How much should you exercise your dog?
A woman exercising with her Corgi puppy: how much should you exercise your dog?
How much should you exercise your puppy?

Whether it is how much to walk your puppy or just walking your dog in general, knowing how much exercise your dog needs is a crucial part of being the best owner you can be.

From how much to exercise a Husky or a good workout for a Pit Bull, we look at how to judge whether your dog is getting enough physical activity and what kind of exercise is best based on factors such as age, breed, and health.

Why exercise your dog? The health and behavioral benefits of exercise

A husky running with a woman on the beach
Photographer: Magdalena Smolnicka | Source: Unsplash

The majority of breeds, especially working breeds such as Border Collies, German Shepherds, or Labradors, need far more exercise than they are getting. This is a pity since a lack of exercise causes both behavioral and health issues for many dogs.

Dogs who don't get enough exercise might engage in a range of unwanted and destructive behaviors, including:

  • Excessive barking
  • Digging
  • Destructive chewing
  • Hyperactivity
  • Attention seeking or general "out-of-controlness."

The pent-up energy also causes a kind of mental illness for many dogs. One study shows that a lack of exercise is one of the leading causes of separation anxiety and noise phobia.

Not only is it essential that you exercise your dog for their mental wellbeing, but it is also one of the only proven means of reducing a loss of cognitive function in older dogs. That means it's one of the few tools we can use to combat 'doggy dementia' as our dogs get older.

Physically, exercise is also vital. Benefits include:

  • Better bowel function, especially in older dogs
  • Decreased obesity and better weight control
  • Better regulated hormones
  • Better blood circulation
  • Increased bone density and muscle tone
  • Prevents urinary tract infections.

So with all this in mind, how do you know if your dog is getting enough exercise?

Signs you may need to exercise your dog more

A Boston Terrier that has destroyed a bathroom door in frustration. If you do not exercise your dog enough, you may struggle with behavioral issues
If you do not exercise your dog enough, you may struggle with behavioral issues

Remember that for most of a dog's evolution, humans bred dogs to do something. It is unnatural for a dog to spend many hours in a confined space, with limited time to really move with their pack.

They are pack animals with a deep psychological need to cover ground, play, run, do a job, and be with their "person."

If they don't get this, the signs that your dog needs more exercise will present themselves. These include:

  1. Restlessness and hyperactivity
  2. Barking
  3. Lethargy or depression
  4. Weight gain
  5. Body stiffness
  6. Destructive behavior
  7. Constant pestering or annoying behavior such as raiding the garbage

Even if your dog is exceptionally good-natured and doesn't act out despite a lack of activity, pet parents still need to ensure they receive adequate exercise. But how much exercise does your dog need exactly?

How to determine how much exercise your dog needs

In general, an adult dog needs between 30 minutes and two hours of structured exercise a day. Structured activity is controlled exercise where the dog is on a leash, such as walking, running, or bikejoring.

Unstructured exercise, such as playing fetch or visiting a dog park, is also vital for your dog's wellbeing. Still, it's important to remember that unstructured exercise can be overstimulating for some dogs, such as hyperactive Vizslas. They may have trouble settling down after a very exciting playtime. Hence, a balance between structured and unstructured exercise is essential.

However, several factors determine roughly how much exercise your dog should get.

Age: Exercising puppies

a fluffy Australian Shepherd puppy running freely
Puppies need unstructured exercise and playtime

The age of your dog is the first major consideration when deciding how much to exercise your dog. For puppies, most exercise should come in the form of playtime, where they can take a break or drink some water at any point.

This means that most of their activity should not come in the form of structured exercise. The general rule of thumb with puppies is that they can handle about five minutes of walking per month of their age, twice a day.

So a four-month-old puppy should be able to walk on a loose leash, when it's not too hot, for twenty minutes, twice a day. Make allowances for smaller breeds or short-nosed (brachycephalic) breeds that may struggle with this.

You can exercise your dog in a structured exercise routine once its growth plates have closed. These are the cartilage at the end of the long bones in a pup's legs. As they grow, they eventually calcify, but too much exercise or an injury can damage the growth plates and cause a lifelong musculoskeletal problem.

