How much exercise does my dog need?
For our canine friends, the most exciting parts of the day are probably mealtimes, playtimes and walkies. The mere thought of going for a walk will send most dogs wild, spinning around, searching for the lead and jumping up and down. The keywords here are ‘most dogs’, some dogs are extremely lazy, we’re looking at you French Bulldogs!
Pet parents of course want their dogs to live long, happy lives, and this is done through a combination of nutritious, healthy food, annual check-ups at the vet and the right amount of exercise. However, how can we know if our dogs are getting enough exercise?
How much exercise is the right amount for your dog, will they be alright if they don’t get that and what is the best form of exercise? Read on to find out all our top tips for exercising your pet.
How much exercise will my dog need?
Walking the dog isn’t just a weekend activity, it’s a full-time responsibility and commitment that you need to do every day. However, some dogs have a higher daily requirement than others. Generally, the idea is that a dog should have between 30 minutes and 2 hours of activity each day. Although, this is a pretty broad scale.
A one size fits all approach doesn’t apply to dogs and exercise. Every single dog is unique, even within one breed, just like us humans. Judging how much exercise a dog will need can’t be pinpointed to an exact amount, but a lot can be told from breed, size, weight, age, energy levels and health.
Breed and size
Breed and size are probably the main factors to consider when it comes to working out your pet’s exercise regime.
Smaller breeds such as Chihuahuas, Shih Tzus and Bichon Frises don’t ask for much when it comes to walkies. A 30-minute walk around the streets will suffice, however, they probably wouldn’t say no to more.
The exceptions for smaller breeds are the smaller terrier breeds, such as Jack Russell Terriers, Yorkshire Terriers and Westies. These dogs were bred to hunt and kill vermin, meaning they’re lively little things, with high energy levels and a high prey drive. Despite their small size, they’ll probably need around 60-90 minutes of exercise per day.
The dogs that need the most exercise tend to be the sporting breeds or those that once were bred to be working dogs. These are all usually medium to large-sized dog breeds too. Retrievers, Spaniels, Setters, Poodles, Huskies, Collies, Shepherds are the predominant types of dog that thrive when they get loads of exercise, typically wanting about 60-120 minutes of activity a day.
You might think that the amount of exercise needed will increase with larger dog breeds. However, when it comes to giant breeds, such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands, and St Bernards, their exercise requirements are surprisingly quite low, much preferring to take up all the room snoozing on the sofa. Due to their enormous size, they have much more weight to lug around all day with them, meaning that they get sleepy much sooner than a highly wired tiny Terrier.
Exercise is still a necessity for these huge hounds, it’s essential for maintaining their weight and keeping their bones and joints in tip-top shape. A 30–45-minute walk will do just the trick. A lot of giant breeds were once bred to be avid swimmers, so they’d love a doggy paddle in the pool as their form of exercise. It’s also a great option as it’s a low-impact activity that’ll keep their joints intact.
Surprisingly, sighthound breeds, such as Whippets and Greyhounds who were once bred to be speedy racing dogs, don’t actually need a crazy amount of exercise. You’d think that these previous swift sprinters would be your ideal running partner, but they’d much prefer to have a relaxed 30–45-minute walk with a possible quick dash in between, soon followed by a long snooze on the sofa. Sighthounds aren’t recommended for long, extended walks, runs and hikes, they’re perfectly happy with a much more chilled-out exercise routine.
A group of dogs that usually aren’t so keen on a strict exercise routine are brachycephalic (flat-faced) dogs, such as French Bulldogs, Bulldogs and Pugs. A daily walk is necessary for these dogs to stay physically healthy and keep their brain entertained, but that doesn’t mean they’ll be easy to budge from their bed. They are by no means energetic.
Unfortunately, brachycephalic breeds can suffer from numerous health problems due to that flat, squishy face that makes them so adorable. Their facial structure means their air passages are partially obstructed, making rigorous exercise a struggle. A 20-30 minute walk a day will suffice for these squashy-faced pups, and be sure to be careful in extreme heats as they’re prone to getting heatstroke due to their breathing problems.
