Another weird choice for a Fit Dog Friday post, but bear with me, okay?
As the weather has gotten chillier, Nala has become an inexhaustible well of physical and mental energy. We’ve been walking and hiking and training and doing shaping sessions. We’ve done position changes as a conditioning exercise, shaped backing up and put it on cue, refined Nala’s pivoting skills and finally begun to teach her lovely, precise heeling. She’s spent lots of time out in the yard staring at and chasing squirrels while I shiver, sitting in the dirt and the overgrown grass, weirdly lush now that it is winter, and watch her hunt. We’ve played lots of tug and worked on fetch and Nala has gotten so good at her new nosework game that I need to figure out how to make it harder (suggestions welcome, by the way).
But here’s the thing that I learned last year around this time: no amount of exercise and stimulation can actually exhaust a young german shepherd. Last year, Nala would spend half an hour chasing squirrels, then beg me to come inside. When we came in and I settled down in my chair, she would come to me, squeak, and then pull the blanket off of my lap to get me to play with her. In fact, every arousing activity we did together was like this–as soon as we stopped, Nala would barely catch her breath before she was pestering me for more entertainment.
Eventually, I connected the dots–instead of addressing the pestering behaviors themselves, I needed to help her figure out what to do with herself when the fun ended; I needed to teach her to calm herself down after exciting activities. So we did a Relaxation Protocol,* which I taught and rewarded with food, every time we came in from outside for a week or so.
Then Nala decided to put her own spin on that behavior, and it’s been an unshakeable ritual ever since.
Whenever Nala does anything that she loves to do–plays with me outside, hunts squirrels, goes for a walk, trains with me, even eaten her breakfast–once she finishes, she comes up to me and bunts against my legs, beaming, until I ask her a question:
“Do you want to go and cuddle on the bed with me?”
At these words, she stops, eyes bright and ears high, turns, and runs toward the bedroom. Every few steps she pauses to look back at me as if to ask, “Are you coming?” Then she launches herself up onto the bed as I lay down and cuddles up against me. Some times, she lays there with me and smiles, soliciting pets for a while. Others, she curls up and goes to sleep. More often, she does both.
It’s obviously important to keep our dogs fit, healthy, fulfilled, and enriched. But I’m grateful that Nala and I have found such an easy, comfortable way to balance active fun with sweet, calm time together, too.
*I used Suzanne Clothier’s Really Real Relaxation Protocol, but there are plenty of ways to accomplish this. I’m planning a more detailed post on relaxation–stay tuned!
This is part of the Fit Dog Friday Blog Hop!
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