How Much Exercise Does Your Dog Need?

Let’s look at the four main factors to keep in mind when answering this important question.

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You found a four-legged best friend through a shelter or rescue organization, and now that he’s settled into his new life, are you wondering just how much exercise your dog needs? It’s a great question. The answer is: It depends.

What does it depend on? Quite a few things, but here are the four biggies:

1. Age

If your dog is a puppy, you can quite easily over-exercise the little cutie. It’s important to allow your dog’s body to grow up before you put too much physical exertion on those tender bones. I encourage two to three half-hour exploration times outside in the backyard on leash after at least two rounds of puppy vaccines. Please don’t go jogging with a dog until she is about a year old. Same thing with long hikes.

2. Breed

Sometimes with a rescue dog, we have little clue what breed our new friend is. Some breeds have more stamina and energy than others. If you end up with a dog who has Border Collie, Australian Shepherd, or German Shepherd in his lineage, be prepared to provide quite a lot of physical exercise. Same thing with many terriers and hunting breeds. Breeds with shortened muzzles often have a harder time breathing, so you would not take your Pug or Bulldog on as long or as strenuous of an outing.

Keep in mind, however, that while breeds give us an idea of what the dog was bred to do in the past, that doesn’t mean you have a working Labrador Retriever on your hands. Most dogs don’t have jobs anymore but instead are companions. I have two Border Collies, and they love to herd sheep but are also happy to have a lazy day or even several lazy days. In other words, take into consideration the dog you find in front of you while keeping his breeding in mind. Believe it or not, some Border Collies do not herd sheep or have any desire to!

Pug taking a break by Shutterstock.
Pug taking a break by Shutterstock.

3. Health

Some dogs had a rough life before they were rescued, and they may need some serious rest and relaxation. If you suspect your dog might have any pain anywhere in her body, please head to a veterinarian right away. Some dogs are quite stoic, so it can really require an observant pet parent to even suspect a pain issue.

For example, my male Border Collie Radar once split his leg down to the bone on one of our hikes and never yelped or limped. When we got home, I just happened to notice some blood on his front leg, so I parted his fur and nearly fainted when I saw the gash. Off we went to the emergency veterinarian, but I might not have even been aware of the injury because he is so stoic.

4. Weather

While dogs obviously don’t put on shoes to go outside, they nonetheless have paws we need to protect, especially from harsh weather. If you go outside in the summer months and put your palm down on the street, and it feels really hot to you, it is too hot for your dog.

Humidity is a concern for dogs as well. If you live in a humid climate, please take extra care not to run a dog in the middle of the day during hot months. I hear of too many preventable canine deaths because of well-meaning owners exercising their dog when it’s too hot outside. Additionally some dogs are terrified of thunder, so plan your outings when there are no thunderstorms in the forecast. A dog’s hearing is much more sensitive than our own.

The nose knows

Chihuahua nose by Shutterstock.
Chihuahua nose by Shutterstock.

Also keep in mind that a dog’s nose is incredibly sensitive. I often say that if we could see what they can smell, we’d marvel that any dogs agreed to return to their owners the second we took them outside. It’s crucial that dog owners don’t over-focus on the physical movement of exercise. We need to exercise a dog’s mind, and one of her favorite ways is to sniff things out. Why not begin and end each walk by allowing your dog to set the pace? If you did, you’d get to see how very focused his nose is. He’ll actually be more tired from a good sniffing walk than a long run because we’ve allowed him to think through his powerful nose.

Overall, have fun and be sure to meet your dog’s needs as well as your own. They need water just like we do when we are exercising. Also be sure to outfit your dog appropriately: no choke, prong, or shock collars. A harness and a 6-foot leash are the most comfortable for your dog. Finally, be sure your dog has current tags with your phone number listed just in case she gets separated from you.

Top photo: Running dog by Shutterstock.

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Annie Phenix, CPDT-KA

Annie Phenix is a Colorado-based professional writer and dog trainer. She is the Trainer in Residence for Dogster.com and she writes a column for Dogster Magazine and other publications. She is the author of a Spring 2016 book, titled The Midnight Dog Walkers (I-5 Publishing).

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