"He gets walked around the block every day," the woman owner said when I asked how much exercise their dog, George, was getting. "Isn't that enough?"
"It's better than nothing," I replied, "but certainly not enough for a canine athlete like George. I used to take my eighty-year-old mother for a mile walk around the block each day when she visited from England, and neither of us was out of breath. Most dogs are born to run – and run hard. Dalmatians, in particular, were bred to run alongside stagecoaches and fire trucks for hours without tiring. Dogs' wild cousins covered huge distances in search of prey, so exercise is part of the natural and necessary canine agenda."
To illustrate the point, I told George's owners about my experience with a highly predatory and energetic Parson Russell terrier who used to accompany me and my father on long country walks when I was a teenager. While we were walking over hill and dale, the dog was running. When we had plodded several miles, the dog had covered many times that distance – and at full tilt. By late afternoon, when we returned home, the dog, who had been so jazzed up at the start of the day, was finally peaceful, relaxed, and happy.
"What George needs is a minimum of thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily, and preferably more." The couple then asked me to explain what constitutes aerobic exercise.
"Aerobic exercise increases oxygen consumption and makes the heart beat stronger and faster. It is exercise that causes dogs to pant and tires them out. It is usually only possible to achieve this level of exercise with a dog off leash – unless you use a treadmill. Gym people refer to this type of exercising as cardio (short for cardiovascular exercise). It leaves us with our hands on our hips, breathing heavily. This type of vigorous exercise is what most young, healthy dogs need."
"I see," the man commented. "The kind of exercise we get on a treadmill or Stairmaster or when we go for a jog."
"Precisely," I replied. "Exercise to the point of tiredness is what I am looking for. One of my favorite mantras is 'A tired dog is a good dog.' Do you think you'll be able to incorporate that level of activity into your routine with George?"
"He does get a fair bit of exercise on the weekend," the woman offered. "We like to hike and most weekends we take George with us. We walk several miles over hilly terrain. To our usual seven or so miles, he probably covers twenty-one. He's in perpetual motion – on the go all the time. That's enough exercise for him, isn't it?" I had to admit that that level of exercise was more than any behaviorist could reasonably request for a dog. But, then again, it was only on weekends.