead of being crammed in this little apartment all day. I'm also trying to lose some weight so it's giving me that extra motivation to get up and moving. :rolleyes:

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20 miles a day, dude, 20 miles a day. That's what it takes.

 

I remember that story! :rolleyes:

 

After working sheep, which at this point is much less physically demanding than going to the park to play fetch, he is *zonked* for almost a day. He is thinking hard about what we did/learned, and then he is just plain tired from thinking. That is the "tired out" puppy I like to see!

 

Quinn has a 90 minute ride home from sheep so from his first lesson he has always bounced out of the car, refreshed and looking for a game of fetch. He's been pretty naughty at his last couple of lessons so he is probably even more ready to play when we get home.

 

We do a 1 1/2 hour walk at least daily, but it's more for mental stimulation than anything else.

 

Those walks sound great. The most exotic animals my dogs have seen have been deer. Quinn probably gets 30 - 45 minutes of play on an average day, mostly fetch. I especially like to do Frisbee with him because we have a lot of tricks that make it more than a simple back and forth game. Next to sheep, Frisbees are his favorite thing.

 

I enjoy the time I spend with my dogs walking, play, training but right now it is raining pretty hard and I'm looking forward to an evening at home where I can flake out without needing to aggravate my Border Collie elbow. Quinn got some play in at lunch with friends who come over to let the dogs out. But the nice thing is even if he was in all day, he'd be just fine being a couch potato for the night with me. Maybe a few laps around the house, but otherwise fine. :D

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I enjoy the time I spend with my dogs walking, play, training but right now it is raining pretty hard and I'm looking forward to an evening at home where I can flake out without needing to aggravate my Border Collie elbow. Quinn got some play in at lunch with friends who come over to let the dogs out. But the nice thing is even if he was in all day, he'd be just fine being a couch potato for the night with me. Maybe a few laps around the house, but otherwise fine. :rolleyes:

 

Border Collie elbow!!! I have some issues with my wrist/arm brought on by knitting and aggrevated by the chuckit. I'll have to start telling people I have a Border Collie-itis when I wear my wrist brace.

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Border Collie elbow!!! I have some issues with my wrist/arm brought on by knitting and aggrevated by the chuckit. I'll have to start telling people I have a Border Collie-itis when I wear my wrist brace.

 

:rolleyes: I had to take a 2 month break from the Frisbee this Spring. A combination of hyper extending my elbow when I throw and hyper extending my elbow when Quinn tugs instead of letting go (he is much better about not doing that at least). The good thing about the Chuck It I could use my left hand to launch the ball and give my poor elbow a much needed rest.

 

And the rain hasn't hit here at home yet, so we just had our first round of Frisbee. Good thing we both enjoy the game. :D Hope your wrist is better soon!

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If you get a dog used to 2 hours of heavy exercise/day he'll likely need 2 hours of exercise every day or you'll see behavior issues.

 

Yeah, but the same thing happens when you get ME used to a couple of hours of exercise a day :-)

 

And for Border Collie Elbow (or as I call it, ChuckIt elbow), let me recommend the HyperDog Ball Launcher, sort of a oversized slingshot for tennis balls. Just about eliminates any elbow stress, though it's gotten to the point where it gives me a bit of forearm muscle soreness, so I have to keep switching hands.

 

PS: The 2-ball model is much more convenient than the 4-ball one.

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I have a Q about this comment:

 

I did misunderstand, I thought you were describing walking him for an hour and keeping him on a pretty close heel. What you described in the second post sounds much better.

 

Still, he's not figuring things out. In my totally non sheep world, what my guys love most is learning new stuff. And what might be the best thing about working sheep for the dogs is its never the same thing twice, it's always a new challenge. At 13 and 14 and a half, what lights up the girls is learning a new skill or getting to go to a new place.

 

Maybe change up your walking patterns - teach him to walk ahead of you, and behind you, as well as a traditional heel. Teach him to sit while you keep walking. Teach him to walk backwards with you.

 

It sounds like you're having a great time with him.

 

Ruth

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I did misunderstand, I thought you were describing walking him for an hour and keeping him on a pretty close heel. What you described in the second post sounds much better.

 

Still, he's not figuring things out. In my totally non sheep world, what my guys love most is learning new stuff. And what might be the best thing about working sheep for the dogs is its never the same thing twice, it's always a new challenge. At 13 and 14 and a half, what lights up the girls is learning a new skill or getting to go to a new place.

 

Maybe change up your walking patterns - teach him to walk ahead of you, and behind you, as well as a traditional heel. Teach him to sit while you keep walking. Teach him to walk backwards with you.

 

It sounds like you're having a great time with him.

 

Ruth

 

thanks Ruth, I love the walking backwards idea. We are having a great time. What you said about the walk being frustrating definitely applies to me because i would much rather be exploring in the woods with him than walking on the sidewalk. :rolleyes:

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  • 10 years later...

Hi guys, 

 

I recently got a BC puppy - she's now 16 weeks old. I also have been told different advice regarding exercise, half of people saying 'two lots of twenty minutes' and half saying 'she's made to be working all day, let her run!' 

Currently she does a half hour walk/run with me in the morning, with some training at home. Then she goes in the crate until lunchtime and comes out for some play time and exploring the garden. Then it's crate again until we have another walk (about 40mins) with some running and more training in the afternoon. 

Is this too much/too little? Should she be crated between walks or allowed to explore around the house (she's generally pretty well behaved around the house apart from the occasional shoe steal!) 

 

Many thanks 

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