"And how is he on weekends after all that exercise?" I inquired.
Husband and wife looked at each other, smiled, then looked back at me. "Actually he's great, now that you mention it," the husband said. "We don't have any trouble with him at all on the weekends. It's during the week that we have most of the issues."
They had made the connection. I knew I had made my point about the importance of daily aerobic exercise. I also knew that these owners were going to take the message home and reorganize their schedules so that George could receive a suitable amount of exercise daily. This would entail a lifestyle change – perhaps involving a tag-team approach to the dog's management – but it would be well worth it. They later confirmed during a follow-up call that this change had made a positive impact on George's behavior problems.
Exercise is important for all dogs who are physically capable of it, but it has a greater behavioral impact on some than others. I have asked people, weeks or months after a behavioral appointment, to share their impression of the effects of exercise on their dog's behavior problem. Answers vary from "I think it makes a difference. He seems a bit calmer when he's been out for a run" to "Of all the things you mentioned, increasing his exercise has produced the most profound change in our dog's behavior." The latter is powerful testimony to the effect of exercise on behavior. In general, dogs of the sporting breeds require a fair amount of exercise. Toy dogs and some very large breeds have low exercise requirements. How much exercise a dog needs can be gleaned from his breed history. The American Kennel Club's The Complete Dog Book provides the best account of breed history and development for all AKC-recognized breeds of dog. Dogs that were bred to cover large distances at a fair clip will likely need more exercise than those bred for sedentary purposes, like lap dogs. Bear in mind that the energy level and thus exercise requirement of dogs also vary from individual to individual and are not solely determined by breed. I have met sluggish setters, couch potato pointers, and hyperactive hounds. Age (older dogs need less exercise) and physical limitations (e.g., hip dysplasia, arthritis) must also be considered when assessing how much exercise is good for a dog.
While it is generally true that all dogs need lots of aerobic exercise, breed requirements for exercise do differ. The amount of exercise a particular breed requires depends on the purpose for which that breed was developed. Dogs like Weimaraners, which were bred to run, will need much more exercise than lap dogs, such as Pekingese. "Runners" will require more than the statutory minimum of twenty to thirty minutes of aerobic exercise daily, though this minimum level may suffice for medium-energy dogs. "Couch potato" breeds may get all the exercise they need with a brisk walk around the block each day.
The Runners (high exercise requirements) Working breeds
(Siberian husky, Alaskan malamute, Portuguese water dog)
(Weimaraner, pointers, setters, English springer spaniel, American and Irish water spaniel, Labrador retriever, golden retriever, Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever)
Nonsporting breeds (Dalmatian)
(Australian shepherd, Australian cattle dog, Border collie)