The Ultimate Guide to Dog Exercise
Like us, our four-legged companions need regular exercise to stay healthy and fit. But how much physical activity is enough, and what kind of exercises are best for your dog? Learn why you should exercise with your pup daily, the health benefits of regular physical activity for dogs, and how you can start the best exercise plan today.
Health Benefits of Exercise for Dogs
Similar to people, dogs benefit greatly from regular and frequent exercise. The health benefits are numerous and include muscle growth and maintenance, stronger bones, healthier cardiovascular system, improved insulin sensitivity, decreased stress and better mental health. Perhaps most importantly, regular exercise helps prevent obesity, which is associated with a number of serious health problems, including heart disease, osteoarthritis, insulin resistance and diabetes and liver disease. Needless to say, daily physical activity is essential if you want to ensure your dog stays healthy.
While the benefits of exercise for dogs range widely, these are the most important ones:
- Muscle maintenance and better aging: as dogs age, their muscle mass diminishes. This increases your dog’s risk of many diseases and also makes the recovery after illness or injury slower. Daily exercise and good diet help maintain muscle mass, increase strength and endurance, which in turn, leads to better aging.
- Stronger bones and help with arthritis: by exercising skeletal muscle mass, your dog will also improve their bone mass and, as a result, bone strength and density. This is possible because physical activity, especially vigorous exercise which makes muscles push and tug against bones, causes new bone tissues to form. This is healthy in general, but is particularly beneficial for dogs with high risk of arthritis.
- Healthier cardiovascular system: exercise helps strengthen all of your pup’s muscles, including their hearth muscle. With daily physical activity, your pet’s heart will become better able to pump blood throughout their entire body, allowing it to beat slower and keep their blood pressure under control. In other words, regular exercise leads to a healthier heart and entire cadriovascular system.
- Improves insulin sensitivity and reduces diabetes risk: regular exercise helps improve insulin sensitivity, can reverse insulin resistance and even reduce risk of diabetes. Daily physical activity, be it running or playing fetch, can increase your pet’s whole-body glucose uptake, thereby reducing their risk of developing insulin resistance and later diabetes.
- Decreases stress and improves mental health: because physical activity releases endorphins, it decreases stress and tension, boosts mental energy and improves well-being. This is great news for your dog’s overall health, but can be especially beneficial for pups struggling with separation anxiety.
- Reverses obesity and promotes healthy weight: finally, regular exercise helps reverse obesity in dogs, which is one of the leading factors for developing diabetes, heart disease and cancer. Furthermore, daily physical activity helps keep your pup’s body weight in check, boosting their overall health and well-being.
How Much Exercise Do Dogs Need?
All dogs require regular and frequent exercise to stay fit. However, how much physical activity your dog should have depends on several factors, including their age, breed and current health issues. That said, most dogs should get about one to two hours of exercise every single day. This can mean brisk walking, running, swimming or playing fetch – as long as it includes your pet moving and/or jumping, it’s a good physical activity to do daily.
- For Puppies
Puppies naturally have more energy than adult dogs so they need more physical activity to stay physically and mentally healthy. However, unlike strong and already developed dogs, growing pups don’t do well with long, strenuous exercises; instead, they require frequent but short exercise sessions. You can go for several short walks during the day or have several intense play sessions – whatever works best for you and your pet. Some pups wil do great on four 15-minute brisk walks, while others may need proper running – every dog is different and puppies are no exception, so what matters the most is that you listen to your pet’s body and do what works best for them specifically. This may sound vague, but the more time you spend with your little furry companion, the more you’ll learn about how much exercise is optimal for them.
- For Adult Dogs
How much exercise does a dog need everyday? As previously mentioned in the article, most adult dogs require about one to two hours of exercise per day. But exactly how much physical activity your pet will need, depends on their breed. For example, high-energy dogs like Border Collies will need much more exercise than low-energy dogs like Bulldogs. Your pup’s breed is important because you want to provide enough physical activity for your dog but you don’t want to over-work them; in essence, you want to find a balance that works best for your pet. Another thing to consider is your dog’s current health state. If they have a medical condition like hip displasia, you’ll want to consult with your vet about a suitable exercise plan that will help them stay healthy without causing them pain.
Speaking of exercise programs, if you’re planning to start a new one, make sure you start slowly. It’s important to go step by step (sometimes literally) and let your pet build up their strength and tolerance, especially if they’ve been leading a sedentary lifestyle until now.
- For Older Dogs
Aging and senior dogs typically don’t have as much energy as adult dogs and it’s important to keep this in mind when exercising with your older dog. Of course, they still require regular physical activity, so skipping a few days is definitely not recommended unless, of course, your pet is recovering from an injury of some sort. Daily physical activity will keep the excess weight off, help make your dog more flexible as well as happier overall, so try not to skip it even if you’re tired. However, older canines with orthopedic problems or osteoarthritis will not benefit from long and vigorous exercises – on the contrary. To avoid any problems, it’s a good idea to take your dog to the vet before committing to a new exercise program. A thorough examination, including a complete blood count and physical examination, is even more important if you plan to let your older dog participate in competitive sports.
