Match dog's exercise needs to your own

12/11/2012 12:00 AM

12/10/2012 8:54 PM

Every month I go to my local public radio station for a short feature on pets and their care. While I'm always prepared for the topic we've chosen for the show, I'm sometimes caught off-guard by the questions other guests ask me in the "green room" before the show.

These are all extremely accomplished people in their own fields, but in my area of expertise, they can have some pretty off-the-mark ideas. Such was the case recently when a top atmospheric scientist asked me to confirm for him that the vizsla, a Hungarian hunting breed, would be a low-maintenance pet.

Low maintenance? Not unless your idea of that includes a couple daily exercise sessions that would exhaust someone training for a marathon. Like many hunting dogs, the vizsla is bred for a hard day's work in rough terrain. For someone looking for a dog who'd snooze the days away alone in a downtown condo, his choice of dog could hardly be worse.

He told me he wanted shorthaired, medium-size and laid-back, and he was surprised when I suggested he consider a retired racing greyhound, likely a female to come in on the smaller size. He thought that a racing dog would have nonstop energy, but on the contrary, greyhounds are lovingly known by their families as "40 mph couch potatoes." You want a dog to snooze the day away? This is that dog.

That doesn't mean the vizsla isn't a good dog for someone else. I have high-energy dogs of a similar hunting breed, and I manage their exercise needs by making sure there's room for lots of fetch in my schedule. If I couldn't or didn't want to exercise them constantly, I wouldn't have dogs like these. But too many people don't consider a dog's energy levels when choosing an animal companion, and that often leads to frustration for both dog and owner.

Look at the big, active dogs we adore, such as the Labrador, golden retriever and German shepherd. These breeds are high on the American Kennel Club's list of the most popular, and they're also well-represented as adoption candidates in shelters, both purebreds and mixes. You don't have to go far down the popularity list to find other active breeds as well – dogs whose genetics have prepared them to work hard and often.

What are they doing to burn off all that natural energy? Barking, digging, chewing and often making their owners very unhappy.

If you're thinking of getting a dog, think seriously about which breed 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 getting an active large breed.

Instead, consider the alternatives. For large breeds, look at the sight hounds, such as the greyhound I suggested, the saluki or even the massive Irish wolfhound. These breeds were not developed to work all day like the retriever, husky and sheepdog, but rather to go all-out for a short period of time and then chill out for hours. They're big, but they're couch potatoes by choice. Many guarding breeds, such as Rottweilers, boxers and Akitas, also have relatively minimal exercise requirements. All dogs love and need their exercise, but not all dogs will go crazy if they don't get a ton of it.

Most small breeds are easy in the exercise department, too, not because they don't need a lot of it, but 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.

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