You consider your dog as an important part of your family. As such, you provide him with everything he needs, from quality food brought by a reliable pet delivery service to regular visits to the vet. But one crucial need that you may be missing out on is his need for regular exercise.
Like humans, dogs need regular exercise to keep excess weight and behavioural issues at bay. Little to no exercise can put your beloved pet at risk and even adversely affect his quality of life.
But for many dog owners, exercising a dog can be confusing. How much exercise does a dog need? Which activities are ideal for your pet? Should you exercise your dog when he is sick?
To help you gain insight into these questions (and more), here are a few essential matters to consider.
Signs that your pet lacks exercise
Perhaps, you go out on regular walks with your dog and spend some of your free time playing with him. But is that enough? Here are some signs that your dog is not getting adequate exercise.
Weight gain in dogs can be attributed to different factors. Like humans, dogs should consume about the same (or fewer) calories than they consume.
First, look at his food consumption. Simply put, if you are overfeeding your dog, there is a high risk that he will succumb to weight gain.
Diet and exercise are two sides of the same coin. Without the other, your dog’s weight is adversely affected.
● Bad behaviour
Destructive behaviour can be attributed to numerous causes, the most common of which is inadequate exercise.
Because your pet has no way of verbalising his needs, he resorts to acts that are destructive in nature. These include aggression, chewing household items, and getting into the trash bin.
If your dog has previously been sociable, and then suddenly becomes withdrawn, preferring to go to his favourite spot in the room, he may be telling you that he lacks exercise.
Withdrawal is a symptom of a number of conditions, like pain or anxiety. If you have eliminated these as potential causes for his recent behaviour, he may be merely lacking physical or mental stimulation.
On the converse side of the coin, if it is challenging to walk your dog due to his over-eagerness to go out, that is a tell-tale sign that you need to exercise your pet more.
If your dog is not accustomed to going out, he becomes more hyperactive during your walks. He may be over-eager to go out of the door. Outside, he may pull on his leash.
Some pets are “more vocal” about their exercise needs. And by more vocal, that means excessive barking and whining.
Determining your dog’s exercise requirements
Your pet’s exercise requirements will depend on a few critical factors, including his age, breed, health, and even his personality.
Brachycephalic breeds like pugs and Boston terriers, for example, cannot handle long periods of physical activity. On the other hand, working breeds like the Siberian Husky can easily exercise for two hours.
Another important consideration is your dog’s age. Although puppies seem to have boundless energy, they shouldn’t be exercised for extended periods of time because prolonged physical activity can hurt their fragile bodies. The same is true with senior dogs who may not be able to exercise like they used to.
Finally, consider your pet’s current activity level and weight before starting an exercise regimen. If your dog is obese or has been inactive for quite some time, ease him back slowly to exercising until he builds his stamina.
Exercise suggestions by age
Taking these factors into consideration, you might be asking which activities best suit your canine. Here are a few tips based on the age of your furry little pal.
The great thing about exercising puppies is their eagerness. Plus, you don’t have to do much, in terms of choosing an activity.
However, it cannot be overstated that excessive exercise can be harmful to growing dogs. As a rule of thumb, puppies should exercise for about five minutes twice a day per his age in months. For example, if your puppy is three months old, he should exercise for 15 minutes twice a day. Continue using this rule until he reaches the point where he can exercise for two hours per day.
Do not forget to take into account his breed.
Exercise and playtime are also convenient times for some training. Apart from walking and swimming, you can play fetch with your pet. You should strongly consider enrolling in a puppy obedience class with your pet as well.
Finally, be sure to monitor your young dog for signs of fatigue. Just like in humans, overdoing any physical activity can result in injuries.
Upon reaching maturity, your dog’s exercise needs do not vanish. On the contrary, your pet needs regular physical and mental stimulation for his health and well-being.
Now that he has reached his body’s peak potential, you can engage in more challenging activities. These include agility courses, hiking, and swimming.
For breeds that require minimal physical activity, regular walks, visits to the dog park, or even a simple game of hide and seek will do.
At this stage, your dog may not be as agile or as energetic as he once was. That doesn’t mean that he should stop exercising.
Regular exercise can help your dog slow down the effects of joint issues like arthritis as well as keep him within a healthy weight.
In exercising a senior dog, you should be mindful of his current capabilities, making sure that he stays within those bounds.
Sometimes, the weather outside may not be suitable for play and exercise with your canine. That, however, should not stop you and your dog from getting some physical activity.
You and your dog can go running up and down the stairs, or play hide and seek or tug-of-war. Alternatively, in lieu of physical exercise, you and your pet can play mental activities or brush up on his obedience training.
These activities are also a good replacement if your dog does not like going out for walks.
The importance of daily walks
If there is one activity that you and your dog should do daily, that would be going out on a walk. If you can only choose one exercise, that should be walking.
Apart from the practical aspect of walking (potty breaks for your pooch), daily walks offer a few critical benefits for your pup.
Chief of these benefits is meeting your pet’s migration instinct. Before domestication, dogs travelled in packs, following the Alpha dog. Going out for walks doesn’t just allow him to meet his physical activity requirements. It also provides him with an opportunity to stimulate his mind and make good use of his senses, especially his sense of smell.
Daily walks reinforce the bond between you and your pet, making them an essential habit for the both of you. By taking the lead as the Alpha of your pack, you can train him to behave appropriately and curb destructive behaviour.
And as you meet other dogs and people on your route, he can learn how to socialise appropriately.
Ideally, your dog should get about 20 minutes of a walk outdoors, no matter what his age is. Depending on your dog’s breed and age, you can increase either the time or pace. You can also increase the number of times you go out for a walk.
Before starting your dog on an exercise program, the first vital step that you need to take is to visit the vet. Your vet will check if your pet has an underlying condition that you might need to factor in when choosing an activity for him. Based on your vet’s recommendations, you can select an appropriate activity that meets your pet’s requirements without compromising his safety and well-being.
Once your doctor has checked your pet, you and your dog can now exercise. Start things slowly and then ramp up the activity as he builds his stamina.
If you have been going out with your dog for walks on a regular basis, you can slowly increase his time outdoors. Alternatively, you can complement his daily walks with playtime in your yard.
Increasing exercise intensity should be spread out over the course of weeks instead of days.
One way to ensure that you and your dog enjoy exercise time is to find an activity that fits your lifestyle. This will ensure that exercise time with your dog becomes a pleasurable activity, and not a tedious chore.
For example, if you are the adventurous type, you can go for long hikes or jogging. On the other hand, if you prefer a more laid-back pace, you can play catch with him or take him out for a swim.
Just like feeding your dog correctly and taking him to the vet, regular exercise is part and parcel of your responsibility of being a good dog owner. Do not neglect this vital need.
Farah Al-Khojai is the Managing Partner of Pet’s Delight. A passionate entrepreneur, Farah holds a Bsc in Government from the London School of Economics. She is always on the lookout for new opportunities to develop and grow the pet and equestrian retail and wholesale market in the UAE and beyond, and is proud to be at the helm of the first and the largest pet care provider in the market representing world-class brands including Orijen, Applaws, Hunter, Savic, Flamingo, Ruffwear and Rogz.