How Much Exercise Do Dogs Need?
By Dr. Carly I. O'Malley February 23, 2020
A vital component of a dog’s health and happiness relies on daily exercise. Dogs have been bred for a variety of purposes, such as herding sheep, hunting game, and protecting humans. All of the unique jobs our dogs are bred for require a high amount of energy. However, many dogs live simple lives inside our houses today, and they may not use the skills they were bred to have on a regular basis. As a result, many dogs have an excess amount of energy that needs to be burned off. Even if you have a dog who loves to lie on the couch all day, daily exercise is a vital part of providing physical and mental stimulation. Dogs who do not get proper exercise can start developing behavioral or physical health problems. On the other side of the spectrum, dogs who are given too much high energy exercise can also develop behavioral and physical problems. Providing the appropriate amount of exercise will set you and your dog up for success.
How Much Exercise Do Dogs Need?
In general, a dog needs 30 to 120 minutes of exercise daily to keep healthy. However, factors such as age, breed, weight, health status, and personality affect the required amount of exercise a dog may need daily (Burke, 2019; PDSAc).
Dog owners should aim to provide daily exercise to their dog, but should take a number of factors into consideration when determining an exercise regimen. Let’s explore some of these factors in more detail below.
Puppies: It is recommended that puppies get about 5 minutes of exercise for each month of age they are, twice a day. Puppies can be pretty good at self-regulating their energy. Many puppies will play when they have energy and rest when they are tired. Letting your puppy rest when they want to is important for their overall development (PDSAa). Puppies generally need short bursts of activity multiple times a day rather than long walks or play sessions (Burke, 2019).
Senior dogs: Senior dogs typically cannot exercise the way they once could. Aches and pains may prevent them from going on long walks or hikes. They may not be able to see or hear as well causing them to experience anxiety in new places. Senior dogs should still go on walks but let them set the pace. Mental stimulation through lots of sniffing on walks and training exercises may become very important for tiring out senior dogs (Burke, 2019; PDSAb).
The amount of exercise a dog needs will vary based on the breed of the dog. High energy working breeds such as Huskies, German Shepherds, and Labrador Retrievers will need 2 or more hours of daily exercise. That can be broken down into multiple activities, like a morning and evening walk around the block plus a high energy or brisk hike in the woods. Medium energy dogs like Terriers, Poodles, and Bulldogs need about an hour of exercise a day. Small dogs like Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, and Malteses will need about a 30 minute walk daily plus playtime in the house or yard (Burke, 2019; PDSAc).
Obesity is highly prevalent in dogs and can contribute to lethargy and health issues. This may determine how much stamina they have to exercise. When dog parents hear that their dog is overweight, they may try to implement a vigorous exercise plan to help their dog slim down. However, dogs should be slowly eased into more exercise to prevent injury or other health complications.
- Health Status
Just like humans, a dog that is sick or injured will want to rest. If you know that your dog is not feeling well, reducing their exercise level can be appropriate until they feel better. Daily walks should still occur in most cases, but keep the walks easy and calm.
It is important to remember that every dog is different, and their personality will determine how much exercise they need and what activities they enjoy. To determine how much exercise your dog needs, it is important to understand basic dog body language so you understand what your dog may be trying to tell you.
What Happens If My Dog Does Not Get Enough Exercise?
Dogs require exercise for their physical and mental health. Not getting enough exercise may cause weight gain or loss of muscle conditioning leading to other health issues in the future. They are extremely likely to develop behavioral problems such as excessive barking, chewing, and general destruction of your house and yard. Dogs that do not get exercise are likely to pull on the leash and be hyperactive when they finally go out for a walk, which can make walks frustrating for both of you.
What Happens If My Dog Gets Too Much Exercise?
Dogs that get too much exercise can be prone to physical strains such as sore muscles or joint injuries. They can also become irritable and more likely to display signs of aggression when disturbed or touched. A good rest should get your dog back to normal. Dogs should always be eased into high energy activities with proper conditioning and given rest days from intense exercise.
How Do I Know My Dog Is Getting Enough Exercise?
Observe your dog on a regular basis. Dogs that are well exercised should be relatively calm and relaxed in the house but have enough energy to still play and run around the back yard. Dogs who are not getting enough exercise may be highly energetic in the house and may display problem behaviors such as excessive barking. Dogs who are getting too much exercise may be lethargic in the house and unwilling to play or interact as normal. You should strive to give your dog good quality exercise on a daily basis. However, it is recommended to give them variety and to base their exercise on your lifestyle as well. Maybe one day you were not feeling well, so you only brought your highly energetic dog on a short walk. Then the next day you made it up by going on a 2 hour hike which made your dog very tired and sore. So you took it easy the day after and went for a walk around the neighborhood. This helps keep your dog’s life fun and interesting.
