“Dogs with pushed-in faces — pugs, Pekingese and shih tzus, for example — they have a hard time breathing normally,” Becker said. “If you take them too far or too fast, they are at a risk of dying.”
Mealey added that these short-muzzled dogs can't tolerate heat as well either. What's more, such dogs, especially if they are bulkier or more muscular like a bulldog, aren't great swimmers. Actually, they sink.
But they can still be a good fitness companion for the walker. It's important to match the dog to the owner, and if you're not up for lengthy and intense exercise, an older dog and/or one that is bulkier with a shorter muzzle that isn't built for speed or endurance may be more your style. Little dogs like Yorkshire terriers and miniature poodles are good, too. If you do happen to have a dog with more energy than you, there is always the game of fetch.
For the more ambitious athlete, you, of course, want the dog that simply looks fast: sleeker and with a longer muzzle. Although as shown with Mealey's Jack Russell, they don't have to be big.
Some specific recommendations from Becker and Mealey for dog breeds that are good distance runners are: border collies, German short-haired pointers, Dalmatians, Labrador and golden retrievers, whippets, greyhounds and standard poodles. Even if you want to run sprint intervals, they can keep up. These dogs also make good swimmers.
I asked Becker what he thought of using a dog as a swimming companion, and he thought it was a great idea. If you've got access to some open water and want someone alongside, a dog trained to swim is fine, but stay close to shore, just in case.
For the hiking aficionado, Becker said the Bernese mountain dog, Alaskan malamute and Siberian husky are all good choices. He also endorses doggy backpacks. “They can bring water and snacks,” he said.
Some final words of caution from both experts are that if you don't fulfill your duties by exercising your pet, you're asking for behavioral problems. Dogs are not a home gym you can ignore.
Becker, who also wrote the book “The Healing Power of Pets,” says that pet ownership is more than just having a dedicated workout partner.
“Pets don't just make us feel good, they are actually good for us,” he told me. “There is a real affection connection. It's a bedrock you can stand on. They help people learn empathy and responsibility, and there is a lot of evidence that they promote longevity.”
So, if you're ready to be a good human, there is a four-legged friend out there waiting to become your new workout partner.
MCT Information Services