importance of exercise for the maintenance of the general well-being
and happiness of the dog has been highly overrated. The complexity of
modern civilization has imposed such severe restrictions on the
exercising of dogs that it is often quite impractical or totally
impossible to give the dog the amount of exercise that, according to
its natural attributes, it would seem to require. In spite of this,
the adjustment of these animals has been so remarkable that they seem
not to have suffered any substantial loss of vitality, nor has their
longevity been materially effected.
From the standpoint of the dog's natural inheritance and physical
attributes, its exercise requirements would seem to be prodigious. When
sporting or working dogs are on the job, they may run as many as fifty
to a hundred miles a day almost effortlessly, and they would seem to
require fifteen to twenty miles of daily exercise solely to keep their
muscles in a proper state of vigor. Even the terriers and nonsporting
varieties seem to need four to five miles of exercise just to warm up.
Only the toy breeds present no exercise problem; these little animals
usually can get all they need under ordinary conditions.
If a dog is exercised according to its natural dictates, it will
achieve a razor-sharpness of exuberant well-being very similar to that
of a highly trained human athlete. But it is only the relatively rare
dog—such as the farm or range animal, the hunter, or the animal on a large estate—that is living
under conditions ideally suited to its natural attributes.
Most dog owners live either in small homes or apartments. While the
small-home owner can allow his animal to romp in the back yard for many
hours at a time, it is still rather unlikely that any but the smaller
varieties of dogs can get sufficient exercise in this manner. The
apartment-house dweller in most cities is forced by law to restrain his
animal on a leash when taking it out for a walk. How any dog, outside
of the toys or small terriers, can get sufficient exercise in this
manner is hard to imagine!
But when all is said and done, what has been the over-all debilitating
effect of this lack of exercise on dogs? Amazingly enough, not very
much. In spite of the physical disadvantage we have imposed on most of
our dogs in not keeping them tuned up to athletic razor-sharpness, they
still seem to be clean, sleek, vigorous, happy, and healthy, and they
generally live to a ripe old age. Only occasionally will difficulties
arise that are directly attributable to lack of exercise. When animals
such as Great Danes are raised in one- or two-room city apartments,
they will sometimes have physical breakdowns after several years of
such preposterous confinement. But even such occurrences are not as
common as is generally believed.
Sentimentalists may claim that it is the love of dog for man that
somehow has made up for this deficiency. Scientists will be more modest
and will probably suggest that it is simply a manifestation of an
admirable adjustment; that furthermore it may be a practical
demonstration of possible proof that we have tended to overestimate the
importance of exercise to dog health, and that some of our old ideas
regarding exercise needs for dogs may have to be revised.