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How much exercise does my dog need?

One of the most commonly asked questions by dog owners today is, “How much exercise does my dog need?” From that exciting time when you first decide to welcome a dog into your home, to well into your beloved companion’s senior years, the appropriate level of activity for your dog should be considered at every stage. Are you in the process of choosing a canine companion and wondering if different breeds really have significantly different activity needs? The short answer is, yes, they do. However, dogs are individuals so there are differences between dogs even within the same breed. A supposedly low activity, calm breed might surprise you with how much he loves to play, while a typically high-energy active breed could turn out to be far more mellow than you expected. Beyond breed, it is also important to consider your dog’s lifestyle and time of life. If you have an adult dog who has put on significant extra weight recently, this may be a sign that he is not getting enough exercise for his recommended energy intake. However, if your senior dog doesn’t seem to be able to run or walk as fast as he used to, perhaps you need to consider whether his regular exercise routine is too strenuous for him. And if you have an exhaustingly energetic puppy, you might be surprised that even puppies can get too much exercise (though he doesn’t seem to think so!). Keep in mind that no matter what breed your dog is and regardless of whether he is purebred or mixed breed, a puppy, an adult or a senior, all dogs need physical exercise. And this is true no matter where your dog lives-free to run around in the garden or indoors, in the city or in the country. The key is to adapt your dog’s activity to his aptitude and be sure to consult a vet if you have any questions.

Man’s best friend: from working dog to companion

We sometimes forget that domesticated dogs have been around for thousands of years and are widely considered to be the first domesticated species. Over the centuries dogs have been bred to work alongside people herding or protecting livestock, helping to hunt and track game, participating in search and rescue operations, acting as guard dogs or helping us as sled dogs to get from one place to another, in often extremely harsh conditions. Hence, for thousands of years dogs led very active, physically strenuous lives. Today, as a result of our increasingly urban, sedentary lifestyles, many dogs are companion dogs spending much of their day at home, waiting for their owners to return. If like many of our canine friends, your dog is no longer a working dog, it is worth considering that he still has a natural, biological need for physical activity. Often it takes very little encouragement and a small dose of enthusiasm on your part to awaken your dog’s natural urge to be active and on the move .

What is the right amount of exercise for your dog


Dog exercise for every type of breed

The exercise needs of your canine friend depend above all on his age, health, breed and individual personality. Size per se, is not necessarily a good indicator of a dog’s activity requirements. In fact, many people think that small dogs don’t need a lot of exercise. While this may be true of some small dogs such as the Pomeranian or the Chihuahua, if you have ever witnessed a Jack Russell Terrier or West Highland White Terrier in action, you know that little compact dogs can be very high energy. Thus, depending on the breed or group they belong to (working dogs, herding dogs, toy or companion dogs, and sporting or gun dogs-to name a few), dogs tend to have higher or lower activity requirements. Most breeds fall into one of four categories including low, moderate, high activity, and hyperactive dogs. However, keep in mind that these are general guidelines rather than hard and fast rules. No matter what his breed, each dog has his own personality and inclination. So it is best not to assume that your toy dog always wants to hang out on the couch with you or that your working dog is necessarily crazy about running. Try to propose a level of activity that is recommended for their needs and then keep an eye on what they seem to really enjoy and are capable of doing. Here are some basic guidelines to help you.

Calm dogs with lower activity needs

Level of exercise: from one hour per day or more, for example walking on the lead or other low impact sports. Keep in mind that while your dog may seem to be doing fine with a fairly low level of activity, try to gradually increase his daily physical exercise by adding an extra 15 minute walk or play session, whenever possible.

Tend to be from the Toy or Pastoral Groups, and possibly the Utility Group.

