Tricks instead of Exercise? A Good Trade-Off?

Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary


As a 76 year old single woman I have adopted a wonderful sheltie/shepherd mix female, very active 15 week old puppy. Arthritis and age have begun to make 2 hour, twice a day walks detrimental for me. Would it be healthy for her if I replace exercise with tricks that she and I would do together? I work at Heart & Soul Animal Sanctuary.

Dr. Nichol:

Your shiny new puppy sounds like a delightful bundle of excitement and mischief, a lot like my family’s amped-up young herding dog. Mick (Jagger) Nichol requires full time employment.

Dogs are highly social creatures with an essential need for jaunts off-territory. Their sniffing and urine-marking is all about reading the bulletin boards and posting messages. But unless a dog is elderly or has 3 inch legs, a leash walk won’t provide significant exercise. They need to run long and hard every day. Off-leash shenanigans with other dogs, in a safe environment like a dog park or doggy daycare, works well for most.

I am a major believer in training. Whether it’s fun tricks, basic obedience, agility, or rally (the dog sport for Mick and his daddy), you can have good fun teaching your girl to work to earn reinforcers from you – her great leader. This structure will build the strong, healthy bond you want with her. Bringing out the best in your pupster doesn’t have to require heavy human exertion. Agility training, when done right, gets a dog good and tired while its person moves minimally. There would be no such thing as too much exercise for your wild and crazy youngster.

Helping the multitude of dogs, cats, and horses at the beautiful Heart and Soul Animal Sanctuary near Glorietta makes you one of my favorite pet lovers. Folks can appreciate the great work you and other volunteers do by visiting


I’ll answer pet behavior questions at the K9 Resort (4740 Pan American Fwy NE in Albuquerque) on Saturday, September 21 from 9-10 AM. Drop by and exhaust my brain for no charge.


For help with behavior problems, you can sign-up for a Zoom Group Conference on my website,

Dr. Jeff Nichol is a residency-trained veterinary behaviorist. He provides consultations in-person and in groups by Zoom ( Each week he shares a blog and a video to help bring out the best in pets and their people. Sign up at no charge at Email pet behavior or physical questions to or by US Post to 4000 Montgomery Blvd. NE, Albuq, NM 87109.