A Comprehensive Guide to Dog Exercise

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Dogs are natural adventurers who approach a walk around the block with as much enthusiasm as they do a trip to the park. As long as they can feel the sun on their back, and have you by their side, chances are they’ll be happy (although they probably wouldn’t turn down their favorite treat or two).

But daily walks aren’t just an easy way to get your dog’s tail to wag at warp speed, they also play an essential role in keeping them healthy. Regular exercise keeps dogs physically and mentally fit. It also helps them build confidence, develop social skills, and even help keep anxiety at bay. 

So just how much exercise does your dog need? Below we discuss how to make sure your dog is getting the right amount, and share some ideas to help your dog get those daily steps in. 

“Safety first”

This should be your mantra when exercising your dog. Make sure that your dog’s collar or harness fits properly, and that their leash is the appropriate length. If you’re headed out for a day at the lake or are hitting the trails, bring a bowl and make sure your dog gets plenty of water. 

It’s also important to avoid strenuous exercise in warmer months during the warmest times of the day and avoid walking on hot asphalt. Instead, get outside early in the morning or wait until the sun starts to set. 

How much exercise do dogs need?

Every dog is (wonderfully) unique, and that means that the daily dose of canine exercise a dog needs daily will vary from one to the other. There are, however, a few factors that can help you determine accurately how much exercise your dog needs. First, consider their breed (or mix of breeds). Then, use your dog’s age, including any medical conditions they may have, to create an exercise gameplan to keep them fit and happy. 

How much exercise does my puppy need?

If you’re a puppy parent, you’re probably more than a little familiar with the “zoomies.” That’s the term commonly used to explain the phenomena that occurs when a puppy has way more energy than their body can contain. Symptoms include rapid running around the room, wiggles, a general silliness. The zoomies don’t last long, but they can happen at any time of the day or night (and are guaranteed to occur just as you’re drifting off to sleep). 

Puppies grow out of zoomies, but until they do, they need plenty of short walks or other forms of exercise to use some of their energy. This is a good time to teach them leash skills on walks (these will exercise their mind, too). 

While you may be tempted to take your adorable bundle of fur to the dog park or on a long walk, we recommend avoiding these kinds of outings for a couple of reasons. First, puppies are learning how to socialize and need to do this slowly. And because their bodies are still growing, it’s best not to engage in longer, or strenuous exercise, until they are older.20 minute walks a few times a day is ideal.  

How much exercise does my adult dog need? 

The amount of exercise an adult dog needs can vary, based on factors like breed and size. For example, Australian shepherds and Border Collies require quite a bit more exercise a day than a Basset Hound or even a Great Dane. And breeds like German shepherds and Great Pyrenees, who are considered working dog breeds, need plenty of mental stimulation.  

You should also consider any health conditions, like heart disease or hip dysplasia, for example, when determining how much exercise your adult dog needs. And if your dog does have a medical condition, consult with your veterinarian, who can help you put together an ideal exercise plan to keep them safe and healthy. 

How much exercise does my senior dog need?

Your senior dog may not need as much physical exercise as they once did, but they still need enough to keep strong and agile. Exercise is also essential for older dogs to help keep obesity and even arthritis at bay. Watch your senior pup closely on walks and go at their pace – not yours. If they seem stiff after a walk, consider cutting back a bit on the next one. 

Are there fitness trackers for dogs? 

There sure are. Whistle makes a monitoring device that works much like a FitBit or a Garmin fitness tracker does. The small tracker attaches to your dog’s collar and will monitor their daily activity, including how much they rested. You can set activity goals based on breed, weight, and age.  

10 fun ways to exercise your dog 

There’s bound to be a few ideas on the list below that you and your dog will enjoy doing together.  

Walk, jog, or run around the neighborhood 

Grab the leash and take your dog for a stroll or a run to explore the world just outside your front door. Not only are these outings a great opportunity to meet neighbors, it’s also an easy way for your dog to get in their daily steps. Change it up on the regular by choosing to go a different direction or walk down different blocks. 

Hit the trails

Find a dog-friendly hiking trail near you and spend some time taking in the great outdoors with your dog. Look for trails that are paved or routes that aren’t too steep in places to keep things safe for you and your dog, especially if yours is still mastering leash skills. Remember to bring water (for both you and your pup) and rest when needed.

Swimming for the water-puppies

Got a water-loving dog? If so, head for a nearby creek or lake for a dip. Not only is swimming a great way for your dog to cool down on a hot summer day, it’s also an excellent form of exercise. We recommend that dogs wear a properly fitted life jacket when swimming, especially if they’re novices in the water. 

Attend obedience training. 

Whether you have a puppy or an older dog who needs to brush up their manners, they’re sure to benefit from basic obedience training. While it may not seem like exercise, obedience training is a great workout for your dog. It’s hard work learning new things after all, so don’t be surprised if your dog takes a very long, well-deserved nap afterwards. 

Sign up for agility courses

If you’re looking to take your dog’s exercise up a notch (or several), consider signing them up for some agility classes. Not only will learning things like how to jump over hurdles, through tunnel and weave through poles, but it will provide mental stimulation, build confidence, and help them develop body awareness. 

Host a puppy playdate 

If you have a fenced in yard, why not get friends, family and neighbors with dogs together for a puppy playdate? You could even start a neighborhood group and take turns hosting play dates in different fenced-in yards to keep things interesting. 

Before your four-legged guests arrive, make sure you have a few extra water bowls on hand and that you haven’t left anything in the yard – like tools, for example – so that the pups can romp around safely. 

Invest in interactive toys

If your dog wants to stop and smell roses on walks, let them, because the more chances they get to use their nose, the better they’ll feel. Nose work and interactive toys, like those with pockets to hide treats or a flip boards strategy game, provide mental stimulation, and can even help keep them calm and develop confidence. 

Tip: Have a few interactive toys on hand for rainy days when your furry friend can get plenty of brain exercise until the sun comes back out.   

Visit dog-friendly shops 

Need to run errands? Before you go, check to see if the places you’re going are pet friendly. If they are, chances are your dog will be happy to keep you company while you’re out and about. Home improvement stores including Lowe’s and Home Depot welcome leashed dogs, but did you know Nordstrom and the Apple Store do, too? 

Take a day trip 

Does your dog love car rides? If so, pick a day to hit the road to visit a nearby town and explore new hiking trails, dog parks, and even a dog-friendly shop or two. A day away can do wonders for you and your pup, who will get plenty of exercise and mental stimulation taking in all the new sights and smells of a different city. 

Sign up for Sniffspot

Don’t have space for your canine exercise routine? Find a Sniffspot host near you and let your dog have a ball (we also mean that literally) in a new fenced-in yard. And if you make it a regular excursion, you’ll be able to rest a little easier, knowing your dog is getting the exercise they need to stay healthy. After all, a tired dog is a happy dog.

Trainer that reviewed 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. The trainers that review our content are reviewed by other trainers to ensure that we have the best quality filters on our content. 

This is the trainer that reviewed this article:

Erica Marshall CPDT-ka, CDBC,
Owner/Trainer of Wicked Good Dog Training in Christiana TN
Author of "New Puppy, Now What?"