What Are Good Exercises For Dogs?
There are many different activities you can participate in with your dog to provide them fun and stimulating physical activity. While every dog should be given the opportunity to walk daily, additional exercise activities may largely depend on your individual dog and what they enjoy doing the most. Exercise should be a fun activity for both you and your dog.
The primary way to exercise your dog is to walk them. Dogs in their natural state would spend a large portion of their day walking, sniffing, and marking their territory. Providing your dog at least one walk a day helps them fulfill this natural behavior. Many dog owners make the mistake of trying to make daily walks as physically vigorous as possible by walking briskly with their dogs and not allowing them to sniff. To gain the maximum benefit for physical and mental health, allow your dog to walk at their pace. Let your dog sniff every tree and fence post they want. This is your dog’s equivalent of checking their email or social media every day. Give them the opportunity to engage in their environment and they will be much happier.
If you are an active person and enjoy running, try to incorporate your dog on your runs. Some dogs, especially high energy breeds, really enjoy going for runs with their owners and it is a great way to burn off a lot of energy. Just like with humans, dogs need to be conditioned to run. Running long distances in a straight line is also an unnatural activity for a dog, so it is important to come up with a training plan to condition your dog to this activity to prevent injury.
Find a beautiful natural area near you and go on long hikes with your dog on your days off from work. This will be equally relaxing and engaging for both of you, and a great way to bond with your dog.
Swimming can be a great form of exercise for your water-loving dog, senior dogs, or during hot weather. Local ponds or lakes may have dog-friendly areas, or you can buy a kiddie pool and let your dog splash around in the back yard. Some veterinary clinics may have therapeutic pools for arthritic dogs.
- Playtime with another dog
Playing with another dog can be one of the best forms of exercise for dogs. This form of exercise comes with the caveat that not all dogs enjoy play time and not all dogs will have compatible play styles. Bringing your dog to dog daycare or a dog park can be great forms of exercise. However, a lot of research and diligence is required by the owner to ensure they are providing a fun and positive experience. Dog day cares should be well-versed in dog body language, use positive reinforcement training techniques throughout the day, provide rest periods, and make playgroups based on the size and play styles of the dogs. Dog parks can be dangerous since you do not know the behavior and health status of the other dogs at the park. Finding friends with dogs that your dog gets along with can be the best way to provide playtime with another dog.
- Playtime with owner
Spending quality time playing with your dog is a great way for you and your dog to burn off energy. If your dog loves to fetch, then providing exercise by playing with them is easy. If your dog is not crazy about fetch, playing tug with them could be a fun alternative.
Agility is a fun activity for you and your dog that will not only tire them out physically, but also improve their training which provides mental stimulation.
- Canine Freestyle
If you are musically inclined and love to dance, this may be the activity for you! Canine freestyle is essentially dancing with your dog. Like agility, it requires a lot of training which will provide mental stimulation and improve the bond with your dog.
- Dock Jumping
This activity is great for high energy dogs that love water. You train your dog to jump as far as they can off of a dock into a pool of water in order to retrieve a toy. Your dog is scored on how far or high they jump.
Is your dog obsessed with tennis balls? Then this may be the competitive team sport for them. The sport involves catching a ball and bringing it back to their owner as quickly as possible.
- Rally Obedience
Rally is essentially an obedience obstacle course that provides both mental and physical stimulation.
- Breed-specific activities
Based on the breed of your dog and what their favorite activities are, there are plenty of activities to sign them up for that let them hone their special skills. Herding trails, luring courses, and tracking are all activities you can participate in with your dog.
As a dog parent, it is important to provide your dog good quality exercise on a daily basis. How much exercise a dog needs is something owners should take into consideration before they bring a dog home. Most dogs need 30 to 120 minutes of exercise a day, depending on their age, breed, health status, and individual personality. Owners should strive to find a dog that will match their exercise style, rather than getting a dog hoping the dog will motivate them to exercise more. Dogs that do not get enough exercise can have poor welfare and develop physiological and behavioral problems. So find an activity that you and your dog enjoy and have fun!
Burke, A. 2019. How much exercise does a dog need every day? American Kennel Club. Accessed on February 22, 2020.
PDSAa. Exercising your puppy. Accessed on February 22, 2020.
PDSAb. Exercising your senior dog. Accessed on February 22, 2020.
PDSAc. The right exercise for your dog. Accessed on February 22, 2020.