Excerpt: 'The Well-Adjusted Dog'

The Well-Adjusted Dog

In his new book "The Well-Adjusted Dog" renowned animal behaviorist Dr. Nicholas H. Dodman explains the best ways to ensure a happy and healthy lifestyle for your dog.

Dr. Dodman covers everything from exercise to environment, providing a detailed seven-step approach for caring for man's best friend.

In this must-have pet manual you will learn all the training and care tips that are the best for your dog.

You can find out about adopting the dogs seen on "GMA" as well as other animals up for adoption at Humane Society of New York.

Read excerpts from "The Well-Adjusted Dog" below.

Part 1 Basic Needs

Part 1 It should go without saying that a dog's physical and health needs must be taken care of as a priority to ensure his wellbeing and to provide a firm base for other, more sophisticated welfare measures. Ideally, every dog should receive an annual veterinary checkup, have any necessary blood work performed, and routine medications, like heartworm and flea and tick preventatives, prescribed. It is far better to take a preventative approach to dogs' physical well-being than to wait until things go wrong and then have to utilize a "fire engine approach" to deal with the conflagration.

What many dog owners don't realize is that routine veterinary care is not enough to ensure a dog's optimal health and happiness. Other factors essential for the dog's physical and mental health are sufficient exercise and a properly balanced diet appropriate to the dog's lifestyle, activity level, and temperament. Dogs also benefit from having a clear line of communication between themselves and their owners. They are at their best when they

have confidence in their owners' ability to exercise leadership – including the use of humane forms of restraint when necessary. They also respond well to having a clear understanding of what's required of them and what their place is in the family unit. Many dogs, at one time or another, exhibit fear-based behaviors that erode their confidence and can lead to other problems. Owners must be able to manage fearful situations and use behavior-modification techniques when necessary to assuage specific fears. Finally, dogs thrive in user-friendly environments that support their canine agendas. All of these factors contribute to a dog's achieving optimal health and well-being, and to a relationship between dog and owner that is enjoyable and mutually fulfilling. In this section, I deal with the seven physical and mental needs that I see as fundamental to ensuring that dogs lead happy, healthy, well-adjusted lives.

A Tired Dog Is a Good Dog Sufficient Exercise— A First and Necessary Step

If your dog is fat, you aren't getting enough exercise. —Unknown

Sometimes canine behavior problems are so severe, they threaten the ability of people to successfully cohabit with their dogs. Other problems, though troublesome, simply fall into the nuisance category. In one such case, a couple came to the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts complaining about their two-year-old Dalmatian's constant whining, pacing, and circling. Seemingly neurotic, hyperactive behaviors such as these may be initiated by many complex causes, but they often stem from an imbalance of energy input and output. As a starting point in what would be a lengthy consultation with numerous recommendations, I addressed the dog's need for vigorous daily exercise – suspecting, as I did, that he may not be getting enough, because few dogs are.

"He gets walked around the block every day," the woman owner said when I asked how much exercise their dog, George, was getting. "Isn't that enough?"

"It's better than nothing," I replied, "but certainly not enough for a canine athlete like George. I used to take my eighty-year-old mother for a mile walk around the block each day when she visited from England, and neither of us was out of breath. Most dogs are born to run – and run hard. Dalmatians, in particular, were bred to run alongside stagecoaches and fire trucks for hours without tiring. Dogs' wild cousins covered huge distances in search of prey, so exercise is part of the natural and necessary canine agenda."

To illustrate the point, I told George's owners about my experience with a highly predatory and energetic Parson Russell terrier who used to accompany me and my father on long country walks when I was a teenager. While we were walking over hill and dale, the dog was running. When we had plodded several miles, the dog had covered many times that distance – and at full tilt. By late afternoon, when we returned home, the dog, who had been so jazzed up at the start of the day, was finally peaceful, relaxed, and happy.

"What George needs is a minimum of thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily, and preferably more." The couple then asked me to explain what constitutes aerobic exercise.

"Aerobic exercise increases oxygen consumption and makes the heart beat stronger and faster. It is exercise that causes dogs to pant and tires them out. It is usually only possible to achieve this level of exercise with a dog off leash – unless you use a treadmill. Gym people refer to this type of exercising as cardio (short for cardiovascular exercise). It leaves us with our hands on our hips, breathing heavily. This type of vigorous exercise is what most young, healthy dogs need."

