Dogs need regular exercise to live balanced, happy, and healthy lives. They depend on their owners to provide this activity and in turn will be better canine companions for it. There is an old adage "a tired dog is a good dog". It is rooted in the fact that dogs getting regular physical activity are typically more well-adjusted and less destructive. Daily activity for dogs is essential to their health and happiness.
How Much Is Enough Exercise for Your Dog?
The dog’s age, breed, and health should be considered when evaluating exercise needs. Your veterinarian is a helpful resource on this and should be consulted. At the very least, every dog needs walking (unless medically prohibited!) to stretch their legs, explore their environment for enrichment, and of course, potty breaks! How long to walk for and at what pace depends on the dog.
Daily activity recommendations for healthy adult dogs range from 30 minutes to 2 hours. This can be spread out over several walks, hikes, and games of fetch. Puppies and senior dogs will have very different needs and should be evaluated by a veterinarian to determine their mobility levels and exercise tolerance.
The most active dog breeds will obviously require much more exercise. If your dog is considered a high-energy or working dog, you’ll want to abide by their breed requirements. Some dogs are built for speed and enjoy quick sprints, while others are built for endurance and prefer longer, slower, bouts of exercise like hiking.
What Breeds Need the Most Exercise?
Dogs that are considered in the working, herding, and sporting groups have the highest exercise requirements. These dogs were bred to have a job and they will likely get bored without lots of physical and mental stimulation. Popular breeds in these groups include German Shepherds, Siberian Huskies, Belgian Malinois, and most types of Collies, Spaniels, and Retrievers.
Dogs in the terrier group are generally considered energetic but not as much as the working, sporting, and herding groups. From the small but mighty Jack Russell Terrier to the muscular American Staffordshire Terrier, these dogs can make great hiking or running partners.
The hound group is very diverse. While some hounds like Greyhounds and Foxhounds are swift runners, other hounds, like Bassets and Beagles, would rather follow their noses.
Breed is a good guide, but there are always exceptions to the rule. There may be a particularly spunky Basset Hound who enjoys more playtime or a Labrador who prefers napping over a game of fetch. Mixed breeds can also display different levels of energy depending on their dominant traits. Never push a dog to exercise past its limits because you think they need it. If your dog is exhibiting a decrease in their normal energy levels, have them seen by a vet.
What Types of Exercise Does My Dog Need?
Walks are the most common and purposeful way to exercise your dog, but there are many other activities your dog may also revel in.
If your dog enjoys and can tolerate longer periods of exercise, running or hiking can be a great way for them to release some energy. For sprinting dogs, faster yet shorter jaunts around the block might be their ideal form of exercise.
Some dogs love the water and will enjoy a swim. Swimming for dogs is also a great low-impact way for dogs with arthritis or injuries to enjoy physical activity and strength training. If you don’t have access to a safe place for your dog to swim, look for a veterinarian or canine rehabilitation center in your area offering hydrotherapy for dogs.
Simple pastimes like throwing a ball, frisbee, or a game of tug-o-war also provide your dog with exercise and enrichment. More advanced dogs may enjoy agility courses.
An interactive treat dispensing toy like the Kong Wobbler is another great way to give your dog physical and mental activity. Interactive toys and puzzle toys are wonderful canine enrichment tools.
And if my Dog Doesn't Get Enough Exercise?
Dogs that don’t get enough exercise are susceptible to some of the same health risks as humans that don’t get enough exercise. These risks include obesity, loss of muscle mass, orthopedic problems, cardiac conditions, and an increased risk of diabetes, cancer, and other serious diseases.
Behavioral issues in dogs are also more common in those who don't receive adequate exercise. Destructive behaviors like chewing furniture, garbage picking, digging holes in the yard, excessive barking, and increased aggression can all result from boredom and pent-up energy. On the opposite end of the spectrum, dogs that don’t get enough exercise may also exhibit withdrawn behaviors, lethargy, and depression.
Do’s and Don’ts of Exercising Your Dog
- Be sure your dog is in good health for exercising through regular veterinary visits.
- Choose exercises your dog enjoys!
- Make sure your dog is getting enough exercise for their individual needs.
- Break up their exercise sessions throughout the day with several walks, playtimes, etc.
- Make sure your dog stays cool and has access to water during exercise.
- Let your dog work their way up slowly to longer periods of exercise.
- Use treats, rewards, and interactive toys for enrichment and training.
- Never exercise your pet in hot weather, heatstroke can occur in mere minutes!
- Don’t force an activity they don’t enjoy. Not all dogs are good runners, swimmers, etc.
- Never exercise too close to mealtimes. Wait a minimum of 1 hour before or after a meal to prevent GDV or Bloat, which can be fatal.
- Don’t let your dog overexert itself. Dogs can get caught up in excitement, so make sure they take breaks.
- Never push a dog to exercise if they are showing signs of being stressed, tired, injured, or ill.