What Kind of Exercises Are Best for Dogs?
Alright, so regular exercise is undoubtedly good for your dog. But what kind of exercises are the best?
If you’re confused about the world of canine exercises, it’s good to start slow and simple: a daily walk around your neighborhood is always a good idea. In fact, it may be all your pet needs, depending on their breed, age and health condition, of course. That being said, even couch potatoes enjoy variety from time to time, so changing your pup’s exercise program every couple of days, week or months (again, depending on certain factors) is a good idea. Thankfully, there are various opportunities to exercise your pet in your daily life, and you can choose one, two or however many of these as you please.
Enjoy the nature and fresh air by exercising with your dog.
- Running: a great way for both you and your dog to get some physical activity, running with your pet is almost always a great idea. This is the perfect opportunity to also enjoy the great outdoors and breathe in some fresh air – much needed in our otherwise indoor, mostly digital lives. If you or/and our dog are older and running is not an option, don’t worry, brisk walks are also an option.
- Speed walking/Power walking: if you or your dog are not fans of frequent running, speed walking or power walking is the next best thing; in fact, for some folks, it’s the better Unlike jogging, brisk walking is easier on the joints so it’s the exercise to do if either you or your pet struggle with joint pain. It’s also a better physical activity to start with if your dog is obese and leads mostly a sedentary lifestyle.
- Cycling: if you like riding a bicycle, and your dog is highly active and full of energy, you can take them with you the next you cycle. Of course, you want to stay safe so never cycle on busy roads or with a dog that is not used to running next to a bicycle. Stick to bike paths where your pet can safely accompany you.
- Hiking: hiking is a fantastic way to get some exercise plus experience new outdoor adventures with your dog. It’s a great way to enjoy nature and get some fresh air too. If you don’t live near woods or mountains, that’s ok, you can always explore new parks and trails in your area, even if you live in the center of a busy city.
- Swimming: if your dog has joint pain, they need regular low-impact exercise. Swimming is ideal for this as it doesn’t put any strain on your pet’s joints, yet it helps them exercise most of their body. It helps that most dogs love water too, so exercising will feel more like an adventure rather than something they “must” do – perfect for couch potatoes.
- Fetch: if your pet is not a fan of running but loves all kinds of games, you can play fetch frequently or even every day. And don’t worry, fetch doesn’t have to be same old same old – you can spice things up by making your pup run uphill to retrieve a Frisbee or swim in the river by tossing a ball in water. Also, don’t use one toy all the time – alternate between Frisbees, balls and other toys to keep your furry companion entertained.
- Agility training: are you and your dog fans of sports? Try agility training as it’s a fantastic physical and mental exercise that will not only keep your dog active and fit, but also mentally sharp as well. You can try it in your backyard for fun (you just need some jumps, tunnels and walkways) or enter your dog in competitive sports. Of course, before doing that, you need to do some research to see if this sport is the right fit for your dog.
Rain, snow and high temperatures can ruin your dog’s exercise routine, but only if you let it. Here are a few convenient indoor exercises that you and your pet can do to stay fit.
- Tug of war: games of tug are a fun way to build muscle and strength, as well as the human-animal bond with your pet. Almost all dogs love games of tug, plus there are many tug toys available, making the game super-fun and stimulating for your pet. It’s a moderate exercise for your pup and light exercise for you.
- Hide and Seek: similar to tug of war, hide and seek game is a moderate exercise that will keep your pet active and intellectually entertained. To increase the ‘difficulty’ level, you can also add a game of chase into hide and seek.
- Stairs: if your house has stairs, you can use them to build muscle and endurance with your pup. Just run up and down however many times you both can – just make sure you don’t overowork your pet as this exercise, while moderate for active people, is quite strenuous for dogs.
While regular physical activity is a must-do for all dogs who wish to stay healthy and happy, you should talk to your vet before starting a new dog exercise plan. Some low-energy breeds like Chow chow, Bulldog, Great Dane and Greyhound, may need much less physical activity than high-energy breeds like Siberian Husky, Yorkshire Terrier and Border Collie. This is especially true if your low-energy dog is older.
Always start slow. It’s better to take it step by step than force your dog into doing exercises that are too exhausting for them as this can lead to a host of problems. Pay attention to your pup’s signals and let them set the pace, at least in the beginning.
Be aware of your surroundings when exercising with your dog. If it’s very cold and it’s icy outside, consider putting on dog boots on your pet; if it’s hot, take water with you and take frequent breaks in the shade; if you’re exercising where there are other dogs, take a leash with you.