How to exercise with your dog
Just like us humans, exercise is a key part of our dog’s health, happiness and wellbeing. Ensuring your dog receives the right amount of the right kind of exercise is key. But how much exercise should you give your dog – and how often? Is it possible to over-exert them? The optimum levels, of course, depend on the age, size and sometimes even their breed. And even then, there is no ‘one size fits all’ prescription. There are, however, some solid rules of thumb that you can apply: spotting the signs of too much, or too little exercise allows you to get the balance right. You know them better than anyone, after all.
WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS OF EXERCISE?
For your dog:
- Helps maintain a healthy weight
- Keeps joints limber and mobile
- Maintains muscle mass
- Strengthens the bond between you and your dog
- Your dog craves routine, and daily exercise is the cornerstone of this
- It’s part of your dog’s natural instincts to be regularly active
There are also benefits for you. Dogs are a great reason for leaving the house in the first place, even when you don’t feel like it. They depend on you for exercise, so even when you’re not feeling your best, or the weather is far from inviting – you must leave the house. Natural light has so many benefits on mental and physical health for you. For your pet, plenty of exercise is a preventative measure to avoid larger health problems further down the line, saving you money on vet bills too.
SIGNS YOUR DOG ISN’T GETTING ENOUGH EXERCISE
Your dog needs a positive outlet for their energy through exercise. Some breeds, like Jack Russells and Border Collies are tireless and like “working” – so if you don’t tire them out yourself, they’ll soon occupy themselves with their own kind of work, like eating your furniture. Other signs include:
- Weight gain is an obvious sign that your dog hasn’t been getting enough exercise long term. Lack of exercise is not the only contributor to weight gain however: as with humans, nutrition is also important for your dog to maintain a healthy weight
- They become bored and frustrated
- Their behaviour could become destructive: chewing furniture, shoes or anything else within their reach (including what’s on worktops), even raiding the bin
- Increased aggression towards other pets or people
- When they are on a walk, they may pull strongly on the lead. This can show hyper-activity and over-excitement, which are signs of excessive and unspent energy
- If the destructive behavioural symptoms don’t calm down once they are getting enough exercise, there may be another reason for their behaviour that’s worth investigating.
HOW MUCH DAILY EXERCISE DOES A DOG NEED?
The amount of daily exercise you can commit to as an owner is something to carefully consider when choosing which breed would suit the lifestyle of yourself and your family. Consistency and building up endurance are important especially in the early days. If you work a lot during the week, although it’s tempting, it’s best not to try and overcompensate for that at weekends by going on great long hikes. A sudden, massive jump in exercise pattern can result in fatigue and muscle soreness (for both of you!). Age is a factor, as puppies need different levels of exercise when they’re young. For puppies, as a rule of thumb, avoid one long daily walk as this can be hard on their growing joints and limbs. The UK Kennel club recommend five minutes for each month of their age, up to twice a day, plus playful exercise, with a ball for example.
Adult dogs need between 30 minutes and two hours of daily exercise. This can include walking, running, playing fetch, agility and other enrichment-based games. Although it’s important to note, just because they’re off the lead, doesn’t mean they’re flat-out exercising the whole time. Naturally, short bursts of running and playing will likely be mixed in with much-needed sniffing and exploring.
As dogs get older, they will inevitably slow down and their endurance will decrease so they may need shorter walks at a more leisurely pace. Like us, aching joints or muscles may be slowing them down. If you stay in tune with them, they will usually send you signs of how they’re coping, or when they’re becoming tired, such as digging their heels in on their walk, or even lying down on the pavement.
Christopher Ayme, Unsplash
CAN I OVER-EXERCISE MY DOG?
It is possible to go to the other extreme with the best of intentions and over-exercise our dogs. If you’re concerned about this, there are tell-tale signs to look out for:
- Check the bottom of your dog’s paws for wear and tear, such as visible cuts or grazes, irritated skin or swelling. This can be painful for dogs and make them limp.
- Muscular pain and stiffness. After rigorous exercise and a rest, your dog might struggle to get up, walk up and down steps and even reach down to their bowl to eat or drink.
- Heat stroke is something to be mindful of, especially in hot weather. Keep an eye out for excessive panting or drooling, movements that seem uncoordinated, or vomiting. Some breeds, including short nosed dogs like pugs can’t cool as efficiently as other breeds. Younger and older breeds can sometimes have difficulty regulating their body temperature.
- Joint injury can present itself with difficulty in moving, tiredness or irritability or maybe even limping.
They withdraw from social situations. If your dog usually loves being around people and they decide to take themselves away to another room to be alone, this could be a sign that it’s all a bit much for them. If they do this on a regular basis, it may be a sign of something else, even depression
HOW LONG AFTER EATING CAN A DOG EXERCISE?
You can minimise the risk of your dog having stomach upsets or bloating by timing exercise and food in the right way. Try to leave at least an hour either side of feeding them to exercise your dog. If possible, try not to let your dog wolf down their food in one go. There are ways you can slow them down: for example, try distributing their food in a muffin tin or place food in enrichment toys where they have to ‘work’ at releasing their food.
CAN I TAKE MY DOG RUNNING?
Some breeds are much better suited to running than others – and some will surprise you, as speed doesn’t necessarily correlate to how adept they are at running. Some breeds that are extremely fast, like Sighthounds and Lurchers, are speedy across very short distances, but will tire over longer ones. Other breeds such as Labradors will happily run alongside you and will complement your active lifestyle perfectly. The supreme athletes of the dog world like Huskies or Border Collies may be happy to go the distance but may need their attention held during the run!
Small-nosed (or brachycephalic) breeds, such as Pugs can have difficulty breathing and regulating their body temperature efficiently, so are more susceptible to heat stroke
TOP TIPS FOR RUNNING WITH YOUR DOG
- Build up endurance steadily. Don’t go too far too soon. Just like humans, some dogs may need their own version of Couch to 5k if they aren’t used to running. Even those that are more athletic need to build up their endurance.
- Bring water for your dog. Their way of cooling down is panting, which can quickly lead to dehydration. Make sure you bring fluids for both of you on the run.
- Stay present and pay attention to the signs your dog is giving you.
- Don’t go so quickly that you’re out of breath and can’t give them instructions
- These runs are unlikely to be your personal bests when it comes to your speed – there may be the abrupt stops for sniffing and peeing, especially when you’re first training them to get into the rhythm of running alongside you (rather than in front, behind wandering between the two). If you’re a runner and are training for speed, it may be best to leave the dog at home for those specific runs.
- Don’t forget poo bags!
An important thing to remember is that sometimes your dog won’t know what’s good for them and the natural urge to run and play can override pain; some may not know their limits. Play time and time with you can be too appealing, so it will be up to you to put the brakes on if they get over-excited!
Ultimately the relationship you have with your dog enables you to understand them like no one else, and that includes their limitations just as much as their capabilities. If in doubt, consult with your vet, especially if you’re undertaking an exercise plan to help your pet lose weight.
*The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your veterinarian or other qualified pet health provider with any questions you may have regarding your pet's health*