The maxim “a sound mind in a sound body” is extremely relevant when it comes to taking care of our pets. Nearly every behavior problem I have encountered in my thirty years of work with animals is directly attributable to lack of exercise. Does your dog chew the furniture when you’re at the office? Does he grab food from the table or annoy your guests? Is your cat impervious to any and all attempts to be trained to a litter box? Does he scratch and claw without provocation? These behavior problems are usually due to misdirected energy.
Your dog would rather have a long run in an open field than jump on your dinner guests, but when he is denied his favorite pastime, he reverts to bad behavior. Excessive barking, biting, racing out the door, hole-digging, acting badly in the car, not staying, not coming, not doing anything when told – all of these problems and many others vanish entirely when a consistent exercise program is instituted. Diverting all that misspent energy into organized activity does for a dog what it does for you – it calms you down, lets you sleep better at night, and make you generally kinder to others.
Very often, pets’ bad habits are related to their home environment. Their nervous so-called “hyperactive” behavior may in fact be a reaction to the pressures and tensions of the family members around them. Animals do empathize with humans, and the preoccupied, angry, or hysterical behavior of a beloved owner may actually rub off on a dog or cat.
I don’t have any panacea for human emotional ailments, but I can suggest that both pet and owner would benefit from a good, exercise program. Chasing a Frisbee eliminates the need to chase a tail or chew a paw. The most anxious or high-strung pets can be calmed by a dip in the ocean or a run around the park. And what appears to be a serious emotional problem may be simply a desire to release a lot of pent-up energy. Lack of physical fitness in an animal creates a host of difficulties, and these can worsen if not attended to promptly.