For small and medium-sized dogs, the growth plates close around seven to nine months. For larger breeds, it can be between a year and eighteen months. Keep in mind, if your] neutered your male dog before sexual maturity, it could delay the process. So it may take a bit longer before it's safe to exercise them at full capacity.

Age: exercising senior dogs

As your dog ages, usually around the point of seven or eight years, they will need to begin slowing down. Exercise will still be critical for both their health and mental function, but they will no longer be able to do the types of intense workouts they may have done as younger dogs.

In short, you will need to begin tapering exercise off. This largely depends on the dogs, as some can keep up running until their teens. In contrast, others start slowing down or having mobility issues as early as seven.

Keep an eye on your senior dog, and don't push them past their limits. Long hikes, runs, or sports training should gradually be replaced by gentle walks along familiar routes. If they are capable, swimming is a great way to exercise them without putting excess strain on their joints.

Breed

After age, the most basic consideration for exercising your dog is their breed. Different breeds have such dramatically different bodies that it makes no sense to exercise them all the same way or for the same length.

Here are some general guidelines for how much to exercise your healthy adult dog by breed and which exercise is best for them:

Brachycephalic breeds

If you have a short-nosed breed like this Bullmastiff, you need to be careful about how much you exercise your dog, especially when it is hot
If you have a short-nosed breed like this Bullmastiff, you need to be careful about how much you exercise your dog, especially when it is hot

Short-nosed dogs like the Bullmastiff, Boston Terrier, or Pug have shorter nasal passages that interfere with their ability to cool themselves down. They also have more respiratory problems. This means these are not the ideal dogs for running or any strenuous sport.

While they can enjoy a romp in the park as much as any dog, their exercise should not be too demanding. 30 - 45 minutes of low-impact walking is usually good for these dogs, although be careful of taking them out when it is too warm.

Working dogs: Sled dogs

Dogs like this Malamute need excessive amounts of regular exercise
Dogs like this Malamute need excessive amounts of regular exercise

Breeds like the Husky can actually change their metabolism and fat storage to allow them to run for hours, hauling heavy freight at the same time. If pet parents don’t give their sled dogs enough exercise, they often find ways of doing it for themselves. Ask any Husky owner, and they will tell you about their elite escape artistry.

Therefore, Huskies and all their sled dog cousins, such as the Alaskan Malamute or Greenland dog, need excessive amounts of exercise to meet their natural requirements. Since these aren't the most trainable dogs, this exercise comes best in the form of covering long distances.

They thrive when they are allowed to go for long hikes, runs, or using their natural instincts in sports like cani cross, bikejoring, or sledding.

A healthy adult Northern sled dog breed should receive about two hours of moderate to high-intensity exercise per day.

Working dogs: Gun dogs, herding dogs, and service dogs

A beautiful Weimaraner dog
If you have a working dog, like this Weimaraner, you need to exercise your dog between one and two hours a day

Gun dogs and service dogs can differ somewhat in their exercise needs. Some of them, such as the German Shepherd and the Labrador, have non-working, companion bloodlines that require less exercise.

On the other hand, most of the actual working breeds such as Belgian Malinois, Border Collies, Heelers, Weimaraner, or Vizsla are among the most active dogs in the world. They are notorious for becoming destructive if they are not given enough mental and physical exercise.

Herding dogs

For herding dogs, like the Collies, the Australian Cattle Dog, or the Blue Heeler, this can come in herding trials or sports such as agility, which challenge both their minds and bodies. They also do well on runs and hikes but will need an activity with additional mental stimulation. Their owners should aim for a total of two hours of moderate to vigorous activity.

Gundogs

Similarly, owners of gun dogs such as the Vizsla or the German Shorthaired pointer should also aim for about two hours. However, these dogs are usually not as trainable as the herders, so exercise can focus on simple running or long hikes. They also thrive in field trials.

Dogs that are typically associated with protection work, such as the Doberman Pinscher, the German Shepherd, or the Malinois, should also fall in the two-hour bracket. However, like herding breeds, they do best with work that challenges them. This makes IPO sport training, agility, or search-and-rescue an ideal way to work out both their body and minds.

Some breeds, such as setters, sporting spaniels, or labradors that are not from a sporting background, may not need the whole two hours of vigorous exercise. For them, owners should aim for between an hour and two hours.

