At a party at a friend's lake house, a guest was tossing a ball into the lake for her dog to retrieve, over and over. The dog seemed tireless, as ball-obsessive dogs can be. But even - or maybe especially - a seemingly indefatigable dog needs to rest. Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing as too much exercise.
Even on a cool day or when the dog is cooling off in the lake, owners need to enforce rest by stopping play. So it isn't an issue of overheating, but of over-exercise. To prevent it, put the dog on a leash or in a kennel to relax if that's the only way you can slow him down. This is critical for both your dog's health and your own sanity.
The result of over-exercise is the need to exercise. It might seem counterintuitive, but the fact is that rather than tiring a dog, strenuous exercise creates a need for exercise. Chasing a ball into the water for a half-hour or more raises the dog's adrenaline level, which takes days to subside. While adrenaline levels are high, the dog is overactive - giving the impression that he needs more exercise to calm him down - creating a vicious circle.
A healthy dog does need regular exercise - but reasonable exercise. Taking your dog for a half-hour walk, preferably off-leash in a safe area where your dog can move at his own pace (and is trained to come when called!), is terrific exercise. Throwing a ball or other fast-paced activities are fine in moderation - no more than 20 minutes twice or at most three times a week, with two days of moderate exercise, such as going for a walk, in between.
Here's the difference between strenuous and moderate exercise:
A dog moving at his own pace will most often trot. This is the gait dogs typically use when they're moving around the environment or walking with you. Trotting, or gaiting, is the equivalent of jogging. Just as a human can jog over a longer distance than if he or she were sprinting, so can dogs. When you throw a ball for a dog, the dog sprints after it. Sprinting - running straight out - is far more taxing than trotting, or jogging. Think about the difference between a 26-mile marathon and a 200-meter dash.
When my dogs and I go for a walk in the woods, I walk between 1½ and 2 miles. Kochi, our 12-year-old Shiba Inu mix, probably covers about 50 percent more distance, trotting from side to side and occasionally running off the path into the woods after a squirrel. Our Chinook, Larry, on the other hand, who has just turned a year old, has far more energy than Kochi. Further, Chinooks are genetically programmed to be active sled dogs. Larry trots ahead of me, comes back to check in, and trots off into the woods beside the trail. He probably covers about three times the distance that I do, or maybe even more. Both dogs will occasionally sprint into the woods after a squirrel or chipmunk, or gallop for short distances, but these are short-term movements, after which they return to a ground-covering trot.
If you have been providing too much exercise and want to do it more sensibly, it's likely that your dog will have difficulty settling down the first few days you don't engage him in his "normal" activity. But after he has gotten past this adrenaline high, you'll have a dog who is much calmer overall, a dog you can take out to play with or simply take for a nice calm walk - better for both of you.
Gail Fisher, author of "The Thinking Dog," runs All Dogs Gym & Inn in Manchester. To suggest a topic, email email@example.com or write c/o All Dogs Gym, 505 Sheffield Road, Manchester, NH 03103. Past columns are on her website.