GET A MOVE ON
Exercise therapy: Tired dogs are more likely to be well-mannered
By Gina Spadafori
The joke in dog training these days is that when you get two trainers together, the only thing they’ll agree on is that a third trainer is doing it wrong.
But there’s something else that the fiercest advocate of a no-punishment training approach will find in common with the trainer who believes that a dog’s actions need consequences: They’ll both agree that your dog is likely not getting enough exercise, and that sedentary lives are at the root of a lot of canine behavior problems.
Look at the big, active dogs we adore, such as the Labrador retriever and the German shepherd. You don’t have to go far down the popularity list to find other active breeds, such as the always-in-motion dog commonly known as the Jack Russell terrier. Factor in the countless retriever, shepherd, husky, hound and terrier mixes, and you have a lot of dogs whose genetics have prepared them to work nonstop for hours at a time.
Instead, many of them spend their lives in small, boring backyards. To burn off all that natural energy, they’re busy barking, digging and chewing.
If you’re thinking of getting a dog, think very seriously about what breed or mix you want and whether you can provide an active dog with the exercise he needs. If you can’t honestly say that your dog will get 30 minutes of heart-thumping aerobic exercise at least three to four days a week — daily is better — then you really ought to reconsider those breeds and mixes.
Fortunately, there are alternatives. All dogs love and need their exercise, but not all dogs will misbehave if they don’t get a ton of it. Consider dogs of breeds or mixes that are content with less exercise. For large dogs, consider adopting a retired racing greyhound, a dog known as the “30 mph couch potato.” Many of the pug-nosed breeds are also touted for their couch-potato ways, but beware: that’s because they’re often born with compromised respiratory systems, with health problems to match.
Many small breeds are easy in the exercise department, and they’re well worth considering because it’s not as difficult to exercise a small dog with short legs. A Yorkie, pug or corgi can get good exercise in a small yard or on a brisk walk, but remember that even short legs won’t get you off the hook with the most active and tough-minded breeds of terrier. These dogs need as much regular cardio as their bigger, more powerful relatives.
What if you already have an active breed of dog? I know the answer to this one, having shared my life with retrievers from high-drive hunting lines for almost 20 years. Keeping them exercised is a big part of my life. There’s always a tennis ball in my truck, and I know all the safe and legal places to throw it, especially those that involve bodies of water.
So get out that leash. Find that tennis ball. Scope out the nearest pond. And make some time to get your dog moving a half-hour a day, every day. Your dog will be happier and healthier, and so will you.
As for those behavior problems, you’ll find they’re easier to fix if your dog isn’t frantically looking for a place to direct all that energy. Ask your veterinarian for a trainer or behaviorist who can help.