In a recent article in Psychology Today, Mark Bekoff, Ph.D. questions the traditional wisdom surrounding canine exercise needs. He describes a time when he lived in a rural environment where his dog could run free and had the choice as to whether to hang out at home or go exploring. Interestingly, over the course of two weeks, although his dog did go for his usual two-to-three mile walk nine times, he also chose to not do much on three of those days, and on two others, he went out, ate breakfast, and then went back to sleep.
It’s interesting to compare Bekoff’s observations with the commonly held belief that all healthy dogs need a certain amount of exercise each and every day. While some breeds and life stages do generally need more exercise, painting an entire breed or age group with the same strokes does not yield a full, accurate picture. Individual dogs have their own physical requirements and preferences, and although we may think we’re doing the right thing by adhering to common wisdom, I believe it’s more beneficial to assess our dogs as individuals.
Providing exercise for Sage, our recently adopted Siberian husky-German shepherd mix, has been interesting. She’s fairly young--the shelter thinks around 3 ½ years old--and both of her main breeds are fairly high energy (okay, huskies are normally very high energy). My husband goes running each day in the canyons behind our house, and we had imagined that Sage would be his running partner. He had taken her with him a few times and she seemed to enjoy herself. But then she decided she didn’t want to go. She’d get excited when I put the harness on her, and would leave the house eagerly. But whenever they reached the canyon, she would put on the brakes. What she really wanted was to just walk and sniff around the hillsides surrounding the house. As far as my husband can tell, nothing had happened in the canyons to scare her, and she’d seemed to enjoy the hiking and short stretches of running. I honestly don’t know why she doesn’t want to go anymore. It could be that the steep inclines and challenging terrain were a bit too much for her, even if it didn’t seem like it at the time. Or, maybe something like the scent of coyotes (which are definitely out there) worried her, although I doubt it. Whatever the reason, her communication could not be any clearer. She does not care for that particular form of exercise, at least in that location.
By contrast, during our usual 60-90-minute park visits, Sage revels in on-leash roaming and sniffing around the gentle trails. This is her time, and I allow her to lead and explore. She’s in her element and it’s obvious that she loves it. When she gets home, she eats and then sleeps for a few hours. Now, someone hearing that a young husky mix isn’t flat-out running for x amount of time daily might think she’s not getting what she needs. But she is getting a lot of mental stimulation on her sniffing safaris, as well as at home with Kongs, training sessions, and more. If she were constantly restless, or gaining weight, I might feel that we weren’t meeting her needs. But in her case, it seems so far that we are. We’re still getting to know her, and if it becomes clear that she needs more or different forms of exercise, we’ll adapt.
I’m not suggesting that regular exercise isn’t important. Of course it is. And unfortunately, many owners don’t provide their dogs with enough. But does a dog need a set-in-stone daily exercise regimen? My answer is no. Assuming a dog is healthy and does want to go out most of the time, there may be some days he just don’t feel like it. That’s okay. A dog might need more or less exercise than what’s normally prescribed, and those needs may change over time. If we just pay attention to what our dogs are telling us, we may find they have a lot to say about what they truly want or need. _______________________________________________________________ You can find my books, seminar recordings, blog, and more at www.nicolewilde.com and follow me on FB @NicoleWildeauthor. My dog trainer mentoring service can be found at Dog Trainer's Friend. And if wildlife photos are your thing, check out my Instagram at nicolewildeart.