I find this one attribute can be one of the biggest “make or break” features in selecting a dog. It hurts my heart when I see dogs and humans miserable because energy levels don’t match up. These mismatches are terribly frustrating for both dog and human–human just wants the dog to chill out and the dog just wants to get to burn some energy and not feel so pent up (or the human wants to go for walks and exercise and the dog wants no part of it). Neither party is happy and it often doesn’t take to long for both parties to start feeling badly about each other and acting out those frustrations.
People see dogs like Border Collies, Malinois, Cattle Dogs, Aussies, Labs, Pit bull type dogs (or mixes) excelling in obedience, rally, agility, etc and they think, “Wow! That’s amazing, I’d love a dog like that.” They don’t see the hours of work that goes into working with the dog and exercising the dog sufficiently to have a peaceful home. When people watch me playing disc or doing obedience with the dogs they always ask what kind of dogs they are and after I tell them the breed guesses I also tell them, “These are very high energy dogs and because of that, I see both 5:15AM and 11:30PM to make sure they are sufficiently exercised*” (*when I was working full time this was 100% true… to keep two high-drive, high-energy dogs happy living in an apartment, I had to make some concessions and one of those was sleep).
There is a young Pit Bull type dog in one of my classes who is amazing. Wicked smart, loves to work, but is ridiculously under exercised and under stimulated. I can pretty much bet on having complaints from her family every week because she’s too hyper. When asked about exercise they say she runs around the house a lot–no walks, no fetch, no running at a park. They are frustrated and at the end of their leash, so to speak, and the dog is clearly unimpressed with the status quo. What makes this situation particularly frustrating is that regardless of suggestions for exercise, the owner isn’t really willing to make an effort to increase the exercise and it’s not as though the pup being high energy is surprising–they adopted her knowing she was high spirited. This young dog is starting to become quite reactive toward other dogs because she is simply so frustrated. I somehow have a feeling this family will not keep her if she becomes reactive…unless things change, I don’t see this ending well.
My suggestion to potential families regarding activity level, is to be honest with yourselves and realistic with your expectations. Before getting a dog really sit down and plan out how much exercise you can give to a dog (and what type of exercise). Can you, in all honesty, commit to getting up 30 minutes early to give your high energy young dog a 2 mile walk or lots of fetch in the morning…and then another 30-60 minutes (minimum) of walking/fetching/training at night after a long day’s work? How about investing time and money into taking agility/freestyle/rally classes to keep your pup busy and happy? I hear the “we have a big backyard” response so often when I ask about exercise and it really does bug me. It’s not the yard that will exercise the dog, it’s the owner being in the yard, throwing the ball, playing frisbee, and running around that will exercise the dog.
When you research a breed or go look at dogs in the shelter keep in mind your own activity level, your lifestyle, and the time you can commit to exercising a dog. If a dog doesn’t fit into what you can do and you aren’t able to give more…. you should make the responsible choice and find a dog who fits into your lifestyle better. It’s especially hard at shelters to say no to a dog…but it is ultimately better for everyone to make sure dog and human are well matched. It can be a big safety issue if you have kids with busy schedules that prevents properly exercising a dog. If your high energy dog is not getting what he/she needs because the kids’ schedule is so crazy, you are really putting your children at risk. Eventually that dog can become so pent up that he/she can becomes destructive, pushy, mouthy, and easily overstimulated (which can lead to a bad accident).
I guess all of that can be summed up in a short synopsis: Before you get a dog, look at your lifestyle and assess how active of a life you lead, figure out how much time you can devote to exercise, and then be willing to say no to a dog who is clearly not a good fit.