How much exercise does my dog need?

Wednesday November 23, 2016

Regular exercise not only helps your dog maintain a healthy weight, it also provides mental stimulation and burns up excess energy. But there’s no need to buy your dog a gym membership, invest in a doggy treadmill or head to doga (dog yoga). There are lots of ways to give your dog a daily fix of activity.

A few ways we like to get moving with our dogs is to:

  • Go for a walk or run. Secure your dog on a lead and vary your route to keep things interesting.
  • Play a game. Interactive activities like fetching a ball or frisbee are lots of fun.
  • Visit a dog park. Dogs love hanging out together! Fenced dog parks provide a safe space for your dog to socialise, play and explore off-leash.

But how do you know how much activity is right for your dog?

While around an hour a day is a good general goal for most adult dogs, there are three main variables to consider:

  1. Breed. Is your dog a hunting, sporting or working breed? While your dog may not personally partake in these activities, if these characteristics are a feature of your dog’s breed, then your doggy friend is going to require an above average amount of exercise. However, if your dog’s breed is built more for companionship, then your dog won’t require quite as much active time.
  2. Age. Just as our own exercise needs vary with age, the same is true for our dogs. Adult dogs will generally require more exercise than a puppy or elderly dog. By tailoring your dog’s activity levels to suit, you’ll help ensure they always find exercise fun and enjoyable.
  3. Health. Be sure to take into account your dog’s current physical condition, especially when increasing their activity levels.

Planning for Safe Exercise

  • Phased introduction of exercise. It’s entirely possible for your dog to get too much of a good thing. Particularly if your dog is new to exercise or overweight, it’s important to start slowly and gradually build the intensity and length of each session. Similar to the way you’d structure your own workouts, allow adequate time to warm-up and cool-down your pooch (even if that’s just bookending your sessions with a leisurely walk). And remember that variety is the spice of life, so not every session should involve high impact activities such as running, ball chasing or frisbee catching. When done to excess, such activities can place undue pressure on your dog’s joints and even lead to repetitive strain injuries.
  • Reduce the risk of heatstroke. Temperature extremes impact on the amount of exercise your dog can tolerate. The risk of heatstroke is of particular concern in Australia, where heat and humidity are more likely to be factors than extreme cold. Heatstroke is a very serious condition which occurs when your dog overheats beyond their body’s ability to remove excess heat. So to limit the risk, aim to exercise your dog in the cool of early morning or evening. Look out for potential signs of heatstroke when exercising your dog, including increased panting or drooling, agitation, breathing distress, dizziness or lethargy.
  • Consult with your vet. If your dog has a pre-existing medical condition, or if you’re unsure about the suitability of particular exercises, be sure to consult with your vet prior to commencing an exercise program for your dog. After all, exercise should have a positive impact on the health of your favourite canine.

Monitoring Your Dog’s Activity Levels

Keeping an eye on your dog’s appearance and behaviour is the best way to tell if they’re getting enough activity. Your dog probably needs more exercise if they are:

  • If your dog doesn’t have a waist, has a saggy belly or if there’s more than a thin layer of fat over the ribs.
  • Displaying destructive or disruptive behaviour such as excessive chewing, digging or barking.

When combined with a nutritious, well-balanced diet, exercising your dog is a fantastic way to keep them looking and feeling their very best. And if you take part in their exercise sessions, you’ll probably have fun too!