Exposing your dog to exercise should be fun but, if you have a dog that’s perhaps a bit, ahem, lazy or you’ve been advised by your veterinarian that your pet is obese, you may be a bit stressed. You’ve likely turned to the internet for answers, and we’re glad you found us. At GeniusVets, we believe that pet care information should come straight from veterinarians and not from (albeit well-meaning!) pet bloggers and the like who don’t share information that is accurate. That’s why we’ve taken frequently asked questions on dog exercise, sent these questions to renowned veterinarians across the U.S., and compiled their replies to get you helpful information that you can trust.
While we've sourced all of the dog exercise information and recommendations below directly from leading veterinarians across the country, please make sure to seek out the advice of your own veterinarian or find a trusted vet near you using the GeniusVets Directory.
The amount of exercise varies a little bit, depending on your dog, how over or underweight they are, and their age. Of course, puppies need lots of exercise. They've got tons of energy that they need to get out, so exercise is vital for them. Depending on whether your dog is an athlete, they might need to exercise more frequently, but exercise is essential for all of our dogs to maintain ideal wellness and overall fitness.
If it’s a young Labrador, for example, you'd better exercise that dog or you've got a lot of trouble on your hands. If it's an older geriatric patient, exercise is critical to keep muscle tone up, which keeps the joints tight and keeps things moving and going, and keeps muscle strength there.
So how much exercise depends on the individual dog. If you've got a dog that's getting into everything and driving you crazy all the time, then you want to find a big hill and get a ball and throw it and have them run up the hill and throw it down. Don't overheat them, overrun them, or overwork them, but you want to wear that energy out of them, as it can be beneficial for both you and your dog.
There are many different conditions that exercise can help prevent in our dogs. The number one thing is obesity. Unfortunately, obesity is something that we see far too often in our canine species. And just like we hear about in our human medicine, there are many different types of ailments and diseases associated with obesity.
In our larger breed dogs that don't get enough exercise and carry too much weight, the excess weight is tough on their joints. It leads to osteoarthritis and significantly decreases overall quality of life. Other metabolic issues are associated with obesity and a lack of exercise in our dogs as well. A critical step in preventing obesity is adequate exercise. And you pair that with appropriate diets, and you're talking about contributing to the best overall condition for your dog.
Exercising with your dog also helps with bonding. It's an activity that's usually engaged in with the owner so the relationship between the owner and the dog becomes a lot tighter. The dog knows that they have the owner's attention. If they're throwing the ball or a Frisbee or if they're out on a walk, they are there together. And that’s all that matters to the dog.
This can be tough to judge. Some dogs just have that go, go, go button where their energy is on level 1000 all the time. And it's hard to know—am I letting them go too much? When we reach the warmer times of the year and it gets hot, we have to be extremely mindful of how much exercise our dogs are getting, especially with the dogs that don't slow down. You don't want them to overdo it, as that can lead to some severe health issues.
Allow puppies to have doses of exercise throughout the day, maybe shorter but more frequent occasions where they can exercise. When puppies are 15 to 18 weeks of age or so, they can go quite a long way.
You also need to consider the breed of the dog. For example, if you have a bulldog and you take that dog out in 95-degree weather, you better not exercise them very much because, anatomically, they don’t have a big enough windpipe to keep themselves cool. They will overheat and end up at the veterinarian. But if it's a chilly day and it's a Labrador that's very much an active working dog or a breed such as an Australian Shepherd or cattle dog, you can work them quite hard. Many times, you have to stop because the dog will want to keep going. But you know if their tongue is hanging out six inches that they're pushing it to the limit. Alternatively, when small dogs like Yorkshire terriers are very young, they cannot store enough of a readily convertible carbohydrate, meaning we can exercise them too much, and their blood sugars will fall too low. And if their blood sugar drops too low, they either collapse or seizure or both.
Ultimately, many of our dogs are good about letting you know when they are tiring or reaching the point where they don't want to continue exercising. It’s important to judge the individual dog. But again, be very cautious in the summertime about overdoing exercise with your dog.
