Kati's Corner: Low or No Exercise Days: How to Manage the Service Dogs Energy and Adjust Their Meals
Updated: Feb 1, 2021
Here are some tips for those days when for whatever reason you are only able to get the service dog little or no exercise.
When we skip a dog's physical exercise, it’s important to increase structure and training throughout the day and provide them with other ways to release their energy. When a dog has no way to get their energy out, they might seem at loose ends and try to wander about the house or whine or look out of windows. It’s important to observe the service dog and gauge how they are doing. How you manage the dog’s activity depends on the dog's age, personality, and typical daily exercise. Exercise is a way to manage a dog’s focus, anxiety, boredom, and physical and emotional well-being. An important pitfall to avoid is increasing food and high-calorie treats when we decrease exercise, as that will encourage unhealthy weight gain, eroding the service dog’s health and lifespan.
Below are a few options that ASDA encourages when you can’t give the service dog exercise:
During the day at normal exercise time you can give them a “fast bone”, rawhide or bully stick and then also a 10-20 minute bone session with a hard bone like, a femur bone or antler. Pro tip: get some femur bones from the butcher. After your dog has eaten all the marrow, you can use it over and over by itself, or stuff it with peanut butter and kibble. Place a hard “cookie” type treat over each end to make it more challenging!
A Kong toy* stuffed with food or treats is a great way to stimulate the dog’s brain. It’s like a puzzle for them! This mental exercise will oftentimes help them burn off some of the excess energy. This can be fun to do everyday but very helpful on lower exercise days. There are many ways to do this but here are a couple examples:
Put 1 cup of food in the dogs bowl for meal time but then put 1/2 cup of the food in the Kong with a couple tablespoons of peanut butter to help keep the food in. Be sure to smear it well on the sides for a challenge! The peanut butter adds calories but is in place of the treats you typically would give during exercise time. You can also freeze the Kong to make it more challenging for the dog to get the yummy stuff out and it also burns energy. With this option the stuffed Kong is given 2 times during the day, either after they eat their meal in the bowl or during their normal exercise time. Another option is to do the whole meal 1-1/2 cups with some peanut butter for both meal times
The service dog is used to working. When they don’t get enough stimulation or exercise they can get bored, depressed, anxious, or confused about what you want from them. One quick and easy game is “Find it”. Take a toy and tell the service dog to lay down and stay. Then you walk around the house making little noises like opening a cupboard or pulling out a chair, take some time so your dog has to really listen to where you are going. Hide the toy, and then go back to your dog, praising them for the “good stay”. Then you can “release” them and say “find it!”. Your dog will comb the house looking for the toy. This can be done over and over, hiding it in a more challenging place every time.
Lick mats are a great way to get your dog’s energy out, especially if they seem anxious or bored. There are textured silicone mats that you can smear with peanut butter or canned pumpkin and keep in the freezer. Pull it out on those low exercise days!
Please note most service dogs on a typical day get 3 cups total of their food a day and around ¼ cup or so of treats. However, if they get more treats during the day or way less exercise/ outings then you should decrease the dinner meal as needed to help keep them at a healthy weight.
Example: typically it would be 1- 1/2 cups twice a day and ¼ cup or a handful of treats. Any more treats or if you’ve given lots of high value treats you should slightly decrease the dinner meal. Or if they don’t get exercise you would decrease that dinner meal as well. This is typically done by decreasing the dinner by a ¼ to ½ cup.
Another option for feeding meals and treats would be to give 1 cup of food at their meal times and then 1-¼ cup of food mixed with treats, given to them on their walks and during training around the house or in the community. If you don’t feel you have given them the full cup during the day or you had to give more than you adjust the dinner meal as needed to equal the total of 3 ¼ cups for the day. However, remember we are talking about low or no exercise days, so these days you want to try and give only 2 ½ or 3 cups total food and treats. Depending on how many treats were used during that day. So you will need to adjust the food intake slightly for these days.
To recap, on low or no exercise days it's important to get the dog's energy out in creative ways as well as stimulate their brain. It's crucial that you learn to adjust the dog's food intake on these days so that you avoid overfeeding, which leads to unhealthy weight gain, eroding the service dog’s health and lifespan.
*Note: the Kong can be messy. You may prefer to give it to the dog in their crate or put a blanket on their dog bed and attach them to the tether.