Terriers

A West Highland Terrier needs about an hour of moderate exercise a day
A West Highland Terrier needs about an hour of moderate exercise a day

Terriers are known to be feisty and relentless. Many are also dedicated diggers, and for these, we recommend earth trials to make use of their natural instincts.

Despite their attitude, terriers are limited by their size. This means most of them should get about sixty to ninety minutes a day of exercise. About thirty minutes of that should be vigorous.

The exercise they will enjoy most usually involves something play-driven, such as chasing a ball. Some also do very well at agility.

The exceptions here are the Pit Bull breeds and their cousins, the English Bull Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. These dogs are more muscled for their size than any other breed and so are perfectly built for exercise that takes short bursts of power.

They thrive in activities such as wall-jumping or weight-pulling that can make use of their powerful bodies and never-quit attitudes.

Scent hounds

Dogs like bloodhounds, bassets, or beagles usually have long floppy ears that help usher scents to their powerful noses. This can make letting them off-leash a risky maneuver since they are likely to chase after an interesting smell and be gone before their owners have a chance to call their names.

Known to be barkers, about 60 to 90 minutes of moderate exercise should help keep the volume on these dogs down. Only the Basset, with its shorter legs, may need a bit less; up to about an hour's walk should be fine for them. Hiking and gentle jogging is the perfect activity for these dogs.

Toy or small dogs

Ranging from the tiny Chihuahua and Pomeranian, the gorgeous Cavalier King Charles Spaniel, these little dogs need less exercise than most breeds.

Although they do not need a lot of space, do well in apartments, and are prone to injury, small dogs and toy breeds can be surprising when it comes to how much exercise they can handle.

Owners of small breeds should aim for between 30 and 60 minutes of moderate activity a day. This can be in the form of multiple short walks or playtime with a ball. Some of the breeds do well at sports such as flyball for Italian Greyhounds or even agility.

Giant Breeds

Giant dogs such as Great Danes, Newfoundlands, or St. Bernards need to be exercised carefully to avoid putting extra strain on their joints or heart.

Remember that many of these breeds are only considered adults at three years old. Their bone structure is particularly at risk when they are young. Exercise for these dogs needs to be consistent but measured.

Unfortunately, many of these dogs have low energy levels and are prone to sleeping the day away. This makes it easy to neglect their exercise needs when exercise is still crucial for their health, even if it has to be more controlled.

Adult giant breeds should receive about 30 – 45 minutes of moderate daily exercise. Two good walks a day should be enough. Generally, they should avoid high-impact activities such as running and jumping. Swimming is the ideal exercise for them if it can be encouraged and supervised.

Sighthounds

Greyhounds, Borzois, Afghan hounds, and Salukis are all born runners. However, they built more to sprint over short distances than trot along for ultra marathons like the Husky. They are also usually not hyperactive dogs and can do fine with an hour's walk a day. This is provided they are given the space and time to sprint in a safe and enclosed area.

Taking your sighthound lure-chasing over weekends is one of the best ways to make use of their natural instincts to keep them fit.

Health concerns and exercise

As with anything, exercise is only effective as part of the bigger picture of preventative health care. This includes an affordable, high-nutrient diet to help your dog reach their optimal health.

Suppose you're struggling to figure out the best and healthiest diet for your dog, given their activity level. In that case, you can make use of Pet Assistant's nutritionists and algorithms.

A Pet Assistant nutritionist can also help you work out the correct carbs to protein ratio given how active your dog is or help them lose weight if they need to.

Obesity or being overweight is one of the most common health concerns that can impact how often you may exercise your dog. An overweight dog's fitness needs to be built up gradually, and they should never exercise too much while the extra pounds still wear down their joints and heart.

Musculoskeletal issues such as hip and elbow dysplasia or arthritis can also affect how much and how to exercise your dog. In general, regular checkups with the vet can help you make sure your dog is up to the task.

Final Thoughts

Exercise is vital for your dog's mind and body. It is a vital part of their overall wellness, longevity, and health. Destructive and unwanted behavior is usually a sign of an under-exercised dog. Together with a healthy diet and appropriate training program, exercise can make most of these issues manageable.

How you exercise your dog and how much depends on factors such as age and breed. Either way, meeting their exercise requirements is an excellent way to bond with your dog and move more yourself, making everyone a winner.

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