How Much Exercise Does My Dog Need?

by Irene Hislop

26 August 2019



How much exercise does a dog need every day? That depends on several factors. Some dog breeds were bred for specific jobs. Border Collies and German Shepherds, for example, traditionally worked protecting and herding livestock. They are extremely intelligent, energetic dogs that need demanding activities that challenge their bodies and minds daily. Sight hounds such as greyhounds and whippets are hunters by nature, but when they are not running they are pretty lazy and content to snooze on the sofa. Toy breeds are often playful, but don’t require a great deal of exercise to be healthy.

Age and overall health are also important factors when assessing how much exercise a dog needs every day. Dogs need less exercise as they age, but a daily walk is still very important to keep those aging limbs from getting stiff and sore. The pace and distance of a dog’s daily walk will decrease in their senior years, but they should not be left without the physical exercise and mental stimulation of a daily stroll. Dogs who are out of shape or overweight should start slow and gradually increase their daily exercise, just like people. If your dog is recovering from an injury or illness, your vet can give you specific advice on how much exercise will help and how much is too much.

Ideally, the time to ask ‘how much exercise does a dog need every day?’ is before you select your dog. It is important that your dog fit into your lifestyle so you can meet their exercise and grooming needs. While every dog is an individual, we can look at them by breed type to discuss how much exercise they need daily to be healthy and happy.

What Works for Working Breeds?

working dog is running through the water as a part of his daily exercise

If you have a working breed that isn’t actually working, you’ll have an unhappy, destructive and fiendishly clever dog on your hands. But how much exercise does a working dog need every day? It doesn’t need to be the exact same every day, but an average of one to two hours of brisk walking will keep your Boxer, Border Collie, Husky, Doberman or German Shepherd happy. You can break their exercise up. For example, you might do a 20 or 30 minute morning and evening walk during the work week, take them on a long hike or jog on Saturday and then chill out on Sunday.

Working dogs are clever and their minds need exercise as much as their bodies. These dogs excel at canine agility and love games. You can keep it simple by including some games of fetch and doing some basic agility at home. Try teaching your working breed to jump through a hula hoop or run around some bamboo garden canes. Vary their walking routes to keep things interesting.

A Word about Terriers

terrier is running while holding a ball and doing some exercise

Small terriers can pack more energy per kilo than any other dog. A Jack Russell, Miniature Schnauzer or West Highland Terrier can give the impression they have springs for legs. They exude energy and need more exercise than other dogs their size. Terrier breeds have one thing in common: they were bred to protect their family farms from vermin and intruders. They are fierce watchdogs who will alert you to any and everything, and they have a strong drive to chase things.

Those little legs can keep up a brisk pace for a shocking amount of time. The average pet terrier will thrive on one or two daily walks totalling 30 minutes to an hour and some vigorous play time that burns up energy and engages their mind. Think of them as having all the energy and smarts of a working breed packed into an adorable little package. If your terrier is getting snappy or destructive, it is probably a sign they need more exercise.

Keeping the Average Pet Dog Healthy and Fit

All dogs need regular exercise, and many pets can thrive on one 30 to 45 minute walk per day and some play time in the garden when they reach adulthood. (Puppies are another story!) Their daily walks keep their muscles toned, burn calories and engage their minds. All that sniffing they do is the canine version of social media. They are catching up on the neighbourhood dog and cat gossip by smelling who has gone where.

It can be hard to fit in longer walks during the week if you are working full time. One solution is to have shorter daily walks on workdays and then take longer walks on the weekends. Indoor games can also be a fun outlet for your dog’s energy, especially when the weather is bad. Tug toys such as ropes are popular with pooches. Playing with your dog like this not only provides a bit of exercise, it is real quality time together. Your dog idolises you, and this time is precious to them.

Fun for Toy Breeds

small toy tiny dog

These tiny dogs have a very different history than other breeds. They were bred to be leisurely pets, although some such as the toy terriers and poodles, have a more complicated history. But that does not mean they don’t need exercise. They do, although they need less than other dogs. That said, not all toy breeds have the same requirements. The Cavalier King Charles Spaniel is a good deal less energetic than a Poodle or a Yorkshire Terrier. A short walk or two a day and a bit of play time will keep most toy breeds fit.

Puppies need a lot of play time, but they also need a lot of sleep. They should not go out for walks until your vet confirms they are fully immunized and ready. But until then, short bursts of fun with breaks for naps is ideal.

A dog’s size and type is not the only gauge answer to the question ‘how much exercise does a dog need every day’. Each breed type includes a range of dogs, so owners must assess their specific dog’s needs. And every rule has its exceptions. Some of the larger mountain shepherd breeds need less exercise, while some medium dogs such as Labradors, Pointers and Setters need quite a lot.

A bit of trial and error is required to learn how much exercise your individual and unique dog needs. If your dog is fit and healthy, start at the low end of these recommendations and see if your dog is calm throughout the day. If he is jumping around, barking excessively or destroying things, increase his exercise time until you reach a point where he calms down. In case your dog is older, overweight or has not been walking regularly, talk to your vet about how much walking to start with and let your dog set the pace. (And if you have not be physically active, talk to your doctor before starting long, brisk walks with your dog.)

Irene Hislop

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