"I see," the man commented. "The kind of exercise we get on a treadmill or Stairmaster or when we go for a jog."

"Precisely," I replied. "Exercise to the point of tiredness is what I am looking for. One of my favorite mantras is 'A tired dog is a good dog.' Do you think you'll be able to incorporate that level of activity into your routine with George?"

"He does get a fair bit of exercise on the weekend," the woman offered. "We like to hike and most weekends we take George with us. We walk several miles over hilly terrain. To our usual seven or so miles, he probably covers twenty-one. He's in perpetual motion – on the go all the time. That's enough exercise for him, isn't it?" I had to admit that that level of exercise was more than any behaviorist could reasonably request for a dog. But, then again, it was only on weekends.

"And how is he on weekends after all that exercise?" I inquired.

Husband and wife looked at each other, smiled, then looked back at me. "Actually he's great, now that you mention it," the husband said. "We don't have any trouble with him at all on the weekends. It's during the week that we have most of the issues."

They had made the connection. I knew I had made my point about the importance of daily aerobic exercise. I also knew that these owners were going to take the message home and reorganize their schedules so that George could receive a suitable amount of exercise daily. This would entail a lifestyle change – perhaps involving a tag-team approach to the dog's management – but it would be well worth it. They later confirmed during a follow-up call that this change had made a positive impact on George's behavior problems.

Exercise is important for all dogs who are physically capable of it, but it has a greater behavioral impact on some than others. I have asked people, weeks or months after a behavioral appointment, to share their impression of the effects of exercise on their dog's behavior problem. Answers vary from "I think it makes a difference. He seems a bit calmer when he's been out for a run" to "Of all the things you mentioned, increasing his exercise has produced the most profound change in our dog's behavior." The latter is powerful testimony to the effect of exercise on behavior. In general, dogs of the sporting breeds require a fair amount of exercise. Toy dogs and some very large breeds have low exercise requirements. How much exercise a dog needs can be gleaned from his breed history. The American Kennel Club's The Complete Dog Book provides the best account of breed history and development for all AKC-recognized breeds of dog. Dogs that were bred to cover large distances at a fair clip will likely need more exercise than those bred for sedentary purposes, like lap dogs. Bear in mind that the energy level and thus exercise requirement of dogs also vary from individual to individual and are not solely determined by breed. I have met sluggish setters, couch potato pointers, and hyperactive hounds. Age (older dogs need less exercise) and physical limitations (e.g., hip dysplasia, arthritis) must also be considered when assessing how much exercise is good for a dog.

Different Strokes for Different Dogs

While it is generally true that all dogs need lots of aerobic exercise, breed requirements for exercise do differ. The amount of exercise a particular breed requires depends on the purpose for which that breed was developed. Dogs like Weimaraners, which were bred to run, will need much more exercise than lap dogs, such as Pekingese. "Runners" will require more than the statutory minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily, though this minimum level may suffice for medium-energy dogs. "Couch potato" breeds may get all the exercise they need with a brisk walk around the block each day.

The Runners (high exercise requirements) Working breeds

(Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, Portuguese water dog)

Sporting breeds

(Weimaraner, pointers, setters, English springer spaniel, American and Irish water spaniel, Labrador retriever, golden retriever, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever)

Nonsporting breeds (Dalmatian)

Herding breeds

(Australian shepherd, Australian cattle dog, Border collie)

Terrier breeds

(Parson Russell terrier, miniature schnauzer, bull terrier) Hounds (foxhounds, saluki)

The joggers (medium exercise requirements) Working breeds

(boxer, Rottweiler, mastiff, Doberman pinscher, Great Dane, Saint Bernard)

Sporting breeds (cocker spaniel)

Nonsporting breeds (chow chow)

Hounds (Afghan hound, beagle, greyhound)

Herding breeds (Old English sheepdog, briard, German shepherd)

Terrier breeds (Scottish terrier, soft-coated wheaten terrier)

The strollers (low exercise requirements)

Working breeds (Bernese mountain dog, Newfoundland, Great Pyrenees, German pinscher)

Toy breeds (affenpinscher, Chihuahua, Pekingese, Shih Tzu, English toy spaniel)

Hounds (basset hound, Scottish deerhound, dachshund)

Nonsporting (bulldog, French bulldog, Lhasa apso, Shiba inu, bichon frisé)

