Exercise or extra fries? Whether you love it or hate it, if you have a dog you will likely be getting plenty of it! Walking for miles and hours of tossing the ball are probably regular occurrences in your home.
If you’re like most pet owners you may have wondered how much exercise your dog needs to be happy and healthy? This is especially true if you work a full-time job outside of your home. Are a walk in the morning and some ball or a long walk in the evening enough? Do you make it to the dog park on the weekends?
Like humans, the answer to this question isn’t so cut and dry, it will depend on a number of factors including your dog’s age, size, breed, and overall health. Exercise programs for dogs are not one size fits all.
How do I know how much exercise my dog needs?
Let’s start with the basics, can your dog be calm and relax in your home, and are they at a healthy weight? You’re probably in the target range for your pup. Does your pup eat and sleep well? These are probably also good signs.
Exercise doesn’t always have to be purely physical. Mental exercise can be just as important and just as tiring. If you’re having trouble getting out and about or no matter how long you walk or run with your dog they’re never getting tired, consider adding some mental exercise to the mix.
Great mental exercises include nose work, tricks training, and puzzle toys, or other forms of enrichment where your pup works for treats. When using mental exercise your pup will usually tell you when they’ve had enough. Since your pup can’t talk you’ll need to look for some other tells like taking longer breaks or a lack of focus.
The exact amount of exercise your dog needs could be as little as 30 minutes per day and as much as 2 hours. This wide range of needs varies by breed. If you are not currently a dog owner and are considering a pup, now is a good time to consider how much time you can devote to exercising with your dog. Don’t forget that you’ll need to help your dog get appropriate exercise even when it is very hot, pouring down rain, and cold or snowing.
If you have a new puppy or a younger dog, their exercise needs will be different than those of adult dogs or senior dogs. Young puppies (12-24 weeks) need a lot of sleep. They may have bursts of high energy, called Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAPS) or more commonly the Zoomies but they will tire quickly. Too much exercise for a young dog can make them overtired and cranky. At around 9 months, as your dog becomes an adolescent, you may notice they are sleeping a lot less and have endless energy.
What dog breeds need the most exercise?
While there are always exceptions to the rule the breeds listed below generally require higher amounts of exercise. If you are working with a breeder or breed-specific rescue, you may find that they require a fenced yard or a certain amount of space before they will sell or adopt one of their dogs out. This means that if you live in the city or an apartment building it may be harder to bring home one of these dog breeds. Some rescues will tell you that these dogs end up in their care because the first owner did not understand the exercise or training needs of these dogs and they do not want to see the second home not work out for a similar reason.
You can ask the breeder, rescue, or current foster about the training and exercise the dog is getting to help you understand better.
Breeds that need a lot of exercise include:
- Border Collies
- Blue Heelers
- Great Pyrenees
- German Shepherds
- Australian Shepherds
- Australian Cattle Dogs
- Rhodesian Ridgebacks
- Golden Retrievers
- Labrador Retrievers
- Jack Russell Terriers
- Irish Setters
- Boston Terriers
- Cavalier King Charles
- French Bulldogs
- Great Danes
- Brussels Griffon
Many of these breeds like Great Pyrenees and Border Collies are bred to work. Great Pyrenees are often used to protect sheep, goats, and even cows. Border Collies are excellent herding dogs. In fact, some farms will allow Border Collie owners to rent sheep to heard or test their herding instinct.
If you live in a sheep free suburb, you will need to help your pup find another job to keep them in good mental and physical shape. What you don’t want is for your dog to fixate on a task that you don’t like, for example destroying your favorite couch or digging up your landscaping.
What dog breeds need the least exercise?
If you don’t want to spend hours working out with your pup, you may wish to consider a dog with a more sedentary lifestyle. These breeds come in many sizes, so don’t despair if you were hoping to have a large breed dog. While a lot of dogs that were bred for companionship instead of athleticism are small to medium dogs, these dogs still come in all sizes.