Some examples: the Bichon frise, the Cockapoo, the Yorkshire Terrier, and the miniature Pinscher…

Low activity dogs typically:

  • Enjoy a short walk each day
  • Like to be picked up and carried when they get tired
  • Love to sleep
  • Have their own ideas about training
  • Are prone to putting on a little weight
  • Like lots of extra tender, loving, care
  • Are very laid back and calm

Moderately active dogs

Recommended exercise: 1-3 hours per day, for example playing, off the lead

Tend to be from Terrier or Utility Groups, and possibly the Gun Dog group

Some examples: Airedale terrier, Scottish terrier, Cocker spaniel, English setter…

Moderately active dogs typically:

  • Like to go for 2 walks each day to stretch their legs
  • Enjoy being let off their lead to roam
  • Fall asleep at home after they’ve been out and about
  • Love to be trained
  • Are confident but well behaved with strangers

High energy, active dogs

Recommended exercise: 3-6 hours a day, for example running, playing off the lead

Tend to be from Working or Hound Groups, and possibly the Gun Dog Group

Some examples: Border collie, Labrador, Golden retriever, Belgian Malinois, German Shepherd…

High energy dogs typically:

  • Like to go for more walks than you do, preferably somewhere they can run free
  • Are always ready to go
  • Are active around the house, even after a lot of exercise
  • Disappear into the distance when let off their lead
  • Have a higher capacity than their owners for exercise
  • Never get bored of playing ‘fetch’
  • Tend to be a little underweight
  • Might be a little over-enthusiastic when meeting new people

Very high activity dogs

Some so-called very high activity dogs can do sports and activities in extreme conditions. For instance, sled dogs are built for long distance work, sometimes hundreds of kilometers, exposed to very low temperatures. These somewhat special dogs require a lot of exercise both for their physical and mental well-being.

Tend to be from Working Groups

Some examples: the Siberian Husky, the Canadian Eskimo Dog…

High energy dogs typically:

  • Have incredible endurance
  • Need lots of mental stimulation
  • Can’t get enough exercise


The benefits of exercising your dog

Getting enough regular exercise is essential to maintain your dog’s ideal weight and physical wellbeing but it is also vital for your dog’s mental wellbeing and happiness. Dogs, like people, need to be able to release the energy built up during the day, especially if they spend much of their time indoors or at home alone. Exercise is a vital means to release this energy, while stimulating your dog’s mental capacities and keeping him from getting bored. Different types of exercise and play are also important to give your dog, and in particular certain breeds, the opportunity to express instinctive behaviors such as swimming, tracking, retrieving or using his highly developed sense of smell, sight or hearing. Physical activity also allows your dog to actively engage with other dogs, people and his natural environment, teaching him lifelong social skills.

Health issues and exercise

Not all physical activity is appropriate for every breed of dog. For example, brachycephalic dogs which have flat wide skulls or shortened heads that make their faces look flat (e.g. the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, the Boxer, or the Shih-Tzu, among others), often have respiratory issues that prevent them from doing intense exercise. They may also be very sensitive to getting overheated, which can be dangerous for them. Certain breeds of dogs are also especially prone to arthritis or inflammation of the joints. Signs to watch out for are limping, panting or lameness. These breeds include Great Danes as well as some of the normally high-energy dogs such as German Shepherds or Labradors. Naturally if your dog has arthritis, it is not recommended to engage in a sport that requires lots of jumping. In any case, it is recommended to take your dog to the vet for regular checkups. He or she will be able to spot any health issues for your dog as well as advise you on the most appropriate exercise regime for him.

To each dog, his own activity

Apart from the age, overall health condition, or breed of your dog, don’t forget to consider his individual personality and inclination when it comes to exercise. So if your dog seems determined to herd your children off to school every day, then maybe you should think about signing him up for a dog sport where he gets the chance to do this more often. Or if on the other hand he makes a beeline for the nearest body of water (including your neighbor’s ornamental fish pond), then perhaps it is time to think about trying out paddle boarding or dock jumping with him. In fact, you might at first want to try out a wide range of activities with your buddy and observe what he seems to enjoy the most. Who knows? Perhaps you will both discover that he can’t get enough of agility or disk dog, and you may even find that you love it too! And remember the most important thing is to respect your dog’s rhythm and keep it fun for both of you!

Keep in mind that if you are choosing a dog, it is very important to think about whether he has higher or lower activity requirements and whether you have the type of lifestyle that can meet those needs. If you are the athletic type who thinks nothing of climbing a mountain followed by a relaxing “cool down” swim, you may want to consider choosing a bouncy, high energy dog more likely to enjoy your active lifestyle. On the other hand, if you prefer a quiet stroll around the block and still haven’t gotten around to trying out those new running shoes you bought last year, it is probably better to choose a dog with lower activity needs.



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