Regular Exercise for your Dog

How Much is Too Much? How Much is Not Enough?

Exercise. The very idea conjures up excitement in some people and the feeling of dread in others. Our dogs are no different. There are canine couch potatoes who would rather not move around very much if they don't have to. Toy breeds even have the added advantage of being carried around on the arms of their human guardians all day long.

Other dogs live to keep on the move. Whether it's tossing a rope around themselves and catching it mid-air or playing Frisbee with their favorite human companion, these dogs are natural workout wonders. If the sedentary and the active dogs are the pictures of health, should you worry if a dog doesn't get enough exercise? Is there such a thing as doing too much?

"It depends upon the condition the dog is in and the lifestyle of the person he lives with," explains Joe Wakshlag, DVM, an instructor in clinical nutrition at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine who lives with 12 Alaskan sled dogs. "At the very least, doing 20 minutes of some activity that works the muscles either aerobically or anaerobically is appropriate each day."

Quicker Conditioning
Despite the stuffed sausage look some overweight dogs may have, our four-legged friends are capable of getting in condition faster than people. "Because of evolution and the need to find their own food every day, dogs genetically have the ability to make more energy than humans," says Wakshlag. "For example, while it may take us six weeks to train for a five-mile run, dogs can do it in three to four weeks."

This may explain why active dogs are always busy searching for their next adventure. Yet too much exercise can be harmful if not monitored. To avoid damage to muscles and tendons, Wakshlag cautions against letting a dog over-exert himself. "There are some Labradors that will swim for hours until they eventually collapse on the ground," says Wakshlag. "The next day they can barely walk." He recommends not letting a conditioned dog with this energy level continue for more than a couple of hours, especially if this is a new activity.

Taking a new dog for a 26-mile run the first day you bring him home also is a bad idea. Depending upon the dog's condition, begin slowly by walking or running a mile or two. Once that routine seems manageable to him, gradually increase the pace and the duration. A tired dog tends to hang back during a run - an indication to slow the pace or end the exercise.

Keep It Safe and Reasonable
Convincing a canine laggard to get up and go may be a challenge at first, so avoid pushing your dog too hard too soon. You want your canine companion to enjoy the outing, so make it pleasurable and not over-taxing. If it's hard to get him out the door on a leash, take a favorite toy or ball he might like to carry or play with as an incentive. Food treats can work wonders, too.

During hot weather, it's critical to keep all dogs, especially those with long or thick coats, cool and comfortable during workout sessions and avoid overheating.

Regardless of whether you have a dog that prefers to take it easy or one who was born to run, maintaining a safe and reasonable exercise routine will help him lead a long and healthy life.

When Adding Exercise

  • Have your veterinarian examine your dog before beginning a workout routine. 
  • Incorporate weight loss if your dog is overweight.
  • If pad abrasions or excessive wear develops, use nylon mesh booties (so feet can breathe) to prevent further foot injuries.
  • In warm weather months, go out early or late in the day when the temperature is cool.
  • Start with short walks or runs and slowly increase.
  • Avoid rough terrain.
  • Offer fresh water.
  • Take time off if there is an injury.