Exercise for dogs 101: Keeping your pup in shape

Heed these takeaways:
  • More than 55% of dogs in the United States are overweight or obese.
  • Regular exercise reduces the risk of a wide range of health problems and is also important for your pup’s mental wellbeing.
  • 1-2 hours of exercise a day is ideal for many (but not all) dogs.
  • Fun ways to help your pup stay active include taking him swimming, playing dog sports and going for dog-friendly hikes.

Regular exercise — we need it, and so do our dogs.

An active lifestyle is obviously crucial to ensure that your pup stays in good shape. If he doesn’t get enough exercise, your dog will struggle to stay in a healthy weight range. More than 55% of dogs in the United States are either overweight or obese, placing them at an increased risk of suffering from arthritis, heart disease and a range of other health problems.

Photo by Artem Beliaikin from Pexels

But exercise isn’t just about your dog’s physical wellbeing; it’s also essential for his mental health. Put simply, exercise engages your dog’s mind as well as his body, providing some much-needed mental stimulation. As the saying goes, a tired dog is a happy dog, and also much less likely to resort to destructive behavior as a means of expending some energy.

Best of all, exercising together is a wonderful way to spend some quality time with your fur-baby, and both of you can reap the health benefits.

How much exercise does a dog need every day?

Your dog’s exercise needs depend on a number of factors. As a very general guide, 1-2 hours of daily exercise will keep most dogs fit, happy and healthy.

However, your dog may require more or less than this rough figure based on factors like his age, breed and energy levels. For example, a working breed like the Kelpie will have very different activity requirements to a companion dog like the Shih Tzu.

Older dogs have different energy levels compared to puppies and adult dogs, while injuries and medical conditions can also have an impact. That said, even senior dogs suffering from arthritis can benefit from regular exercise to improve circulation and keep their joints moving.

The main thing to remember when starting your dog on a new exercise regime is to ask your vet for advice. He or she will be able to tell you how much exercise your dog can handle and suggest a few suitable activities to get you moving.

5 great ways to exercise your dog

Exercising your dog isn’t just about taking her for a walk. Don’t get us wrong — walks are a wonderful form of exercise, but there are loads of other simple ways to get active and raise your pup’s heart rate. Here are five of the best:

  • Swimming. Swimming is a great form of low-impact exercise and often suitable for dogs with arthritis. Whether you head to a beach or swimming hole near you or even a special doggy swim center, it’s an easy way for many dogs to stay active. Just don’t force your pup to do anything he doesn’t want to, as not all dogs are comfortable in the water.
  • Dog sports. If your pup is particular energetic, you might want to let him try a few different dog sports. From the wet and wild fun of dock diving to the fast-paced action of flyball and agility, there are sports out there that tap into many of our pets’ natural instincts. Find a club near you and go along to their next try-out day to see if your pup is ready to be a sports star.
  • Take a hike. Hiking lets you take your daily dog walk to the next level. Find a pet-friendly park or forest near you and hit the trails with your dog. Not only will this let your dog experience a range of new sights and smells, hiking over varied terrain will also work different muscle groups. 
  • Obedience training. While it may not seem like obedience training will raise your pup’s heart rate all that much, it’s still a great way to help your dog stay active. Whether you’re working on your dog’s recall skills, helping him master the art of retrieving or training skills for sports like agility and canine freestyle, you’ll be providing a workout for his body and his mind.
  • Stair running. Provide an extra physical challenge for your pup by introducing stairs into your daily exercise routine. You might like to incorporate stair climbs into your game of fetch, and this is an excellent way to stay active indoors on those rainy days. Just make sure not to push your dog too hard.
These are just a few simple ideas to help you and your dog stay in great shape. There are plenty of other easy activities you and your pup can enjoy together, so find the one that gets your dog’s tail wagging.