How Often and How Much to Exercise
If you asked your dog how often he should be exercised and how much, he would probably say, “always, and lots!” Unless he's a working farm or service dog, that simply isn't going to be possible. What are some working guidelines that the average dog owner can follow to help her companion get in a decent amount of exercise?
Assessing Your Dog's Energy Needs
Being individuals like us, the truth is that every dog has his own level of exercise that would be best suited for him. You can own several dogs of the same breed and soon learn that while some of them may be able to go all day, others are more content to lounge about. That said, there is some truth in stereotyping certain breeds and their exercise requirements.
The Parson Russell Terrier, the Border Collie, the Doberman Pinscher, and the Golden Retriever can all be considered high-energy breeds. Originally bred for demanding jobs that included keeping the home free of vermin, watching over family and livestock, and locating and bringing in food for the family, their bodies and minds still need that kind of stimulation even though they don't have these responsibilities in most places today.
Walks — a necessary part of every dog's day, no matter her size — should be enjoyable times for both of you. Train your dog to walk nicely on her leash, and you'll enjoy going everywhere together. These walks can provide not only exercise, but bonding experiences as you share the wide world.
Dogs like Cocker Spaniels, Shih Tzus, Great Pyrenees, Cairn Terriers, or Beagles could be considered of average energy levels. Their original jobs weren't as demanding as some others, but they still had them. For many of the toy breeds, being “on” for attention was a job, and it was one they took seriously. These dogs are always eager for their outings.
On the lower-energy scale are breeds like Greyhounds and other sight hounds, who were bred for short bursts of speed, or larger dogs like Mastiffs, whose jobs were to be more of an intimidator than a hunter. The Basset Hound may not move quickly, but her nose never stops.
Ask your breeder about your pup's potential energy needs, or be sure to ask the previous owners of an older dog you adopt how energetic that dog was. At least this knowledge will help prepare you for making the adequate exercise needs of your dog a priority.
Just Do It!
Regardless of the overall energy needs of your dog, she will require a minimum of two walks a day as an older dog, and several more as a puppy. “Walks” mean outings of at least a half-mile, during which your dog should be allowed to sniff and investigate things along the way.
If you are an active person with a breed that is suited for it, you and your dog can enjoy jogging together. Start slowly to avoid injury, and be careful not to run when conditions may be dangerous for either of you.
In order to schedule at least two adequate or better walks a day, most owners take their dogs out in the morning and the evening (around their work schedules). Knowing that your dog may be alone for several hours in between, the morning walk is one during which you want to help your dog release her energy and satisfy her need to connect to the world through sniffing, exploring, and greeting others.
If you're forced to keep your dog on a leash during this time, use a long one so she can at least get some scampering or running in or feel like she can explore more freely. Reel the leash in when you need the control. Let it out if you don't.
Vary your walks by starting off in different directions, changing the streets you go down, using different sides of the sidewalk, etc. — anything that provides some extra stimulation. Plan on being out for 20 minutes or longer.
It's important to teach your dog to eliminate at the start of the walk so the exercise becomes the reward. If your dog figures out that you bring him in immediately after he goes even when he wants to stay out, he may hold it so that he gets to walk a while first.
Don't skimp on the evening walk because you're tired or over-committed. If you can't do it, hire a dog walker. After being isolated and obeying your house rules for several hours, it's your dog's time to “hit the streets.”
Depending on your schedule, you may want to give her a short walk just when you get home from work, and then a longer walk later when you've taken care of some other things.
Dogs are creatures of habit, and if this is something you do fairly regularly, your dog will anticipate (and need) the longer walk. Even if it's the last thing you feel like doing, it's the best thing you can do.
Through the Years
As a young pup, your dog will need more frequent but shorter walks as she builds up her bones and muscles. As an adolescent, your dog will need frequent and longer walks, ideally with a solid period of off-leash running and playing time included.
As your dog ages, you will get to know the signs that tell you to cut back on the duration or intensity of exercise. Nothing will kill her spirit more than being deprived of her walks, but where her exuberance may lead, her body might not follow. Be sensitive to her overall state so she can get the full benefit of her walks.