Injuries and Exhaustion
One sign of overwork is exercise-related injuries, particularly if they occur frequently or the dog aggravates old injuries on a regular basis. Any dog can take a bad step while running and injure a leg, but if you’ve been to the canine sports medicine specialist several times in the past year, for different injuries or flare-ups from the same injury, your dog may be overworked.
Hand-in-hand (paw-in-paw?) with sports injuries goes exhaustion. If your exercise sessions with your dog regularly leave her so tired that she’s not interested in food or attention, and she doesn’t recover from that level of exhaustion within a few minutes, she’s working too hard for her level of fitness– and maybe working too hard for any level of fitness. Dogs have limits, and it’s entirely possible for even an athletic dog to be owned by a human who is so committed to providing adequate exercise that they continually push the dog past those limits.
A dog getting a healthy amount of exercise should be excited when presented with a chance to participate in an athletic activity. If your dog spins happily in circles when he sees his leash, realizes he’s at the agility facility, or notices other signs he’s about to exercise, he’s probably fine. On the other hand, if a formerly exuberant canine athlete becomes reluctant, he may be overworked. Of course, there are other possible reasons for a dog to stop enjoying a sport: A change of instructor or a pushy classmate, for example.
Other personality changes can also be signs of overwork. If a dog who gets a lot of exercise becomes snappy, lethargic, or slow to obey commands, and a vet rules out a health problem, he may simply be tired of working so hard. Sometimes athletic older dogs seem to change suddenly, going from youthful vigor to showing their age within days. If this is the case, after seeing the vet and confirming that the dog is healthy overall, consider reducing your dog’s exercise schedule for two weeks, and see if their behavior returns to normal.
What to Do?
It can be heartbreaking for an owner to realize that their dog can’t really keep up while the owner trains for a marathon, or that their prized herding dog is no longer feeling up to working sheep four times a week. Owners who exercise their dogs often feel (correctly) that they’re doing a good thing, going above and beyond what most dog owners do to keep their pets happy. But if your dog is showing signs of overwork, no matter how much you love exercising with her, it’s time to cut back.
If you find yourself cutting back on your dog’s exercise because he is overworked, and you’re feeling deprived, consider volunteering to exercise dogs at your nearest shelter. There are always homeless dogs who need a walk or a run! If it’s competition or canine sports you’re missing, maybe your instructor can match you with a competitor who needs help working her dog while the human half of the team recovers from an injury. Lastly, if you’re sure you can handle the extra responsibility, you could consider getting another dog.