Dogs and (humans!) need exercise but unlike us (me), most dogs, actually enjoy being active and are just waiting to get out and about. While we might be suddenly inspired to spontaneously exercise, when it comes to our dogs, it’s important to make sure your dog is ready for any change in their activity levels. If your dog has been benched for a year or has physical ailments, a day of activity could quickly turn painful.
We’ve put together a couple of things to consider before you mix up your dog’s exercise regime to make sure they’re both healthy and happy.
ASSESS YOUR DOG'S AGE
Before jumping into a new exercise program, it’s important to check your dog’s fitness level against the demands of the activity and decide whether your dog is ready to tackle it head on or need some time to train.
There’s lots of factors to consider when you’re starting a new regime and a great place to start is your dog’s age, health and breed.
Puppy: How much exercise does a puppy need?
Puppies are bundles of high-energy but need to be exercised differently to adult dogs. Since puppies’ bodies are still developing, short walks and play sessions are better than long walks or ball-throwing at the park since they put less strain on their bodies. Every puppy will need different amounts of exercise to keep them content and out of trouble so keep an eye on their behaviour and change it up if needed.
Avoid over-exercising your puppy. Over-exercising puppies can negatively impact their musculoskeletal development and is particularly dangerous for large and giant-breed puppies. Some large and giant dog breeds can continue to grow up until 18–24 months of age so it is important to take this into consideration when planning your exercise routine.
Adult: How Much Exercise Does an Adult Dog Need?
There will be lots of different variables that will affect how much exercise your dog will need (we’ll go through some later!) but, whatever the amount, your dog WILL need regular exercise! Some dogs can get away with a half an hour walk around the block but working dogs and active breeds will need longer and more intense workouts to keep their energy levels in check.
Pay close attention to your dog’s behaviour as pacing, restlessness and misbehaviour can be signs they might need more activity or physical stimulation!
Senior: How Much Exercise Does a Senior Dog Need?
The amount of exercise your senior dog will need will depend on their health condition and energy levels. Senior dogs can have lower energy levels and often have health issues that might mean some activities are too difficult.
Joint problems can make high impact exercise like running and agility difficult, while respiratory or heart conditions can limit the range of activities available to gentler exercises. That doesn’t mean you should forget about exercise all together, the right amounts can help with joint pain, prevent weight-gain and help keep muscle tone. If you’re still interested in the needs of Senior Dogs, check out our Senior Dog blog to learn more about their nutritional, health and exercise needs.
Obvious medical problems, such as arthritis, heart disease, intervertebral disk disease, pulmonary problems (including heartworm disease), and obesity, can limit a dog’s tolerance for activity. If your dog hasn’t been examined by a vet recently or is older than 7, get a precursory check-up with your vet before beginning a new sport.
Almost half of all Aussie dogs* are overweight or obese which can limit your dog’s mobility and stamina. If you’re introducing a new activity to your dog or want to increase the amount of exercise, you will need to do it gradually so your dog can get used to the changes and minimise injury.
To get them back to a healthy weight-range, you’ll need to make sure they’re getting the right nutrition as well. Visit your local vet for their recommended daily calorie intake or if they need a specialised diet and make sure you limit fatty treats or sneaky table scraps.
Some dog breeds match well with certain activities. Water dogs and retrievers love swimming and fetching while herding and working dogs enjoy agility exercises. Most medium dogs make good running companions but any sized dog would gladly welcome a walk or hike.
High-energy breeds like Border Collies and Kelpies can go for intense exercises that a Basset Hound or small dog might struggle with. If you have a very active lifestyle and are keen to take your dog on your exercises, a toy-small breed might not be the breed for you! Have a chat with your vet and ask them to recommend some suitable exercises and don’t be afraid to experiment with activities.
WHAT TO CONSIDER BEFORE EXERCISING YOUR DOG
Take small steps when you introduce exercise and don’t expect your dog to become an athlete overnight. If you have unreasonable expectations, you might pressure your dog into doing something they’re not ready to do and risk injury.
Start with something easy, if you’re gearing your dog up to become your running partner, start with a short 10-15 minute run around your block or somewhere they’re used to. When you’re confident they’re comfortable with the distance, you can increase it by 500m increments.
Bring everything you might need to keep your dog engaged and comfortable like treats, collapsible water bowls, toys and waste bags.
WHAT TO CONSIDER WHILE EXERCISING YOUR DOG
While you exercise, you should carefully monitor how your dog is tracking. Keep a close eye on their conditions and if you see the slightest sign of discomfort or fatigue, slow down and let them rest.
If your dog stops to rest or lies down, give them a break and wait until they get up and are ready to go again. If they’re very fatigued, it’ll be better to call it a day then risk injury. Exercise should be something both you and your dog should enjoy.
Off-lead areas can be great places for your dog to control their own level of exercise. Allow your dog to run around, play and rest at their own pace. Dog parks are great ways to socialise your dog but other dogs might over-excite your dog so make sure they don’t over exert themselves and they get plenty of drink breaks.
A big problem in hot and humid areas is the danger of heatstroke. Brachycephalic (short-nose) breeds like bulldogs and pugs are especially vulnerable to heat intolerance. Try avoid taking your dogs to exercise during the hottest parts of the day and keep a careful eye for any signs of dehydration or heat-stroke like:
Heavy, continuous panting
Enlarged or flattened tongue
Hazy or glazed over eyes
If you see any of these signs, stop immediately and bring them to a cool shaded place to rest. Cool them down and then take your pet to the nearest vet clinic to be treated.
AFTER EXERCISING YOUR DOG
After a good workout, offer your dog some water and make sure they keep hydrated. You also want them to enjoy the activity so positive reinforcement and rewards after a session can help them to learn to love exercise.
Dogs can get stiff sore muscles after exercise, too. To ease the pain, gently massage their sore muscles or ask your veterinarian for one of the numerous safe and effective pain relievers for dogs
TYPES OF EXERCISE
Backpacking: A mix of hiking and sledding, owners and dogs are connected using a special hands-free harness to go trail walking. A great way to enjoy the outdoors at your own pace, hikes range from a short distance for puppies all the way up to 65km hikes that go over three days.
Obedience: Both a physical and a mental exercise, dogs learn new commands and tricks like retrieving, weaving and tricks.
Dog Sports: With a huge variety of dog sports, there’s bound to be one for you and your dog. Lure coursing, obedience, flyball, treibball, disc sports, scent work and agility sports are just a few to choose from!
Swimming: A perfect low-impact exercise for dogs that might have joint problems. Swimming comes naturally for most dogs and can be a great way to stay cool during hot weather.
Whether your dog is a puppy or adult, exercise should be part of their daily routine. It plays an important role in your dog’s physical and mental health and exposes them to new stimuli, helping with their development.
Bringing your dog to dog-friendly parks and areas also helps socialise them with other dogs which can help with behavioural management. Not to forget, it’s also a great way for you to enjoy some exercise yourself while bonding with your dog.