We know your dog is a member of your family, and like any family member, they need exercise to stay healthy. A pup that does not get enough physical activity will let you know in surprising ways, including destructive behaviors like digging, chewing, or marking. If you’re seeing behavioral issues emerge, that could be the first sign your dog may not be getting enough exercise.
“I see behavioral issues with dogs that are under-exercised. One of the first questions I ask about a dog is how much exercise they get. It really makes a huge difference,” Dr. Jeff Evans DVM, Medical Director at Boston Animal Hospital said.
Why Your Dog Needs Regular Exercise
Beyond curbing unsavory behaviors, regular daily movement is important for your dog because it helps them maintain a healthy weight, while also preventing chronic conditions like arthritis and diabetes.
“Diabetes has been on the rise for the last five years or so. Diabetes in dogs can be genetic, but that is super rare; usually when dogs are getting diabetes it’s because of overfeeding. Exercise helps a lot with diabetes,” said Dr Evans.
A lack of exercise can also cause cranial cruciate ligament rupture (CCL) and cardiovascular problems.
“Diabetes has been on the rise for the last five years or so. Diabetes in dogs can be genetic, but that is super rare; usually when dogs are getting diabetes it’s because of overfeeding. Exercise helps a lot with diabetes.” - Dr Evans
Factors that Determine How Much Exercise Your Dog Needs
However, as dog owners we often wonder – how much exercise is enough? If you are like most pet parents, you might feel some guilt that you aren’t able to take your dog for a major hike every day and worry that a walk around the block isn’t enough.
According to Dr. Evans, the amount and type of exercise your dog needs really depends on the breed, age, and fitness level of the dog.
“For supporting cardiovascular health and orthopedic health, working breeds – like Huskies, Goldens, and German Shepherds – need more rigorous exercise. Beagles and dachshunds, you want to exercise them on flat ground because they are prone to intervertebral disc disease and arthritis of the back.”
That being said, dogs, like humans, don’t all have the same fitness levels. Keep in mind that even if your dog is a breed that needs more exercise, you may need to gradually work up to a higher fitness level if your dog is out of shape.
“I often see when people have a limited amount of time before work, they run their dog hard. This can cause paw pad injuries, torn [anterior cruciate ligament] ACL. Don’t go from zero to 60 – you risk injury. And “tie up syndrome” – where you’re not exercised for a long time, and then set free – people get this, too – can lead to kidney failure.”
Finally, age is another factor. As dogs age, their joints, organs, and muscles age. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t exercise them, but you should consult your veterinarian and switch to more low intensity exercise like walking on flat ground or swimming.
Figuring Out How Much Exercise is Right for Your Dog
A good “rule of thumb” is that dogs should be getting 30-60 minutes of exercise a day, but keep in mind that allowing your dog to exercise vigorously for short periods isn’t good for them, either.
If you only have 15-20 minutes to devote to exercising your dog, Dr. Evans recommends taking your dog for a walk. Keeping a consistent schedule is more important than high intensity exercise occasionally.
The following table gives general guidelines by breed group for healthy adult dogs. Puppies and seniors need different types of exercise and you should consult your veterinarian. Also, if your pup has been living the sedentary life, it is best to check in with your vet before incorporating exercise into your dog’s routine.
How to Get Enough Exercise
For many breeds, daily walks are enough with periods of play. Check out our dog games for things to do with your dog. You can also let your dog out in your backyard if your dog has a SpotOn Fence to contain him. However, you will have to encourage many breeds to exercise, says Dr. Evans. Just putting them outside won’t be enough.
“If you put an English Bulldog in the middle of your yard, it’s just going to sit there,” Dr. Evans warns. “You need to understand what triggers your dog and gets your dog excited.”
One way to encourage movement is to create ‘scavenger hunts’ in the yard. Throw treats around the yard and have your dog run around finding them. Hiding favorite toys or smelly treats like pig’s ears, bully sticks, or stuffed tracheas can get your dog moving, too. There are also some new products that can entertain your dog when you can’t, like an automatic ball thrower, which can keep your dog busy for hours.
Another option is finding your dog a playmate. If you aren’t up for getting a second dog, search your area for a dog park or doggy daycare where your pup can make friends. You can also invite a neighbor over for a play date if you have a great backyard for dogs.
If your dog is senior or has health problems, consult your veterinarian for the best options.
“If your dog has issues such as obesity or arthritis that make it difficult to exercise, find a vet that is certified in physical therapy or has a rehab,” says Dr. Evans. They can help you get your pet started with some gentle exercise – like walking on underwater treadmills – until they build up some strength or lose some weight.
Safety Considerations When Exercising Your Dog
During warmer months, you should watch the heat and schedule exercise for early mornings or evenings, when weather is generally cooler. Brachycephalic dogs – dogs with short noses and flat faces, like pugs, bull mastiffs, and chihuahuas – are particularly sensitive to heat and should not exercise in temperatures above 60 degrees. For most other breeds, avoid intense running or hiking in temperatures above 70 degrees.
Pay attention to signs of heat exhaustion, such as excessive drooling, excessive panting, red gums, vomiting, diarrhea, dull and depressed demeanor, or uncoordinated walking. If you suspect your dog has heat exhaustion, immediately cool them with cold water or cold towels and take them to your nearest animal emergency room.
If you leave your dog outside for long periods of time, be sure that he has shady places to rest and lots of drinking water. You can consider adding a toddler pool to your backyard or cooling mats for them to lay on.
You should also be careful of hot surfaces, like concrete, asphalt, or sand. Generally, you can test a surface with the back of your hand; if it’s too hot for your hand to lay on comfortably for around 5-7 seconds, it’s too hot for your dog’s paws. Avoid exercising your pup on these surfaces if they are too hot, or look into dog shoes to protect them.
Exercise is an important component of your dog’s well-being. If you have not exercised your pup in a while, you should check with your vet on where to begin before incorporating regular exercise into your dog’s routine. We hope that this guide has helped take the guesswork out of determining the appropriate type and duration of activity for your pooch.