It's the million-dollar question for many dog owners. How much exercise does this dog need? The answer can vary from a little bit to so much.
Besides breed, differences in age, health, individual temperament, and breeding/genetics also factor into a dog's exercise needs. There are several keys to determining what is right for your dog.
Undoubtedly, the most handily available research will tell you what the general exercise needs are for your dog's breed. Whether they require hours of activity or a few short walks per day. However, merely using breed as your guide negates several other factors.
Nutrition, fitness, and exercise are inextricably connected where most dogs are concerned. When considering bringing a dog into the family, you should understand that some dogs, like people, may not like exercise, but their health depends on it.
By the same token, a breed's need for "a job" or mental stimulation is often misattributed to a need for physical exercise. Several working dog breeds have high exercise needs, but they also crave mental stimulation, puzzles to solve, or something that they can understand as their "job." The more you know about a breed's health/nutritional needs and further understand your dog's cues and communication, the more likely you'll find the right balance between fitness and mental stimulation.
Even within specific breeds, exercise requirements for dogs can vary greatly depending on age. As a general rule, veterinarians recommend that puppies exercise for five minutes for every month of life every day. So, if you have a four-month-old pup, he will need twenty minutes of exercise per day. Ideally, this exercise is broken down into several short sessions. More often than not, puppies this young self-regulate, will tire quickly, and put themselves to rest.
As a dog ages and reaches its full growth potential, he will tire less easily. Generally speaking, dogs between the ages of one and six need the most exercise. Again, depending on their size, build, health, and breed, dogs in this age range, can require anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours of exercise per day.
Most dog breeds tend to slow down significantly after the ages of six or eight. It should be noted that a dog's willingness or desire to exercise should not be equated with his need for exercise. Stiffness and sore joints may lead your pup to no longer want to over-indulge in his favorite activities. Still, for his overall wellbeing and fitness, new routines and exercises should be encouraged. At some point, dialing back on the intense games of fetch and switching over to long walks in the woods will often become necessary.
Health, Temperament, Genetics
Aside from a natural slowdown that comes with age, health factors and temperament affect the amount of exercise a dog may need. These determinations are made on a case by case basis and should be discussed in detail with your veterinarian. A general rule of thumb that can be followed is calories in = calories out. The quantity and quality of food that your dog is getting will impact everything from his overall health, activity level, and even behavior. Also, questionable breeding practices and unintentional breeding can lead to poor health and behavioral issues, impacting a dog's stamina and activity needs. As always, discuss any concerns with your vet during your dog's annual wellness exam.
The Best Activities For Fitness and Mental Stimulation
- Walking and hiking — Mix your route up every so often. Although dogs like familiarity, they also like taking a whiff of a new place.
- Swimming — Water dogs, of course, will lean into this activity, but it is also an excellent alternative for older dogs with developing joint issues.
- Running — Take your dog somewhere that it is safe to join other dogs for some zoomies! Undeniably, this is not the activity for all dogs and all locales. Hot days and fur coats don't mix.
- Fetch — This is the perfect activity for your working-class dogs. Once they realize that fetching the ball is their job, they will wear themselves out mentally and physically, showing you how good they are at their job. Don't forget the low-calorie rewards.
How Will I Know If My Dog Isn't Getting Enough?
The simple answer is, he will let you know. Again, exercise is as much a mental and emotional need for some dogs as it is a physical need. For this reason, breeds that are typically high energy will let you know if they are not getting enough exercise, attention, or stimulation. A non-experienced dog owner may ask, "How will he let me know?" As the experienced among us collectively yell, "By chewing your things! All. Of. Your. Things!"
Now, there are some lower-energy breeds, like the Shih Tzu, that just need to be in your company. Unfortunately, many dog owners don't find out that their dog needs more exercise or activity until the vet tells them that their beloved is overweight or obese. If you have a very complacent dog that doesn't require much action to be happy, one simple way to judge this for yourself is to run your hands along your dog's ribcage. If you can easily discern each rib without having to press through a layer of fat, that is a good sign your dog is fit. If not, you should consider visiting your veterinarian and discussing activity levels and proper nutrition.
The Long and the Short of It
Your dog needs exercise. Even if he hates exercise, like us, he still needs exercise. If you have a dog that is getting more than an hour or two of exercise per day but is acting out, he may need more mental activity or a few more ear scratching sessions with his favorite human. If you are unsure about what your lovable four-legger needs, schedule a vet visit. They are our best resource for determining what your dog's calorie ins and outs should be, as well as addressing any behavior issues that can be attributed to poor nutrition or lack of exercise.