Psychological Benefits of Exercise

While exercise is beneficial to dogs' physical well-being, my main interest has always been in its psychological effects. Exercise has both calming and mood-stabilizing effects, of that there is no doubt. Anyone who has engaged in regular, sustained exercise, or been actively involved in sports, already knows that exercise can produce a night-and-day difference in a person's mood. During my early days at Tufts, I sometimes finished work feeling stressed out, with what seemed like all the troubles of the world on my mind. Then, for health reasons, I would head for the gym. An hour and a half later, after a workout and a shower, I would emerge de-stressed, reinvigorated, and ready for anything the world might throw at me. This is the way exercise seems to work for dogs, too, and yet many owners and some veterinarians haven't made the connection. As basic a benefit as exercising a dog would appear to be, the science underlying the psychological benefits of exercise has not been appreciated until relatively recently. Even in the mid-'80s, medical reports stated that theories concerning the psychological benefits of exercise, though widely touted, had not been adequately tested. It was not until the mid- to late '90s and into the twenty-first century that the psychological benefits of exercise in humans saw sufficient study;and there is next to nothing on the subject with respect to dogs even now.

What is it about physical exercise that produces relaxation and well-being in us and in dogs? The answer is that it causes changes in brain chemistry. Most of us have heard of the expression "runner's high," which was once solely attributed to endorphin release in the brain (endorphins are nature's own morphine-like substances). According to the opioid theory, a good dose of exercise produces an opium-like high that dispels depression and makes the world seem a much rosier place. This concept has merit but may not be the whole story. Princeton University professor Barry Jacobs reports that exercise also releases serotonin, and that this brain chemical contributes to exercise-mediated well-being. Jacobs's take on serotonin is different from the one we usually hear. Serotonin's beneficial effects on mood are well known, but Jacobs notes serotonin's overwhelming importance in modulating the activity of large muscle groups that keep us ambulatory and upright. When we run or engage in fatiguing physical activity, our serotonin system kicks into overdrive. Enhanced mood stabilization is secondary to this process and may have evolved as part of nature's intrinsic reward system. Whereas physical activity increases activity in serotonin nerves, a sudden call for mental activity shuts them down, leading to decreased physical activity. A call for high mental activity, as occurs in stress, might contribute to the development of depression and languor by decreasing activity in serotonin nerves. In that case, augmenting exercise would seem a natural way out of the loop – and so it appears to be.

A year or two ago, I was talking to a friend of mine, Dr. John Ratey, a clinical psychiatrist and assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, about his book A User's Guide to the Brain, the bottom line of which, according to Ratey, is that "exercise increases serotonin so dramatically that its action on mood is even more powerful than the antidepressant Prozac." Who wouldn't rather exercise than take a pill to feel better, I thought, as I contemplated the beneficial effects of exercise in dogs and the way I feel when leaving the gym. It's interesting that depression in people is associated with decreased serotonin in the brain and (sometimes) compensatory overeating, while both exercise and Prozac increase serotonin, stabilizing mood and, at least in the short term, decreasing appetite.

To some, whether the beneficial effects of exercise are mediated by the release of endorphins or serotonin is moot. The net effect – mood stabilization, peace of mind, serenity – are the Holy Grail of behavioral medicine. Exercise is a natural way of helping us and our dogs deal with the pressures of modern life; in addition to making us happier, it also makes us smarter (by promoting the maturation of new brain cells) and helps us sleep more soundly.

Physical Benefits of Exercise

Aside from psychological benefits, exercise has important physical benefits for dogs, as it does for humans. The quality as well as the length of life is important for us and for our dogs. The Nutrition Center at Tufts University has coined the term "health span" – as opposed to "life span" – to describe the long, healthy existence for which we all strive and want also for our dogs. Exercise is an important component of a lifestyle offering the best chance of achieving a long and happy life.

Exercise builds muscle, burns fat, and strengthens the cardiopulmonary system. In addition, it staves off Alzheimer's disease in humans and, in all likelihood, has a similar brain-cell-sparing effect in offsetting the canine equivalent, canine cognitive dysfunction (see chapter 9).

It has been known since the turn of the twentieth century that the most important determinant of life span in animals is net caloric balance. If the caloric intake is in excess of output, fat will accumulate at a rate proportional to the imbalance. I'm reminded of Mr.Micawber's observation in Charles Dickens's David Copperfield: "If a man had twenty pounds a year for his income and spent nineteen pounds nineteen shillings and sixpence, he would be happy, but if he spent twenty pounds one he would be miserable."