There are many different things you can do outside as far as exercise for your dog.
Some great options for exercising your dog outside are:
- Taking them to dog parks where dogs can play and socialize.
- Taking them to agility courses that our dogs can do.
- Biking with your dog—some dogs will run alongside you as you bike. Keep in mind that you should know that your dog can handle that because, as veterinarians, we’ve seen this end in catastrophe when a dog gets their leash caught in the bike spokes. Proceed with caution!
- Playing fetch.
- Hiking is an excellent way for our dogs and us to get exercise together at the same time.
- Obedience training is a lower level of exercise, although some of it can be intense.
- Running with your dog, although you should refer to this article by the AVMA to be mindful of injuries that can occur
Some dogs love to swim, and allowing them to get in the water and swim is a great thing. That is an excellent form of exercise, especially for a larger dog to help them avoid the stress on their joints that they would experience while running down the sidewalk. After you swim the dog, though, be sure to get the water out of the ears and make sure that you're not in an area where there's an undertow or current that's going to carry the dog out to sea. Having a life jacket on them might not be a bad idea if you live in an area where those types of things can occur.
When it's colder, or even when it's too hot, there are things we can do inside—of course, depending on the amount of space. One thing that you can do inside is play a good old-fashioned game of hide-and-seek with your dog. Hide and seek is a great way to promote movement. Going up and down the stairs is a great form of exercise. For some dogs, a laser pointer is a wonderful tool. If you've got a set of stairs and a laser pointer, you're set. Thankfully, there are many fun exercises you can do with your dog during the winter months to prevent them from gaining the frosty fifteen.
When done appropriately, playing tug of war is an excellent way to do exercise as well. Although some veterinarians will discourage you from doing tug-of-war because it puts the dog on one side of the equation and the owner on another side of the equation. And dogs seem to work best in a military command sort of situation, where they look up to the owner and say, "Yes, sir." And not, "I'm bigger than you” or "I'm going to win.” So when that owner now wants to medicate that dog or clean that dog's ears, open the mouth, and take something out of the mouth, now it's a “game” instead of a case of sit, let me open your mouth, and it's simply done. But you know your dog best, so this can be your decision.
There are even treadmill or indoor agility options too, although you never want to tie your dog to the treadmill—you always want them to have a way to eject themselves if something were to go wrong.
It's an important question and one that we touched on previously. Obesity would be the number one thing we want to prevent and all the issues associated with that. Of course, cardiovascular health is essential, as is respiratory health. But ultimately, trying to prevent obesity in our canine patients would be the number one issue we want to make sure we're using exercise.
You also have to consider how much your dog is eating. If the dog is overeating and not exercising enough, the calories are going to get stored as extra body tissue. Then that aggravates arthritis and the dog can end up with some potential liver-related issues. Lack of exercise coupled with overeating is a real problem. So if the eating levels are right and exercise is optimal, you should be in good shape.
Every dog's personality is a little different. Some dogs may love to run and play fetch with you, and that fetch object may be what motivates them specifically. If they love to swim, give them opportunities to swim. We try to get away from using too many treats during exercise because that kind of negates what we're trying to accomplish. Still, if they are food motivated and they are doing a really good job, it's okay to give them a little piece of a particular treat without overdoing it. Judging your dog's personality is the most important thing. Identifying those things that they associate in their mind with the exercise that they enjoy is essential. Many of us know dogs that go crazy by simply seeing their owner grab the leash, as they know it’s time for their treasured walk.
Doggy daycare is another good option for exercising dogs, especially for owners who work full time, as they will often interact with other dogs. If they're not socially interactive in a good way in a dog park or a doggy daycare situation, then don't do that. But if there is another dog next door that your dog likes spending time with, consider getting that owner to walk with you and their dog.
If you have any further questions about dog exercise or you want to get your precious pet in for an appointment, please reach out to your vet. Don’t have one? We can help you find a local veterinarian!