It is so not about being tired

“A tired dog is a good dog.”

Ugh. Seriously? A good dog is a good dog from the moment they wake up in the morning.

I understand that many dog trainers think they need to dumb down concepts for pet owners and present them in the context of how they will benefit the owner. “Your dog needs to go for walks, and it will make your life easier. A tired dog is a good dog.” Are pet owners really such simpletons that they can’t grasp the notion that dogs need exercise, in whatever form it takes for a particular dog, because they ‘enjoy’ exercise, and that is reason enough for providing them with the opportunity for it? Dog trainers, bite your tongues.

There are the physical health benefits of exercise, we’ve had drummed into our heads enough in this age of growing waistlines. We’re even beginning to acknowledge the connection between our heads and our bodies and how doing things with our bodies affects our heads. Exercising makes you ‘feel’ good. Even beyond simply feeling good, there is the concept of ‘satisfaction’. Dogs not only enjoy running around and sniffing for things to chase, or discover who wandered through the yard last night, they derive satisfaction from the experience. OK, I haven’t been able to actually ask my dogs if they are satisfied, but given that our brains are similar in many ways, I’m making the leap.

It’s been years since I read Suzanne Clothier’s If A Dog’s Prayer’s Were Answered Bones Would Rain From the Sky, but I remember reading passages and saying to myself, “Yes, yes, yes!” in response to narrative about dogs having preferences. Imagine hooking up with someone (that’s my gender neutral way of saying ‘married’ or ‘making a commitment to’) who loves to dance. You don’t like to dance and not only don’t you go dancing with your partner you prevent them from going dancing themselves. Nice relationship you got going there.

Humans do seem to have the unfortunate habit of making choices which don’t make sense in the long run. We build and buy giant vehicles built for off-road travel when all we ever do is get on the highway and drive to work. We stock our larders with foods made primarily from sugar and fat and struggle to lose weight. We buy hunting or herding dogs and never plan on shooting birds or even looking at sheep.

cartoon girl tossing frisbee for a dogSome might wonder why they are not successful at saving money when they look at their credit card statement every month and tally their gas expenses, or why the scale never shows dropped pounds, or why their dog never comes when they call them. But I truly believe that most of us can figure it out, and in fact know the answers. The answer in regard to dogs is not always ‘get a different dog’ but to acknowledge that you have a dog with certain preferences and that even if you can’t keep a flock of sheep you can find other activities your dog can enjoy. Dogs are great that way, they, like us, can have varied interests and are usually willing to go along with us when we introduce them to a few of them.

If we force our dogs to look elsewhere for ‘satisfaction’ we can’t blame them for trying to get it. If you won’t give your dog a life and find things they enjoy doing with you, I guess you should remember that ‘a tired dog is a good dog’. (ugh)

28 comments so far

  1. Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart on

    Satisfied, not tired. Love it. I suspect many people don’t get it because A) They are wholly unsatisfied in their own lives. B) They are “busy ” and “tired” all the time themselves. I like the idea of cultivating enrichment for our dogs. Since Lilly has been recovering from surgery and cannot “return to normal activity” until she gets her staples out today, we’ve been taking “sniff walks” on leash through the pasture … just so she CAN see what critters came through overnight and simply poke around and enjoy her home domain … while we’re barred from long walks and hikes or too much fetch.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Roxanne. When Finn was recovering from injuries we did lying down clicker sessions for head turns, paw raises, targeting. He still goes back to trying those behaviors when I pull out the clicker for some games. Hope Lilly feels better soon!

  2. Milwaukee Laura on

    Beautiful blog post. My current dog has taught me so much about what his preferences are…definitely not what I thought when I got him as a puppy. I love “Bones” as well and had the opportunity to speak with Suzanne Clothier once…she was amazing.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for your comment Laura. Suzanne has also done some wonderful work for fearful dogs. Hoping she gets another book out soon!

  3. Frances on

    I completely agree with you, although it does astonish me how many people seem to think (or manage to convince themselves) that access to the yard and a 15 minute leashed walk a couple of times a week are enough for any dog. And that the same people then complain about how badly behaved their dog is … Not really surprising, if you consider that for a dog a walk is catching up on emails and blogs by sniffing all the marks of other dogs, the excitement of maybe tracking or chasing a squirrel or rabbit, socialising with other dogs and people (and maybe blagging a treat), enjoying all the different smells and sensations of fields, woods and water, a game with friends – all this and exercise too. Which is why a treadmill simply won’t hack it as a replacement, no matter how convenient!

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thoreau wrote that many men ‘live lives of quiet desperation’. I often think the same of dogs.

  4. Holly on

    this whole “more exercise” thing makes me grind my teeth. What happens is that you get a tough, fit dog who needs more exercise to reach that point and then more and more. It makes me want to scream….interact WITH your dog, go do something your DOG wants to do, don’t just wear your poor dog out.

