Running with the pack: why your dog needs exercise buddies | Dogs

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Name: Social exercise.

Age: Far older than the name given to it.

Appearance: Running, jumping, catching and chasing stuff, together.

So, just doing exercise, but with other people? Not with people. With dogs.

I don’t want to exercise with dogs. This isn’t for you – it’s for your dog.

Why would my dog want to exercise with other dogs when he’s got me? To treat his anxiety.

Sorry, are you saying my dog needs to do sport for his mental health? That’s right. A new study from Tufts University and the Center for Canine Behavior Studies suggests that dog sports could really help.

Can you name me a dog sport? There’s flyball – a sort of relay competition for teams of four dogs, with jumps and a ball.

My dog isn’t the athletic type. That shouldn’t matter. “Flyball is suitable for virtually any breed of dog, as long as he or she is fit and healthy,” according to the British Flyball Association.

Sorry, the what? It’s a voluntary organisation, run by the membership.

You mean it’s run by dogs? I don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. The point is, social exercise can help a dog overcome anxious behaviour.

All dogs? Potentially, although the study of 1,308 nervous dogs showed that one category – those with generalised anxiety disorder (GAD) – found social exercise “highly effective” as a treatment.

And what is GAD, exactly? A condition where your dog exhibits near constant anxiety, as opposed to fear of something specific and inanimate, such as fireworks.

What helps with fireworks? Drugs.

But will any social sport help my dog to be less anxious? Probably, although they seem to derive particular benefit “from activities that feed into their natural instincts”. Nervous sheep dogs, for example, are helped by enrolling in sheep-herding classes.

They don’t have those classes near me. What about canine freestyle, where dogs and owner compete in choreographed routines?

I’d rather stay out of this. There’s also competitive tracking, dock jumping and frisbee catching, to name but a few.

Are you sure these dogs aren’t less nervous because they’re tired all the time? According to the study, “the beneficial effect of engaging in sporting activities may be because of … the psychological aspects of social integration, accomplishment and enjoyment”.

Do say: “Remember, Joey, it’s about taking part – and also to stop you being afraid of lawn furniture.”

Don’t say: “You want treats? Treats are for winners. You, my friend, are a LOSER.”

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