Again, there are exceptions to every rule, so make sure you are taking your dog’s individual needs into consideration but generally speaking, these breeds might be more your speed:
What type of exercise is suitable for my pup?
When you are looking at starting a new exercise program, you may have been advised to consult your doctor first. This is a good way to ensure you are healthy enough to participate in the program and that it is appropriate for your fitness level.
If you are starting an exercise program for your dog because your vet expressed some concerns about your dog’s weight, consider starting with walking. The AVMA recommends starting with short, frequent walks. If your dog tries to go home, they suggest walking somewhere away from home like a park. They encourage some sniff breaks so your dog can have fun exploring a new environment too. Try working up to a brisk 15-minute walk and allowing your dog some time to cool down.
Don’t walk your dog at the hottest part of the day in warm weather or the coldest part of the day in cold weather. This may mean getting up early on a hot day to walk before peak sunlight or waiting until the afternoon in cold months when the sun is strongest.
You also want to check your pup’s paw pads and make sure their nails are properly trimmed and in good shape. Scrapes, burns, or nails that are not well maintained can be painful and make your pup not enjoy walking.
When walking with your pup, keep a travel bottle of cool water with you in case your pup gets hot or thirsty. You can even bring a few treats with you in case your pup gets distracted. For overweight pets, ask your vet what to pack. If your pet is at a healthy weight, take something high value like string cheese or a favorite dog treat.
If your pup is struggling to walk, showing signs of pain, lameness, or heavy breathing, check in with your vet to determine the best way to proceed. You may want to try a lower impact option like swimming or an underwater treadmill to help your pup move without pain.
For more advanced pups, you can try more challenging activities including jogging, hiking, swimming, tricks or dog sports like Rally (competitive obedience), Agility, Flyball, or Dock Diving. If you are new to dog sports, try to find an experienced coach. Your coach should not only help you teach your dog the chosen sport, but also help you tailor the training to your dog’s fitness level. A skilled coach will recognize any physical challenges and present a lesson that is safe for your dog. This can include keeping agility obstacles at a safe and appropriate height and not overworking your dog in a lesson.
Like in humans, sports injuries can happen to your dog, especially if they are genetically disposed to things like ACL tears, joint or hip issues. This is why it is critically important to work with your vet and a trainer to keep your pup healthy, pain-free, and enjoying your chosen sport.
I live in a small apartment in the city, how do I keep my dog fit?
Even if you don’t have a big house with a backyard, there are plenty of ways to keep your pup mentally and physically fit! If you live in a city, walking downtown and going with you to run errands can be great mental and physical exercise. Before you head out, make sure everywhere you’re planning to go is dog friendly and that your dog is well behaved on a leash .
You don’t want to take your dog into a pet store and have them knock over a bulk bin of treats or jump on another customer and potentially injure them. While these examples are extreme they do happen, so you want to make sure your dog is ready to go on errands with you without barking, lunging, stealing, or disturbing anyone. If you need help - enlist a qualified trainer to work on these skills with you! In a private lesson, you can work in the real world with distractions like other people and dogs, tasty treats, and common obstacles.
Consider doggie daycare or a dog park
If you work outside of your home or are finding that you don’t have enough time or space to give your dog as much exercise as they need, you aren’t out of luck. Consider doggie daycare or some trips to the dog park. Doggie daycare can be pricier but you have some options. Consider enrolling your dog only a few days a week or for half days. Daycare works best for dogs who need to be social and love to play with other dogs. When choosing a daycare for your pup visit a few and ask lots of questions. Some daycares group dogs based on their size, energy level, or personality. It may take a few tries to find the right group for your pup.
The dog park can be another good option but does come with some risks. Remember to keep a watchful eye on your dog and the other dogs in the park. If you see some tension or play that your dog isn’t enjoying, you can leash up and leave.
Remember to follow all of the rules of the dog park and do not bring toys or food with you as dogs can get territorial about these things. Remember to work on your recall so that you don’t spend too much time fighting with your dog when it is time to go.