    On Monday, I took a road trip, just a day trip to a nearby Nat’l Forest with my oldest Corgi. She didn’t get out and *run*, but she got out to see the world, do some dog things, get back in the car, back out at another place, do some more sniffing and looking and walking with me, back in the car…you get the idea. She was depleted by the time we got home. It wasn’t the exercise, it was the mental stimulation.

    I did the same thing with the youngest today. He was only out for total about 30 minutes. NONE of it was running around. ALL of it was engaging him while we were in visually, psychologically exciting places for HIM. He came home and took a nap. He was content.

    And you know what? In both of the examples above, I used only a handful of treats per dog. Probably not more than 10 or so for each dog. So it isn’t always about the food either, it’s about engaging your partner.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Breathe, don’t grind!

      It is true we can create monsters, or rather athletes.

  5. 24 Paws of Love on

    ‘get a different dog’ but to acknowledge that you have a dog’-love this line!!

  6. Mel on

    Love this piece Debbie. Yes. I do use the phrase “A good dog is a tired dog.”, but I use it as a joke amongst my friends, usually as we finish our 1 1/2 hour walk. If humans can’t figure out that their dog needs exercise then they’ve got bigger issues than the dog. Forgive me, but stupidity might be the issue here.

    Re: Dog preferences – Daisy is happy just hanging out in the yard or cuddling on the couch, but she often likes to sniff, so walks are a good thing for her and for weight maintenance. Jasper on the other had, needs to run and herd. His preference is to chase balls or sticks, but I try to mix it up (as I have mentioned previously, he’s a bit obsessive) by adding in training at the same time. He likes that. They are very different dogs and I try to treat them that way.

    Knowing your dog’s preferences is so important, but not doing anything at all is ridiculous. I like Roxanne’s phrase “Satisfied, not tired.”

    • fearfuldogs on

      I suspect that people think that exercise is going to replace training. In some cases it may do the trick, but I often wonder if it is as much the relationship that changes, as does the dog’s heart rate. I have a boarder here who only gets to go on runs when she manages to sneak away from her owner. You can guess what challenges the owner faces with her.

      • KellyK on

        Good point. Exercise might work out the kinks to put the dog in the right frame of mind for training, and it might alleviate the dog’s need to do some things that you’d rather not have the dog do, but it’s not a substitute.

        For example, I’m discovering that our new foster needs a mile walk before she can settle enough for me to go take a shower. (She’d probably really like two or three miles, but I’m still dealing with annoying ankle tendonitis.) And then a couple rounds of fetch before I crate her to go off to work. We’re working on getting her more okay with being left alone and teaching her that her crate is the awesome place where she gets chicken feet and Kong toys, but the walk definitely takes the edge off in the short-term.

  7. KellyK on

    I think that “satisfied not tired” is the key. A happy dog is a good dog. A dog who has all their mental and physical needs met is a good dog. If a dog doesn’t feel like chewing on furniture after a nice walk, that’s great, but it doesn’t replace teaching them not to chew on furniture, or to stop chewing on whatever when you tell them to “leave it.”

    And Holly has a really good point that if you’re relying on “tired” to get the dog to behave, the more exercise they get, the harder “tired” becomes to reach. Also, if they’re getting more of a workout than you, you’re just widening the gulf between your energy level and theirs, making it harder to keep up with them.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks Kelly. I am a huge fan of exercising dogs, especially fearful dogs, but the reason is that non-habitual movements, the feel-good hits of running or discovering something stinky, or chasing a squirrel, all help to change brains. I also do as much work as possible with fearful dogs in situations where they are ‘exercising’ because many of the skills I’d like them to learn are easier for them to perform when they are already moving around.

  8. Holly on

    I also think physical exercise *in conjunction with* mental exercise is a fine formula for any dog. Being able to move their feet if worried is helpful for some fearful dogs. Of course movement and hard exercise are very different things.

  9. Alan on

    Boy do I ever agree with this blog entry! In fact, I agree with the whole of what you have written and am so darn grateful!

    Dany D. Dog’s “fear” is not to the level that you often write about but it was there and inhibiting her ability to make certain changes…your writing gave me the hope and tools to progress!

    Yep, Dany has her “preferences” and we don’t always agree…in those instances, I find that she will accept, happily, a compromise…the very, very, few times she wanted to chew something inappropriate, I just said the word “no” then traded the inappropriate item for one she could have and all was well. Dany HATES the word “no” no matter how kindly it is spoken!

    Just in case you or your readers are interested, here is a video of Dany’s progress from the time right after I got her until now…I shortened it to about 3 minutes:

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing that. It is so nice to see where she’s at now!

      Is she at all interested by super good food treats when you are out? Things like chicken, steak or cheese? I ask because if you can get her taking treats while you’re out walking and rewarding her for looking at you, or coming when you call, or sitting when asked, you may find that she can eat them if she hears a scary sound. That will help change how she feels about sounds.

      Great job!