Paraphrasing: Intake seven calories an hour (for a small dog), expenditure six calories an hour, result, weight gain and eventual misery. Carrying extra weight shortens dogs' health span and leaves them prone to various medical problems ranging from heart disease to orthopedic problems to cancer.

Obesity in our canine companions has reached the same epidemic proportions that it has in humans=and for similar reasons. Indeed, one in three dogs in the United States is overweight. There are three factors that affect body mass index (body mass index is weight adjusted for a physical size). The factors are: food intake, metabolic rate, and activity level. There's not much you can do about a dog's metabolic rate, unless he is hypothyroid, in which case thyroid hormone levels can be adjusted by hormone replacement therapy. That leaves two components, intake (food) and output (exercise), as malleable variables. Of course, on the intake side of the equation, it makes perfect sense to ration a dog's diet properly, but it is equally important to control the output side, which is exercise. All good weight-loss programs should address both sides of this equation. Dogs that are regularly exercised live up to 30 percent longer than their sedentary counterparts.

Practical Considerations

Okay, so let's say that at this point we agree that exercise is physically and mentally good for dogs. Should it therefore be a prescription for all dogs every day? The answer is yes, if at all possible. That said, some people have difficulty finding time to exercise their dogs, like the couple I mentioned earlier. In such cases a solution must be found, whether it is in the form of a paid dog walker (dog exerciser) or a few days a week at doggy daycare – which can really tucker dogs out.

Another problem can be finding a suitable place to exercise your dog. Dog parks are great but they aren't available in every town, and sometimes they come with strings attached – like no off-leash exercise. I have written several letters to local authorities explaining – on behalf of pro-dog action committees – that dogs really need an opportunity to run free, but I can't tell how much influence my opinion has had on canine-phobic committee members. Even if they have access to a place where they can exercise their dogs, some owners find it difficult to engage in this activity during the winter months, especially if they live in northern climes. It's true that sled dogs work in extreme weather, but most pet dogs (and many owners) aren't up for frolicking in the park when the temperature is twenty degrees below. In this situation, I sometimes recommend a treadmill, and there are some relatively inexpensive ones, retailing for about $150 and up, that are designed specifically for canines.

It is not difficult to train a dog to use a treadmill – it just involves getting on the treadmill with the dog on leash and starting to walk. Like us, most dogs, when given the opportunity to use a treadmill, seem to regard it as an enjoyable, rewarding experience. The speed of the treadmill can be gradually cranked up to trotting pace and an owner can then take off the dog's lead and slowly move away from the treadmill (so that she doesn't have to stand right next to the treadmill the whole time the dog is "working out").Ultimately it may be possible for an owner to be sitting in a reclining chair reading a book and enjoying all the creature comforts of home while the dog gets twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise on the opposite side of the room. Let's be clear about treadmills, though. For a dog that enjoys the experience, they can be used in the benign way described, but they should never be forced on a dog. No dog should be tied to the treadmill, left unsupervised, or run to the point of collapse. That constitutes abuse.

There are also "dog factors" that must be considered when implementing an aerobic exercise program. You can't take a dog that has been lying around on a rug accumulating weight for years and suddenly expect him to run the equivalent of a marathon. Dogs that are unfit, like people who are unfit, must be slowly acclimated to exercise via a program that increases distance and effort over time, as tolerated by the dog. Vigorous exercise may be contraindicated for some dogs for reasons of existing medical problems or plain old age. For such dogs, exercise may have to be conducted at more modest levels. Short walks around the block may be all that can be tolerated without producing deleterious effects. Here the philosophy must be: some exercise is better than none.

Limitations imposed by medical problems can sometimes be circumvented by utilizing a different form of exercise, for example, swimming, or freestyle low-impact aerobics in which the dog and owner engage in coordinated moves to music, and exercise can sometimes be facilitated by appropriate medical treatments. I know a German shepherd owner whose dog suffered from degenerative myelopathy (which causes German shepherds genetically predisposed to the disease to progressively lose control of their hind legs) to an extent that the dog was incapable of running. If this owner had resigned himself to the fact that his dog could not be exercised, its muscles would have atrophied and its physical function would have rapidly deteriorated. Instead, this dedicated owner drove his dog forty-five minutes each way three times a week to a special equine- and canine-only swimming pool where he put a lead on the dog and did laps with him for an hour each time. This enabled the dog to maintain strength and delayed the progression of this miserable disease.