Some dog parks have Facebook or other social media groups where you can meet other pet parents and find a good playgroup for your pup.
Indoor activities like puzzle toys, tricks and nose work
If the weather has you stuck inside, there are still countless ways to help your dog get exercise. Even in a small apartment (hey, you probably adapted just fine when COVID-19 closed all the gyms).
Consider working on tricks. If your pup never learned the basics like paw, high five or spin in a circle, you can start with these. If your pup is on his way to trick dog titles, try something harder like play dead, roll over, roll out the red carpet (your yoga mat), clean up your toys or an interactive game like bowling. If your dog doesn’t have their own bowling set - raid your recycling bin. Empty bottles make great pins. Then head to your pantry for a can of something to use as a ball. You’ll need the bit of weight that a full can offers to knock down the pins.
Indoor agility can also be tons of fun. While you’re probably not going to set up jumps and an A-Frame in your condo, you can use some items in or around your home. Think broomsticks or hula hoops for jumping, a small tunnel, or even a blanket draped over two chairs, and you can use the steps if your building has some to run up and down as a fun challenge.
If you have a conference call or can’t work directly with your dog, that doesn’t mean you can’t help them use their minds and bodies. Consider a puzzle feeder or a scavenger hunt. A puzzle feeder that your dog has to really work at could keep your pup busy while you take a call or handle some emails. If you don’t have one handy, make your own scavenger hunt for your dog. Hide some smelly treats around the room and have your dog use his nose to find them all. As your dog gets better, this will get easier so consider using slightly less smelly treats if your dog is a pro!
Weekend excursions like hiking or swimming
This isn’t something you want to solely rely on, but time and weather permitting consider taking your dog out of the city for a weekend excursion. While being a weekend warrior can be a lot of fun, you want to ensure your dog is getting proper exercise during the week. This way your dog will be fit enough to keep up and enjoy these excursions to the fullest.
If you plan on hiking with your dog, make sure you hit some hills and get your heart rates up during the week too! Swimming may be a challenge to do during the week if you don’t have a pool or live near a dog friendly body of water but make sure you get in some land exercise too! If you are new to doing these activities with a dog - have a chat with your vet or qualified trainer first!
Diet and exercise—how do you link the two to improve your dog’s overall health?
At Ollie, we take health and nutrition very seriously and have worked with veterinary nutritionists to develop the healthiest Recipes for our pups and yours.
A healthy diet is as important as exercise to your dog’s overall health. If you are starting an exercise program as a result of your pet gaining a few pounds, you may also want to discuss diet with your vet. You want your pup to be getting enough calories to support their needs and give them good energy to exercise.
Cutting too many calories and adding intense exercise will help your pet lose weight, but not in a way that is healthy, sustainable, or enjoyable. (Sound like familiar advice? Most human weight loss programs will tell you the same thing.)
When you set up your account with Ollie, we take you through an onboarding quiz to learn all about your pet. We ask about their breed, weight, activity level, and if they need to gain or lose weight. This data is used to create the best meal plan for your dog.
If at any time your dog’s needs change, just reach out to our Canine Care Team and let us know. We’re here to help when you need us!
The bottom line: Keeping your dog fit and healthy
Keeping your dog happy healthy and in shape is your responsibility. Your dog’s actions and overall health will show you if your dog is getting enough exercise and you may need to make some adjustments. Since your dog can’t always tell you what they need, you may need to work with your vet to decipher their signals.
It is also critically important that you keep up with annual wellness exams as part of your dog’s health and fitness plan. Dogs over 7 years old should see the vet every 6 months. These appointments will let your dog’s doctor keep an eye on everything and catch small problems before they turn into larger ones.
Having a dog can be good for your health for many reasons, hopefully working out with your dog will keep you healthy, fit, and having fun too!
The Ollie blog is devoted to helping pet parents lead healthier lives with their pups. If you want to learn more about our fresh, human-grade food, check out MyOllie.com.