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You’ve been told that your dog needs regular exercise. There’s a reason “walking the dog” is a classic daily activity: Frequent excursions give your pup a chance to stretch their legs, experience the world, maintain a healthy weight, and spend time with you! Consistent physical activity will also improve their strength, coordination, and mental ability over time.
But exactly how much exercise does your dog really need? While it’s important that every dog has the opportunity to move their body, not all breeds and temperaments have the same physical activity requirements.
We’ve put together everything you need to know to figure out your dog’s ideal exercise amount and intensity. Let’s dive into our dog exercise calculator!
Exercise is important — but remember to balance mental activities, too
Before we get into the nitty gritty of deciding how much physical activity to give your dog, let’s dispel a common myth. Have you ever heard that a “tired dog is a good dog?”
While exercise absolutely is important to keep our pets healthy, too much physical movement without appropriate mental stimulation can actually cause problems. We might create companions whose bodies never feel tired — and who have no idea how to slow down their brains! (Canines tend to develop cardio and muscle strength faster than humans do, so it’s easy to create a dog who can outlast us on the trails.)
Cognitive enrichment can be the perfect solution here. Paired with appropriate physical fulfillment, mental stimulation activities like food puzzles, snuffle mats, and thoughtful training sessions can keep your dog entertained without running either of you to the ground. Impulse control and brain games are a great way to use up excess energy.
An added bonus: Your pup can play cognitive games even if they’re entering their senior years or recovering from an injury. In fact, mental exercise is possible in just about any situation: during inclement weather, at your own home or a friend’s house, out in a public park, if you’re ever stuck in a small space, and more. The opportunities are endless.
Looking for some activities to get your dog’s brain going? We’ve put together some of our favorite mental exercises in this article. You can also read more about canine enrichment overall in our comprehensive guide!
How to calculate your dog’s exercise needs
Every dog is (wonderfully) unique. That means that the ideal amount of exercise will vary from pup to pup! While there are no hard-and-fast answers, a few factors can help you determine accurately how much exercise your dog needs.
First, consider their breed (or mix of breeds). Then use your pup’s age, physical health status, and your long-term goals to create an exercise gameplan to keep them fit and happy.
Your dog’s breed influences their exercise needs
Working dogs require more exercise and enrichment than smaller toy or non-sporting breeds do. Think about the difference between an Australian Cattle Dog and a Bichon Frise, for example. Heelers were selectively bred to drive cattle across long distances and protect their family’s property — accordingly, they have seemingly endless energy levels that a typical neighborhood walk might not satisfy. On the other hand, Bichons were first and foremost developed as a jovial pet companion.
That doesn’t mean that one dog is better or worse than another. It just means that pet parents need to think critically about our dog’s ancestry when calculating their exercise needs!
Some breeds that are notorious for being active (read: they’ll probably still be bouncing off the walls after a casual stroll) are:
- Border Collies, Australian Cattle Dogs, German Shepherds, and other herding breeds
- Terriers like the Jack Russell
- Pointers, setters, and other hunting dogs
- Working breeds like Siberian huskies, Akitas, and Dobermans
- Larger breeds in general — these dogs match a human pace more easily and need to cover more ground in order to feel tired out
Some breeds that are known for being more laid back are:
- Toy dogs like Pugs, Pomeranians, Malteses, and Bichons
- Basset Hounds
- Smaller breeds — while size isn’t the only factor in determining your dog’s exercise needs, little dogs get tired out more easily over shorter distances
- Some giant breeds — many of these dogs are prone to joint problems, which means they need more moderate exercise regimens to stay healthy over time
Your dog’s age determines how much physical activity they can handle
Your dog will need the most exercise when they’re between about two and eight years old. This is the “prime” of their adult life! Your dog is fully developed and still young enough to maintain their stamina.
Puppy exercise needs
While young puppies need to use their bodies to develop muscle strength and coordination (not to mention get important socialization to the world around them) you should err on the side of caution with any intense or high impact activities before their growth plates close. This can prevent long-term joint damage and reduce the risk of problems like hip dysplasia.
When do your puppy’s growth plates close? That depends on their breed. In general, smaller dogs reach physical maturity more quickly than larger breeds. Most canine companions are ready for increased exercise between one to two years of age.
Senior dog exercise needs
Your senior dog may not need as much physical exercise as they once did. That said, they still need enough activity to stay strong and agile! Exercise is also essential for older dogs' weight management to keep obesity at bay. (Being overweight is one of the leading causes of joint problems and chronic pain in our pets.)
Watch your senior pup closely on walks and let them set the pace. If your furry family member seems stiff after a walk, consider taking a shorter adventure next time.
Your dog’s bone structure and joint health should guide your exercise choices
You should also consider any health conditions — like heart disease, hip dysplasia, arthritis, or other issues — when determining how much exercise your dog needs. If your dog has any medical concerns, make sure to work directly with your veterinarian to create a safe exercise plan. Building strength is important! But it’s important not to overdo it.
Your long-term goals might change your dog’s exercise plan
One final factor that might affect your dog’s daily exercise needs is your own long-term goals. Beyond a baseline level of activity to keep your pup healthy, extra physical conditioning is up to you! Every dog parent gets to decide what lifestyle works best for them.
For example, you might put more effort into your dog’s body conditioning if you:
- Are an avid hiker and want to prepare your pup to tackle summits with you
- Hunt with your dog
- Participate in dog sports like agility or dock diving
On the other hand, you might leave your dog’s exercise effort at regular walks and occasional strength-building activities like tug if your family is more sedentary.
Quick tips for exercising your dog
If nothing else, remember these things when developing an exercise routine for your dog.
Work up to more intense exercise slowly
If your dog is young, or if they simply haven’t been that active for a while, it’s important to gradually build their endurance. Think about any human conditioning plan. You don’t go from running a single mile to completing a marathon!
Listen to your individual dog
Every canine companion is an individual! While the above factors are great general guidelines — they’re an excellent place to start — try not to get caught up in arbitrary rules of thumb. Some toy breeds love to sprint or compete in dog sports. Some working dogs would rather nap on the couch than go for a run. If your dog is at a healthy weight, not in physical pain, and seems otherwise happy, you’re doing a good job!
Trainer Review of this Article
There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
Owner-Lumos Dog Training, Atlanta, GA
Certified Professional Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA)
Fear Free Certified Professional (FFCP)
Applied Animal Behavior Analysts (UW-AABA)