SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Exercise and enrichment for dogs

Dogs need a secure and comfortable living environment with lots of enrichment; this may be indoors, indoors and outdoors, or outdoors (but we believe that dogs would be allowed inside as they are part of the family).

There are pros and cons to each of these choices of environment for your dog. If your dog is allowed outside, he/she must be confined to your property by safe and secure dog-proof fencing. Dogs should not be tied up or chained (also referred to as tethered) unless it is necessary on occasion for a short period for husbandry reasons. It is not possible to meet the needs of animals while they are tethered for long periods.

Even if you intend for your dog to sleep outside eventually, puppies should not sleep outside, as they get cold easily. They are used to sleeping with their littermates and so may get lonely and distressed; this may happen even inside to begin with. Adult dogs can sleep outside if they are in a dry, warm, well-ventilated and cosy shelter with plenty of access to fresh, clean water. However, the SPCA recommends allowing your dog to sleep inside, as dogs are part of the family and should be with the family. We advise against chaining or tethering a dog, as this causes distress and injuries. It can also lead to behavioural issues because the dog cannot escape from things he/she is afraid of. If a shelter or kennel is provided for the dog, it should be placed in a quiet area away from high traffic areas and neighbourhood distractions.

Enrichment

You will need to provide a lot of enrichment for your dog to try and make sure that he/she has a full, happy and interesting life. The main downside of keeping dogs contained (as they must be to meet your responsibilities under the Dog Control Act 1996 and for their own safety) is that they can get bored and do not exercise enough; this can lead to behavioural and health problems related to stress, boredom and/or lack of activity.

There are lots of ways that you can enrich your dog’s life, including spending a lot of time interacting with the dog, making sure they have opportunities to interact with other dogs (if they like other dogs), exercising the dog regularly, feeding the dog using food toys and puzzle feeders, and making sure they have opportunities to play, including providing a variety of toys on rotation. See our article on dog enrichment for more ideas.

Exercise

Exercise is important; unless they are injured or ill, dogs need exercise every day, rain or shine. Walking on a lead is just as important as running off lead. It teaches your dog to stay by your side and pay attention to you. Practice walking at different paces, doing about turns, sudden stops and asking your dog to sit.

Off lead exercise

Before letting your dog run off lead it is important that the dog reliably comes when called. Use a long line at first if you are unsure if your dog will return. Begin in a controlled area with minimal distractions before moving to an area with more distractions, such as a park. Always reward your dog with praise and/or treats when they come back, even if it takes some time. Punishing your dog if they do not come quickly enough will make your dog less likely to come when called. Add some structure into off lead runs. Call your dog to you and release him/her regularly so you have control and work on the dog’s recall. Do this in a safe area away from busy roads.

Fetch

Get your dog to sit before you throw a ball. Praise your dog for returning and releasing the ball. If your dog becomes possessive over toys, find a spot without other dogs and work on this issue at home. Some dogs become very obsessive about balls, if this seems to be happening limit the use of balls or stop using them entirely! Try a Frisbee instead of a ball for variety. We do not recommend throwing sticks, as these can injure dogs.

Play

Play is also good for dogs, it stimulates them mentally and makes them happy. Always play with your dog using toys, never your hands or feet, and do not rough play with your dog.

Treat balls are a great entertainer. Remove the amount you put in the treat ball from your dog’s next meal so that your dog does not get extra food and put on weight!

Paddling pools are a great way for your dog to cool off in summer and for water play.

Frozen treats can be used to entertain your dog in summer. For example, you can freeze liquid meat stock in an ice cream container. Remove the lid for a giant ice block that your dog can enjoy.

Toy variety means your dog doesn’t get bored, make sure you rotate toys and games for your dog regularly.

In multi-dog households, always supervise dogs with treats or toys to avoid any problems.

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