High energy dogs!

Some dogs are charter members of the canine energy club...


The Dalmatian puppy tore through the house, knocking the plant stand against the door and splattering dirt everywhere before careening off the wall and disappearing around the corner into Charley’s room. When Mary and Mom reached the door, the pup was on Charley’s bed, chomping on one of Mary’s $89.95 running shoes.

“Bad dog,” Mary yelled, grabbing the five-month-old pup. “Baaaad Sparky.” Mom sighed. The damage was done – the shoes would have to be replaced. Worse still, what would they do about Sparky?

On the television comedy Frasier, Eddie the Jack Russell Terrier performs his role with humor and precision, leading thousands of families to search for an Eddie for their homes. Many of these families quickly learn that their Moose or Rascal or Bentley is not an Eddie clone; instead they have welcomed a domineering, nippy, hard to train and FAST – very, very fast – puppy into their midst.

Dalmatians, Jack Russells, Border Collies, retrievers, and many other breeds and mixes seem to have a key to a canine energy club, a deep well of zip and zest that replenishes their enthusiasm and drive as effectively as an executive’s power nap. Some of these dogs visit the club several times each day and are ready to go (or destroy) at a moment’s notice.

These high-energy dogs take patience and skill to train and assimilate into the home. They need regular play times and walks and consistent training, and their owners need courage, a sense of humor, and an iron will to survive puppyhood and adolescence. The good news is that training and attention reap rich rewards with these dogs, turning them into joyful and cherished companions.

The origin of energy

Elementary science books put the origin of energy with the sun. Sunlight makes plants grow, herbivores eat plants, carnivores and omnivores eat herbivores and plants, and the world goes round. Food of plant and animal origin contain vitamins, minerals, fats, carbohydrates, and proteins that become muscle and bone, nourish organs, and provide energy for daily living.

People and other animals need nutrients in a particular balance to remain healthy and active, but some individuals of any species may have more energy than others because of the way in which their bodies process those nutrients. The process of processing, so to speak, is known as metabolism.

The metabolism of all animals must function at a minimum pace to sustain life This basal metabolism rate provides the energy to operate and repair the heart, liver, kidneys, lungs, and other organs as well as the chemical reactions that allow the organs to send proper signals to each other. Below this minimum rate, the body begins to die.

Body temperature is maintained by an internal source of heat, a byproduct of basal metabolism. The human temperature of 98.6 degrees and the dog temperature of 101.5-102 are both dependent on basal metabolic rate, just as the body temperatures of all warm-blooded animals depends on their BMR.

While maintaining body temperature, providing for organ activity, and maintaining and repairing body systems, metabolism also produces enough energy for movement in response to stimulus – the source of puppy antics, teen-aged dog shenanigans and adult dog Type A personality.

Other influences

Some dogs and some dog breeds have a naturally higher metabolism that causes a high activity level. These dogs can herd sheep, play ball, chase vermin to ground, follow horse-drawn carriages and horsemen, tromp upland fields and lowland meadows and swamps all day, or run like the wind at a moment’s notice.

Climatic conditions, disease, and nutritional level can influence metabolism. Generally dark-colored dogs, heavy-coated dogs, and dogs with shortened muzzles will have less energy in warm, humid weather and short-coated dogs may be less active in cold, damp weather. Dogs with metabolic imbalances such as hypothyroidism will be less active in all weather unless they are placed on medication to regulate the thyroid gland’s output of hormones.

Dogs fed diets with too few digestible nutrients or too much sugar will either suffer energy deprivation or will become obese. Labrador Retrievers are among the high-energy breeds that can easily gain weight unless they receive a balanced amount of food and exercise.

All animals glean energy from a diet of fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. Every dog needs animal fats that can be converted to quick energy as well as carbohydrates (starches) and protein that can be stored as energy and released when necessary. And every working dog – hunting, herding, racing, mushing, training for agility trials, or practicing theft techniques on Mary’s slippers or Mom’s company roast – needs an ample supply of all three nutrients to live up to his full potential.

Channeling energy

The trick is to channel the energy into appropriate activities. Although dogs were developed for particular purposes, creative owners can substitute alternative or simulated activities to keep a pet or show dog happy. Long walks with a backpack; joining regular volksmarches or walkathons; training for tracking titles, obedience and agility competitions; training for dog sled races or treks; hunting for upland game birds or other quarry – all satisfy the dog’s need for active work.

Those who have access to sheep or ducks can hone a Border Collie’s herding skills as a hobby and can participate in herding tests and trials for fun and titles. Those who are livestock poor can satisfy their pet’s Type A personality with games, long walks, precision obedience training, agility training, and other pursuits or can join a herding club with access to stock on the farms and homesteads of other members.

Depending on the breed of dog, the American Kennel Club offers many opportunities to participate in tests and trials to determine the dog’s instinct for its traditional career and its ability to herd or hunt at various levels of complexity. Some hounds and all sporting dogs qualify for hunting events; sighthounds can compete in lure coursing events; herding dogs and Samoyeds can enter herding tests and trials; terriers can compete in go-to-ground contests that simulate vermin hunting, etc.

The channel is not necessarily through career-oriented opportunities, however. High energy dogs tend to do well in obedience competition and often earn advanced titles with style and flair. These dogs especially like agility training, for they have the opportunity to run, climb, jump, and run some more – and to indulge themselves with some freelance antics as they negotiate the course.

Obedience training

Whatever a pet owner decides to do with his high-energy dog, the foundation of control will be laid through early training that is a combination of socialization, teaching commands, supervising access to temptation, and playing games. So, some hints:

  1. Give puppies plenty of opportunity to explore different surroundings, but only with a chaperone. It’s easier to guide a puppy away from stealing a child’s toy or chewing the pants pocket that held a candy bar if you are on the spot. Scolding afterwards is ineffective and expensive.
  2. If you cannot chaperone, confine.
  3. If you work all day, hire a neighbor, a teenager who likes animals, or a pet sitter to play with the pup about halfway through the day so that pent-up energy won’t spill over into the evening.
  4. Make training a game. Recalls back and forth between people or around and between obstacles, games of fetch or hide and seek, elementary tracking work, etc. can not only channel a pup’s energy, they can help develop and cement the bond between dog and owner.
  5. Make sure the pup has plenty of toys. Buster cubes (the canine equivalent of a child’s drum in irritation factor) are marvelous energy sappers as are Kong toys (especially when filled with a tough-to-extract treat), Frisbees, squeaky toys, and tug toys.
  6. Join an obedience class. For puppies under the age of six months, choose a puppy kindergarten or conformation class. For puppies older than six months, look for a “good manners” class that can also get you started in obedience or agility competition to keep your options open. Take at least two eight-week classes so you can learn to channel your pet’s energy to acceptable level and to give you an idea of whether you want to get involved in organized dog sports.
  7. After basic obedience graduation, sign up for an agility class. Young dogs should not jump until their bones mature, but they can step over low-set jumps, climb the A-frame, dash through tunnels, cross the dog walk, and learn to balance on the teeter-totter. Since agility is ultimately done without a leash, the dog must be under control to participate, so take an extra obedience class or work very hard on control at home before enrolling.


Owning a dog with a key to the energy club can be a hassle or a joy. You choose which. You can let him run amuck and complain, or you can give him the attention and training he needs and revel in his capacity for life.

Norma Bennett Woolf

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