For lots of dogs, a walk is the best part of the day. You can tell by the way he runs for the door each time you pick up the leash, or the way she wags her tail and hovers beside you as the clock hits 5:30 p.m.
But walks are more than just fun for your dog.
“Physical exercise is vital to a dog’s emotional well-being,” says certified dog trainer Diana Blanchard, head trainer at Imagine Canine Academy in Winston-Salem, NC. “It helps a dog to not only stay healthy, [but] is an important part of having a well-rounded dog.”
Yet some research has found that as many of half of dogs don’t get enough physical activity.
How much is enough? For some dogs, a daily walk around the block is enough to meet their exercise needs. Others need more -- sometimes, a lot more.
Consider Your Dog's Size and Breed
All dogs benefit from regular exercise to:
- Burn off energy
- Provide mental stimulation
- Reduce the risk of obesity
- Keep their hearts healthy
- Relieve stress
A well-exercised dog is less likely to have behavior problems or potty-training accidents. The right amount of exercise can even help reduce fearfulness in dogs, research has shown.
In general, dogs need from 30 minutes to an hour of exercise each day, though your particular pet may need more or less.
“A 5-pound Chihuahua doesn’t have the same exercise needs as a larger breed like a cattle dog, but they do still both need to physically exercise,” Blanchard says.
Certain breeds are just more active than others -- we’re looking at you, Dalmatians, Siberian huskies, and even corgis. These dogs need extra exercise to be happy and healthy. Up to 2 hours might not be too much for some.
Your dog's personality plays a part, too. Some dogs just like more, or more intense, exercise than others.
Still, be careful not to over-exercise your dog. Overexertion could lead to:
- Muscle strains or sprains
- Tendon or ligament injuries
- Abrasions on their paws
Watch your dog for signs they're getting tired or overheated. If your dog appears to be struggling, or wants to lie down, you could be overdoing it. Get them in the shade, give them some water, and let them rest before you head home.
Like people, out-of-shape dogs need to slowly build up to higher levels of exercise. Don't expect a canine couch potato to get fitter overnight.
Account for Their Age
Dogs need different amounts of exercise at different stages of life. Puppies have lots of energy but prefer several shorter bursts of exercise throughout the day instead of one long hike, says Jim Dobies, DVM, president of UrgentVet.
“Puppies play hard and sleep hard,” he says. “Adult dogs are at the peak of their fitness levels and have the most strength and stamina and require the least amount of rest.”
Even super-active dogs tend to slow down with age. But just because your older dog can’t handle a lengthy hike doesn’t mean they should spend all day in the dog bed.
“Senior [dogs] need more mental exercise than physical,” says Blanchard.
Keep your older dog active by:
- Training them and teaching them new tricks
- Giving them a variety of toys
- Giving them plenty time to sniff on shorter walks
One study found that dogs' activity levels increased when they used rubber toys that made them work to get to treats.
Your dog’s exercise needs may change depending on the season. Even active breeds like boxers and German shepherds may be more subdued in very hot weather. Flat-nosed breeds like Pekingese and pugs are prone to overheating in the summertime.
“If you have a smoosh-nosed dog, don’t take them outside for any extended period if the temperature is much more than 80 degrees,” Dobies says.
Look for ways to help your dog burn energy while staying cool. Schedule your walks for the morning or evening when temperatures are more comfortable. Dogs who love to swim will enjoy trading walks for a few laps in the pool.
Before setting out on a summertime walk:
- Plan a route that's not too long
- Lay the back of your hand against the sidewalk or pavement to make sure it’s not too hot for your dog's paws
- Pack water so you can offer your dog a cool drink along the way
In the winter, dogs may need booties to walk on salted sidewalks or coats to keep them warm on their walks. When it's really nasty out, play with your small dog inside for exercise. Bigger dogs might enjoy indoor training classes.
A walk on the leash isn’t the only way to meet your dog's exercise needs. Look for other ways to help your dog burn energy, like trips to the dog park or dog training games. A fun one to try is "wild sits," in which you romp around with your dog, get them all excited, then ask them to sit.
Agility training, fetch, and tug-of-war all count as exercise. They not only help your dog burn energy, but keep them entertained and engaged.
Just like you, your dog can get bored with the same old exercise routine day after day.