Age plays a big role in judging how much you should be exercising your pet. Similar to how you need to switch up your dog’s food according to their lifestage, you should be changing up their exercise routine as they grow older.
You might have brought home a new puppy that’s a breed known for their high energy levels and love of activity, but you end up shocked at their slow and steady pace on your initial walks. When you’ve got a young puppy, they won’t be able to exercise the same amount as they will when they grow into bubbly, boisterous adult dogs. After all, you wouldn’t go on a walk with your young child and expect them to walk at the same pace as you!
Younger pups need a couple of activity sessions a day, this could be a short walk around the streets or a fun tug of war session. Just make sure there’s plenty of time throughout the day for an all-important nap! Several shorter walks or sessions of activity are much better for a growing puppy rather than one big, long walk, this can be way too harsh for their developing bodies. As they grow older, their requirements will change and they’ll be able to handle more, for example, an 8-month-old puppy will be able to handle a much longer walk and a jog in the park.
Puppies tend to get cases of the ‘zoomies’ which is where they race around and around, going absolutely bonkers and then crashing shortly after. Typically, with a puppy, they have a lot of energy all at once in short bursts, this is why they thrive much better from several short exercise sessions over one big walk.
If you’ve got a puppy that’s going to grow into a large adult dog, you need to be extra careful when it comes to their exercise. Larger dogs grow at a rapid rate, but they’ll grow for a much longer period of time than a smaller dog breed. This means that their exercise needs to be monitored. With their constantly growing bones and developing joints, too much high-impact exercise (like running) can cause irreversible damage to the bones and joints. Eventually, this could make your pup prone to degenerative joint problems such as arthritis and hip dysplasia. Even things like jumping up and down from the sofa can be too high impact for your puppy’s joints.
As always, there’s no definitive answer for how much exercise your puppy will need. The only answer we can give, which is an awkward answer, is that the amount of exercise all depends on your individual puppy.
It can be sad to see our once energetic, sprightly dogs grow old, unable to do the things they once could. However, it’s inevitable that the older your dog is, the less exercise they’ll be able to handle. A 30-minute walk around the streets will probably suit your senior dog just fine.
It’s important that they still get their daily exercise no matter their age, to maintain their health and keep their brains ticking. You must know your dog’s limits, many will do anything to please their owners, plodding along even if they’re in pain and ready to go home. If you sense they’re getting tired, turn back and head home.
Weight and health
When your dog is overweight, they’ll probably find it harder to meet the recommended exercise requirements for their breed, as they’ll get tired quicker from constantly shifting around extra weight.
If your dog is unwilling to exercise, start slow and gradually increase how much exercise they’re getting. It's important not to overdo it with your overweight dog, you don’t want to add too much stress to their joints, lungs and heart and possibly overexert them. Swimming is a low weight-bearing exercise which might be a great option for obese dogs.
If your dog is poorly, this will have an impact on how much exercise they need. An unwell dog probably won’t be able to engage in as much physical activity as they used to, it’s best to speak to your vet to figure out a good exercise regime for dogs that are in pain.
Clearly, every dog is different, and it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how much exercise each dog will need, a rough guideline is all that can be given. Even the laziest of breeds need a moderate exercise routine to ensure they look and feel good. Judge your dog’s exercise needs by how they get on on your daily walks, if they’re lagging behind it’s probably time to call it quits. By the end of it, you want your dog to be tired and relaxed but not overly shattered.
What happens if my dog doesn’t get enough exercise?
As with humans, dogs need a good diet and enough physical activity to stay healthy and prevent them from piling on the pounds.
Other than their physical health, a dog’s mental health can seriously deteriorate without the right amount of exercise. Dogs can actually suffer from depression, which can be triggered by a lack of exercise and activity. Dogs need stimulation, imagine how bored you would be staring at the same four walls day in day out! We get to leave the house on a whim, go to the shops, the gym, to work, out for food, whereas dogs rely fully on us for their daily outings. It’s absolutely crucial for dogs to get not only physical stimulation but mental stimulation too, which can both be improved with a daily walk.