      • Alan on

        Funjy you should mention “super yummy” food treats! Yes, she actually does respond well to them and I have found a combination of flavors she will do just about ANYTHING for….hotdogs with cheese made into a dough and dehydrated…I’m making another batch now. I use some flour to keep it together and thick enough to work in the dehydrator…

        So, yep, I do take treats with me and use them to get her attention and reward her for behaviors I ask for but I’m not as consistent with it as I should be.

        As for using them to help her through other “scary” things, I’m doing that as well. I found that anything I have on my person that makes a clicking or clacking sound is worrisome, sometime down right frightening, to her. She has been afraid of a cigarette lighter, television remote, soda can, and the CO2 powered pellet pistol I like to have fun with…she is all good with everything other than the pellet pistol so far but getting to the point where it isn’t all that scary to her if I am feeding her treats at the time…I use the method you demonstrated with nibbles and his leash…let her sniff it – give treat then have progressed to making a sound with it then give a treat…progress is slow but it’s still progress!

      • Debbie Jacobs on

        I’d say you are doing a fantastic job Alan! Are you dehydrating in the oven? Any tips on that? I get grease!

  10. Alan on

    Debbie, you CAN dehydrate in an oven but you must keep the temperature low (under 200 closer to 150) AND you have to ensure there is air circulation…one way is to keep the oven door open a bit.

    I use a dehydrator for it though and it has a heating element and fan to circulate the air. The trays are not solid and are a large “mesh” so the things I put on them have to be thick enough that they won’t drip through.

    One way to deal with the grease problem is to pre-cook fatty things so you can drain off the grease…I do that with hamburger when I make my own camping meals…

    You can find adequate dehydrators at most discount stores that sell cooking appliances…they run about $40 or you can get better units from places like Cabela’s which is where I got mine for about $100..

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I toyed with the idea of getting a dehydrator when my apple trees actually produced apples. I boil liver and then dry it in the over for the dogs. That works ok.

  11. perthcyclist on

    Hi!! decided to follow you after seeing a quote on Rescued Insanity. From this entry alone, I think we have a lot in common. I have had to separate my car-light/cycling stuff from my dog blog though – dog blog is still languising on blogger at

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for checking out Fearful Dogs’ Blog. I’d actually enjoy doing some cycling in Perth as well.

  12. Sweetpea on

    I don’t know how you do it – how you consistently write the most engaging posts that are so directly to the heart of dog matters….

    Thank you for these reminders. We dog owners can be bad consumers of (rotten) dog “advice” as much as we are bad consumers of anything else. These precious, sentient beings who dwell with us have their own particular voices and we must listen better.

    • fearfuldogs on

      That was a really nice thing for you to say. Thanks for bothering to say it. I like to think that most people understand dogs more than they think they do. But you are right in that there are people calling themselves experts giving information and advice that conflicts with what we ‘think’ we are seeing, and so we don’t go with our ‘guts’. Those magnificent guts of ours, that often know what’s right and what’s wrong before our reasoning catches up with them.

  13. rangerskat on

    OK, I admit it. I’m guilty of preaching the tired dog is a good dog line as a shorthand for a dog that’s had a fulfilling day of mental and physical stimulation is a dog that is not going to be driving you crazy climbing the walls out of boredom. In some dog trick training book I picked up the author made the statement that we owe our dogs a minimum of three enriching experiences per day, these can be a walk, a car ride, training session, playtime anything where we actively engage with the dog. On bad days when I feel like a horrible person who has neglected her dog I’ll count the number of enriching experiences and it turns out three is a pretty easy number to achieve. At the end of the day the dogs and I are tired and they are not driving me crazy because they are bored out of their minds; they are relaxed and content to lounge around my feet while I read more of your wonderful blog.

    • Debbie on

      I am very complimented by your thorough reading of my blog. Thank you!

  14. Kate on

    “Dog trainers, bite your tongues.” Hehe.

    The tired dog is a good dog thing is ANOTHER thing I’ve never been comfortable with, and again, thank you for addressing it! I’ve been very happy to see a number of others address this one over the years as well.

    It seems that, as well as dumbing things down for dog owners, there are many concepts in the force-free training world that have probably started out as a sensible concept, but have then been either misinterpreted, or else (mis)applied to EVERYTHING IN THE WORLD. Something like, “Exercise is one of the things that is necessary for your dog to be healthy and happy, and if they are healthy and happy they will be easier to train and life with” has become the blanket statement of “a tired dog is a good dog”.

    Another one would be ignoring unwanted behaviour; it’s like a few great concepts like, “focus on rewarding the right response and just ignore mistakes” “don’t use positive punishment” “ignore attention seeking behaviour and reward an incompatible behaviour” have all been rolled into an absolute of: “reward what you like and ignore what you don’t like” err, yes, great, except when the behaviour is “self-rewarding”, or dangerous and destructive, ignoring it isn’t going to work. Prevention/management and redirection is in there too. OBVIOUSLY no successful trainer *actually* ignores any stuff they shouldn’t, but that’s the message that is sometimes going out there, and it’s not helpful; especially when traditional trainers get hold of it and use it to “prove” that we all just let our dogs run amok. I think people just like catch-phrases :/

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