How Much Exercise Does A Dog Need?

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11 min read
11 min read

Updated - Apr 11th, 2023

All dogs need exercise, just like we do. Whether you live in the wide-open country or a bustling city, your dog needs both mental and physical stimulation to remain happy and healthy. 

A routine exercise schedule provides many benefits for your canine companion, including weight management, stress reduction or elimination, and illness prevention. Not to mention, a well-exercised dog is less likely to get into destructive boredom shenanigans.

But how much exercise does a dog actually need? 

Many factors determine how long those walks should be, or how many games of fetch you need to play. We’re breaking down what you need to know about dogs and the importance of exercise, as well as ways you can provide more activities that are fun for both you and your tail-wagger.

Key Points

  • Routine exercise can help keep your dog healthy and reduce risk of obesity, disease, and destructive behaviors.
  • Mental stimulation can be just as effective as physical activity. Try a puzzle toy or game of tug-of-war on rainy days!
  • Different breeds have different needs! Daily exercise routines will depend on your dog’s breed and instinctual motivations.
  • If you have a puppy, senior dog, or dog with pre-existing health conditions, speak to your vet before introducing any rigorous exercise.

How much exercise does your dog need?

When your dog has a consistent exercise routine, their body condition is more likely to stay within healthy boundaries. There is less risk of obesity, heart disease, cardiovascular issues, skin problems, and respiratory issues, just to name a few!

A study conducted in 2014 also showed that greater levels of exercise were associated with lower aggression, fear, and separation anxiety. So that hyperactive dog you know that’s always getting into trouble? Turns out they may just need more exercise!

You can usually learn a lot about your dog’s baseline need for exercise by understanding more about their breed. Looking at each dog breed group can help you get an idea of what will instinctively motivate your dog and what type and how much exercise they need. Here are a few examples of common dog breeds and their exercise needs:

Breeds with high exercise needs

Larger dogs and those bred for specific jobs tend to have high exercise needs. The main groups of breeds that require more exercise than most dogs include sporting, working, herding, terrier, and scent hound. 

Sporting group breeds swim and hunt fowl. They have high energy levels and are very intelligent, requiring both physical exercise and mental stimulation. These breeds include: 

  • Spaniels
  • Retrievers
  • Pointers

Exercise requirements: 1-2 hours per day

Working group breeds need steady, moderate jobs. They prefer longer, steady exercise from activities like hiking or long walks. Some of these dogs also like to swim. These breeds include: 

Exercise requirements: 1-2 hours per day

High-energy and intelligent, herding group breeds are bred for herding purposes and are most happy with high-intensity activities. These include: 

Exercise requirements: 1-2 hours per day

The terrier group breeds consist of dogs bred to chase and dig. You’ll really need to keep these feisty dogs busy with both mental and physical stimulation. These terriers include:

Exercise requirements: 60-90 minutes per day

Long hikes work well for most scent hound group breeds that run low to the ground. These dog breeds, including the following, require less exercise because of the structure of their legs: 

Exercise requirements: 60-90 minutes per day

Breeds with medium to low exercise needs

Brachycephalic breeds all have flattened or short noses, making breathing difficult. These breeds are not a specific group but are worth mentioning because of their physical limitations. Hot weather can be problematic for them, as they are prone to overheating. Speak with your veterinarian about the appropriate amount of exercise for these breeds, which include: 

Exercise requirements: 20-30 minutes per day

Sighthound group breeds love to have opportunities to run. Bred for hunting game and chasing it down, these dogs thrive with opportunities for short bursts of incredible speed and then rest. Because they are so fast, only ‌let the following breeds run freely in enclosed areas:

  • Greyhounds
  • Whippets
  • Afghan 
  • Saluki
  • Irish Wolfhounds

Exercise requirements: 30-45 minutes per day

Toy and small breed groups don’t require as much as a large dog does for sure, but exercise and mental stimulation are still important for these little guys. Humans bred these breeds to be small, adorable lap dogs, including: 

Exercise requirements: 30-60 minutes per day

How much exercise do puppies need?

Puppies need lots of exercise to strengthen their growing bodies, but they also require a lot of sleep for brain and muscle development. Your puppy may run around (hello, zoomies!) and suddenly plop down and nap. This is perfectly normal. 