Without enough walking, you and your dog will start to encounter several problems. Boredom will cause several undesirable behaviours, destroying the house, chewing furniture, tearing up cushions, alongside vocalising their boredom through barking and howling.
They might even start displaying some disgusting habits like going through the rubbish bin, eating their own faeces, eating random non-food items such as socks, rocks and grass. This is called pica. You might even notice that your dog is having toilet accidents in the house even though they’re fully toilet trained, especially at night-time when they should be sleeping. However, many other things can cause these behaviours so it’s important to get to the route of the problem.
Obviously, it’s an exciting time of the day when your dog gets to go for a walk, so some jumping, spinning, barking and panting is all expected, they’re just giddy. However, if your dog isn’t getting enough exercise, this excitement could verge onto hyperactivity when they do get to go for a walk. If they get way too over-excited when you pick up the lead, or they nearly drag you down the street from their excessive lead pulling, it could be a sign that they’ve got loads of pent-up energy ready to burn.
Daily exercise will help maintain your dog’s physical health, keep their brain active and help to relieve stress. You need to remember that these walks aren’t always for your benefit (even though they can be), they’re mostly for your dog’s benefit. A lot of the time, it’s not about walking a far distance, it’s about letting them enjoy doing everything that dogs love to do. Let them sniff, explore and enjoy their surroundings.
What forms of exercise are there?
When it comes to exercising your four-legged friend, many would think the options are reserved to a walk on the lead or a run in the park.
However, the options are endless:
- Swimming (hydrotherapy)
- Fetch and frisbee
- Running alongside your dog
- Obedience (reinforcing recall, retrieving, already known commands and teaching brand new tricks)
- Games such as tug of war
- Hide and seek
- Dog sports (agility, flyball, scent work)
Of course, it can be easy to just clip the lead on and go for a walk around the streets, following the same route each time. Especially if this becomes your routine every day before or after work. Routine is great, and dogs truly are creatures of habit, however, it’s a good idea to mix up their exercise regime to prevent boredom.
Off lead walks allow your dog to go wild, however, they can be tricky if your pet is really rubbish at recall. Research a local secure dog play park for your dog to have a run. Playing and training are also great additions to a dog’s routine. Making your dog work for their food is another way to tire out your pet, spread their Pure onto a lickimat, in a Kong or scatter treats around the house. Mental stimulation alongside physical exercise allows your dog to stay physically and mentally healthy.
Every dog is different, some will delight at the thought of a game of hide and seek, some will love long steady strolls whereas some would love nothing more than running up and down the same patch of grass 20 times for a ball. Find what’s right for you and your dog.
What if my dog doesn’t like walks?
For some dog owners it might seem absolutely absurd that not all dogs like walks! This is usually your lazier, low-energy dog breeds such as Bulldogs - you might find it quite tricky to get these breeds up and out of their beds. Even though they’ve done nothing but snore all day.
You will even find that dogs in the same breed can be completely different, you might have one who’s itching to get out of the house and another who is perfectly content snoozing the day away. Don’t let a dog’s laziness fool you, they still need a walk no matter how much they try and refuse it. Try and tempt them with treats and make walks an exciting time.
You might be looking for a dog to run alongside you and trek up the mountains on a weekend, or you might want a pet that’ll accompany you for long chilled out days watching films. Whatever breed you’re after, make sure you do some research into if that breed will be the best for your lifestyle. However, as stated before, every dog is different, so there’s no guarantee that yours will be either bouncing off the walls or a lazy bones!
Some dogs can be afraid of walking, totally terrified of people, other dogs and roads. It’s important not to force it here, you want your frightened four-legged friend to begin to perceive walks as a good thing. As with many things, it can be helped with treats, and lots of them. Keep your walks short and use a constant stream of tasty treats as a distraction. Don’t do too much all at once, it’s all about associating a walk with loads of good things, mainly high-value treats. Exercise can be made up in other ways too while you’re slowly building up to proper walks, playtime, obedience training and agility in the garden, you’ve just got to be creative!
Overall, every dog needs their exercise, not only for their physical health but for their mental health too. A daily walk stops your dog from going stir crazy in the house all day and allows you to gain some extra special pet and parent bonding time.