As pet parents, it's our responsibility to make sure that our dog's lead healthy and fulfilling lives.
Just like humans, there are few areas of a dog's mental and physical health that aren't improved by receiving the frequency and intensity of exercise that they require.
However, it's hard to know exactly how much exercise is enough, and how much is too much.
Like everything, the answer is - it depends.
Your dog's age, breed, energy level and health all dictate how much exercise your dog requires.
To keep things simple, this article will focus on the exercise requirements for adult dogs. The amount of exercise that puppies and seniors need can vary dramatically.
Why exercise is so important for your dog.
As you probably know, exercise is important for maintaining our physical and mental health. Research suggests that, just like humans, our dogs share the same benefits gained from receiving plenty of exercise.
Dogs that are lacking the proper amount of exercise are often overweight, have poor muscle tone and are more susceptible to injury, illness and bone disorders.
A proper exercise routine also stimulates your dog's lymphatic system, which helps them clear toxins from their bodies.
Exercise is also shown to reduce stress and anxiety in dogs, helping with behavioural issues like reactivity and separation anxiety. Studies have shown that high levels of stress can harm the immune system, which may make your dog more prone to illness and autoimmune disease.
How to know if your dog is getting enough exercise.
Every dog is unique, and as their guardian you will know best whether or not they are getting enough exercise. Signs that your dog needs more exercise includes:
Your dog is overweight, or getting 'chunky'.
Your dog is exhibiting destructive behaviour.
Your dog is restless and having difficulty sleeping.
Your dog is depressed, or lethargic.
Your dog is stiff, or having trouble making fluid movements.
A lack of sufficient exercise is often responsible for the onset of behavioural issues and health problems. If you notice your dog is developing bad habits or is of declining health, increasing the amount of exercise can be an important first step in tackling theses issues.
However, changes in behaviour and physical health can also be indicative of serious health issues and you should always consult with your veterinarian to come up with an exercise routine that won't cause further harm or discomfort.
How much exercise does an adult dog need?
As mentioned above, the amount of exercise that your dog requires is dependent on their age, breed, health, energy level and temperament.
High-energy breeds like Border Collies and Siberian Huskies require more exercise than low-energy breeds like Basset Hounds and Mastiffs.
It's important to note that adult dogs with health conditions like arthritis, hip-dysplasia or cardiovascular disease may have different exercise requirements. If your dog has an existing medical condition it's important to consult with your vet about a proper exercise routine that will keep your dog healthy without causing any additional harm.
As a general rule for healthy adult dogs, high-energy breeds require at least 2 hours of exercise per day while low-energy breeds require up to 30 - 60 minutes of exercise per day.
These requirements were taken from the UK Kennel Club Breed Search. Check it out yourself and search for your dogs breed to determine their exact daily exercise requirements (for healthy adults).
Can dogs have too much exercise?
The short answer to this question is, yes they can.
Overexertion can lead to serious issues such as heat exhaustion, joint injury, back injury or cardiovascular and respiratory problems.
When exercising your dog, it's important to keep watch for changes in behaviour, energy level and mobility.
If you notice that your dog is plopping down more often and refusing to move, that may be their way of telling you they've had enough exercise for the day.
If you notice that your dog is struggling to get up, or is moving gingerly when they walk - this may indicate that their muscles are sore or they've sustained some sort of injury.
If you notice that your dog is slowing down, or panting heavily. They may be overheated, dehydrated or exhausted.
Many dogs have such a high play drive that they will push through injury and overexertion. Their inability to properly self-regulate their level of exertion means it's up to us, as pet parents, to do it for them.
Check out this PetMD article to familiarize yourself with the signs of overexertion, and how to avoid it.
Creating an exercise routine that works for your dog.
Knowing, in general, now much exercise your dog needs is great. However, that isn't much more than a starting point. Your dog is unique and there isn't a 'one size fits all' exercise solution that works for all dogs.
However, one thing that we do know is that dogs like routine. Having a daily routine will ensure that your dog knows what to expect throughout the day, giving them structure and confidence.
Exercise and play is an important part of a dog's daily routine. It gives them something to look forward to, and it helps ensure that they receive a consistent, moderated level of exercise each day.
Your dogs daily exercise routine should include a mixture of high-intensity, aerobic exercise (running, jumping, fetching etc.) as well as lower-intensity walks.
What exercises you choose to do with your dog should be determined by your own schedule, location and interests as well as your dogs age, breed, energy-level, health and temperament.
For example, I (the author) have a Border Collie named Remy. He is a healthy, high-energy adult dog who needs a minimum of 2 hours of exercise each day. We like hiking and going to the beach and are located in a very dog friendly neighbourhood in Coquitlam, British Columbia.
Our exercise routine is as follows:
Morning (~15 minutes): Goes out for his morning low-intensity walk/potty break.
Afternoon (~60 minutes): Goes out for a high-intensity adventure in one of the Tri-Cities amazing off-leash parks (his favourite is the off-leash beach at Buntzen Lake in Port Moody).
Early Evening (~15 minutes): Goes out for his after-dinner walk/potty break.
Evening (~30 minutes): Goes out for a low-intensity bedtime walk/potty break.
We've developed this routine over time based on our schedule, location and interests while keeping in mind Remy's unique exercise requirements. As a result, it fits nicely into our lives and Remy has remained healthy, fit and well-behaved (for the most part).
This routine may not work for all dogs, but it works for Remy. Conversely, your routine may be great for your dog, but insufficient for Remy.
The key to keeping your dog fit, and vital through exercise is creating a routine that provides a sufficient mix of activities to meet your dogs needs, while conveniently fitting into your own busy schedule.
Once you've found the right routine, it really isn't that hard.