To me, there's nothing better than an intense workout to help me feel good. I don't care what the activity is; running, tennis, softball, racquetball, volleyball or biking, they all fit the bill. I like physical exercise because of the ‘high’ it gives me when I'm done. We know how important exercise is for our dogs, but do they get as much enjoyment as we do from an intense workout? Do dogs get the same kind of ‘runner's high’ we get?
Like humans, some dogs enjoy sports more than others. For a high-energy dog, racing around off leash is what they live for. If you've never experienced a runners high yourself, it's hard to describe the euphoric feeling one gets after a strenuous workout. Stress is reduced and you feel on top of the world. According to a recent study, dogs do get that same feeling after a good run or workout.
The study, published in the Journal of Experimental Biology, found that both humans and dogs have a release of mood altering chemicals after running. Research was done at the University of Arizona where they compared humans, dogs and ferrets to see if we shared an endorphin rush, or second wind. They found that ferrets don't get a high from exercise. They aren't exactly the long distance running types. Dogs and humans, on the other hand, do experience a runner's high and it's more intense in dogs than it is in humans. The high happens when neurochemicals activate endocannabinoid receptors in the brain. Scientists also discovered that walking doesn't produce a high for humans or dogs. Nevertheless, a walk around the neighborhood is still good for both of us.
When man and dogs began their evolution journey together, humans had to travel away from home to find food. They needed to be able to push themselves through sore and tired muscles to keep going. Since dogs traveled with humans, they also needed to be able to push themselves when needed and dig down to get a second wind. Without the feeling of euphoria, there is no reward to encourage the body to keep moving. The runner's high is probably one thing that helped hunters locate and stalk their prey and then return home with supper. And since dogs aided in the hunt, they also needed to be able to keep up.
Researchers have understood for years how exercise plays a role in our mood and helps keep the mind healthy. People who work with dogs have also known that exercise is key to keeping a dog's mind stable and sharp as well. They really didn't need a study to convince them, but it is interesting to see how alike humans and dogs are when it comes to feeling a runner's high.
When dealing with behavior problems, consider putting your dog on a good exercise program, after making sure his behavior isn't caused by a medical condition and he's physically fit for a more rigorous routine. Exercise produces chemicals in the brain that can improve mood and give dogs a calming and more relaxed feeling, and for some canines, that may be all they need to change their bad behavior.
Shelters are full of dogs who were surrendered when they developed behavior problems because they were bored and didn't get sufficient exercise. Some smaller dog breeds don't require as much exercise as larger breeds, but all dogs need to get rid of pent up energy to stay healthy in body and mind.
When I was in college, my tennis coach had us run a mile on the first day of practice, regardless of whether we were ready to go a mile or not. After hitting the mile mark, she didn't stop us and told us to dig down deep and search for that second wind. “You'll know when you find it because you'll no longer be tired. You hit a point where you begin to feel the endorphin rush and at that point, the tired feeling stops.”
She was right, and after running the second mile, I was sure I'd have no problem completing a third mile. Yeah, right! I was more than ready to stop at that point, but I felt great, even though I was tired. If a dog gets that same feeling, it's easy to understand why they need a good run. A tired dog is a good dog – but a tired, calm, happy and ‘feeling on top of the world’ dog is even better. This study shows it really is that important to make sure your high-energy dog gets plenty of exercise!