Another dilemma that some owners face in trying to implement an exercise program for their dog is that the dog may be aggressive to other dogs or people and cannot be allowed off lead in public because of safety concerns. In such cases, I recommend that people find an unpopulated area to exercise their dogs. One such place is an empty tennis court, in which a dog can chase tennis balls to the point of exhaustion without risk to others' life and limb. Slightly more daring is an early morning outdoor excursion onto an enclosed running track or ball field. If that is out of the question, a dog can get a fair amount of exercise in an open area while affixed to a long lead, for example, a thirty-foot nylon washing line. With practice, an owner can run the dog on this long lead and "reel it in" rapidly at the first hint of danger. (One caveat is that the owner must be strong enough to reel in the dog when circumstances dictate.) Finally, for the hardcore canine, there is nothing that beats a properly fitted basket-style muzzle, like the ones police K9 handlers employ. Such muzzles allow a dog to pant, drink, take food treats, and do everything he would otherwise do – except bite. This measure gives owners reassurance that their potentially aggressive dog won't be a threat to people and other animals encountered during exercise.

But what happens if you meet up with an aggressive stray or dog whose owner did not take safety precautions like using a muzzle, and you or your dog is threatened? One of my clients fills a long-range, high-power water pistol with a combination of aversive (to a dog) substances like lemon juice, Tabasco, garlic, and pepper; she calls it "vamoose juice." She would level the spray at any marauding dogs in defense of her own dog, apparently with great success. Another client used a hand-operated, radio-controlled citronella collar, activating it whenever her dog looked like it was heading for a fray. To her amazement, she discovered that when she activated the device, both would-be combatants took off in different directions. Such collars, as well as handheld citronella sprays to deter unwelcome canines, can be purchased at pet-supply stores. (For more on citronella and other types of collars, see chapter 4.)

Exercise and Aging

The psychiatrist John Ratey calls exercise Miracle-Gro for the brain. Wheel-running rats have been shown to have fewer damaged brain cells than their sedentary counterparts. Researchers have recently shown that aging people who exercise regularly have more brain cells in the frontal cortex—a brain region responsible for higher-order thinking, memory, and attention. The same people also had increased connections in a structure important for enabling the right side–left side communications in the brain. These results—which, no doubt, also apply to dogs that exercise regularly—are attributable to increased blood flow to the brain during strenuous physical activity. The takehome message: Run for your life.

The Bottom Line

The importance of accommodating a dog's need for exercise cannot be overstated. Exercise is a key part of a balanced approach to managing canine behavior and ensuring a dog's well-being. If there are logistical problems associated with exercising a dog, I work hard with owners to find ways around these obstacles. I encourage all dog owners to do what it takes to incorporate daily exercise into their dogs' routines. Pent-up energy has to be vented or it will manifest in destructive and unacceptable ways. Anyone whose children have ever suffered from cabin fever will immediately identify with the consequences of inactivity. Horse owners know that exercising horses by lungeing helps calm even the feistiest of equines. Informed cat owners know that aerobic play – encouraged by moving toys – helps neutralize antagonistic behaviors. Let's face it, exercise is behaviorally beneficial for all ambulatory species, and there's often trouble afoot when it is in short supply.

There is a long litany of dog behavior problems caused or compounded by lack of exercise. Aggression, barking, compulsive behavior . . . and that's only the ABC of it . . . the list goes right through to Z (as I describe in Dogs Behaving Badly). Underexercised dogs are likely to be more moody, aggressive, and fearful, and may develop any one of a number of compulsive behaviors, ranging from tail chasing to acral lick dermatitis (ALD). These are problems about which I am often consulted, and exercise – when feasible – is an important aspect of treatment.

Finally, exercise is a form of occupational therapy. When you take your dog for a breeze in the park, to doggy daycare, for a swim in the ocean, or for flyball or agility training, a number of social and lifestyle factors are simultaneously addressed. Environmental enrichment is a spin-off benefit of exercise. Think about it: dogs have been bred for a variety of physical activities and are social creatures. To exercise your dog is to address one of his most fundamental needs and is an undertaking that should be viewed as mandatory. If exercising involves the company of other dogs and people, so much the better. For owners having difficulty making a commitment to exercise with their dogs, ponder this: Studies have shown that people who walk and exercise with their dogs are generally happier and healthier and live longer. So, if you aren't motivated to take your dog out for his sake, do it for your own.