Watch for puppies who get overly excited and don’t sleep as much as they should. It might be time to separate them from the family for some much-needed naptime.

How much exercise do senior dogs or those with health issues need?

Senior dogs can have multiple issues, making intense or even moderate exercise painful or not advised. Senior dogs and dogs with the following health issues may benefit from veterinary clearance before starting an exercise regimen:

  • Missing/amputated limbs
  • Skeletal birth defects
  • Ligament tears
  • Hip dysplasia
  • Endocrine diseases (hypothyroidism, Cushing’s disease, Addison’s disease, or diabetes)
  • Heart disease
  • Respiratory disease
  • Neurological conditions (disc problems or cerebellar hypoplasia)
  • Infectious disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease

Always check with your vet before starting a senior dog on a new exercise routine.

How to tell if your dog needs more exercise

Dogs that need more exercise show clear signs that they need more activity. Maybe you’ve attributed those signs to misbehavior or stubbornness when your dog may actually be bored or restless. 

Here are some signs your dog needs more exercise:

  • Obesity: Just like sedentary humans, dogs gain weight without exercise. If your dog is overweight, increased exercise will help. 
  • Common dog behavioral problems: Bored dogs get into trouble. They might dig in the yard, try to escape, chew your best shoes or furniture, or get into the trash can out of boredom. Redirect their focus to stimulating games and exercise and the bad behavior might just fix itself!
  • Restlessness: Just like a bored human, dogs get restless with frustration when they need to move around. If your dog constantly begs to go for walks, paces, barks at nothing, or keeps whining, they may need more activity to release pent-up energy. 
  • Withdrawn or depressed: When dogs appear disinterested in what’s going on around them, constantly sleeping, or simply not engaging how they usually do, try increasing exercise and providing brain games.
  • Stiffness: Exercise keeps muscles and ligaments relaxed and loose and maintains strength – remember motion is lotion! Dogs that lead sedentary lifestyles may struggle with more stiffness than dogs that engage in moderate exercise. 

Tip: Senior dogs may show stiffness and have trouble moving due to a medical condition called arthritis. Always check with your veterinarian when a senior dog slows down and has pain while moving.

How much exercise is too much?

Dogs can overexert themselves or overheat if they’re exercising too much. They can also risk injuries or wear and tear to their bodies. Here are some signs that your dog might be getting too much exercise:

  • Wear and tear: Sudden stops and starts on pavement or rocky surfaces can tear or injure soft paw pads, making walking painful. Inspect your dog’s paws after each play session to clean and attend to any wear and tear.
  • Sore muscles and stiffness: Your dog seems fine, but after a nap, you notice them getting up stiffly or they seem to be sore. This is a sign your dog has over-exerted themself and needs to slow down until the soreness is gone. Remember to start slow whenever you begin a new activity with your pooch.
  • Heat stroke: Anytime the sun is out, your dog is at risk for heat exhaustion or heat stroke. During any outdoor activity, water should be readily available and offered frequently. Cool shade should be available and watch for signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. If you see any signs, take your dog to the vet immediately.
  • Behavioral changes: When your dog plops down and refuses to go any further, they may have had too much exercise and need a rest. Allow them to rest until they can go farther. Offer them treats or a healthy snack, and water to keep them hydrated.

Play time ideas for your dog

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical activity. When bad weather or time constraints mean your dog can’t go for long walks or runs every day, indoor games can curb boredom and offer behavioral benefits, too.

Indoor games for dogs

Indoor games for dogs
Tugging gamesPlay tug-of-war with a rope toy! This is known as one of the best bonding games for pups and their owners.
Hide and seek Play hide and seek with your dog by telling them to “stay” whil you go to hide somewhere. Then, tell them to “come” or “seek” – they will sniff until they find you! Of course, reward them with a treat.
Puzzle toysMost pet stores carry awesome dog puzzle toys to stimulate your dog’s problem-solving skills and keep them busy during rainy days.
IQ testsIQ tests are a fun way to test your dog’s smarts.
FetchTry playing a game of fetch inside! Carpets or rugs will protect your dog from slipping or scratching a wood floor.
TreadmillsLetting your dog walk on a treadmill at a slow speed can help them get a good walk in. Make sure to supervise at all times and never tether your dog to the equipment.
HuntingLet your dog hunt for hidden snacks, toys, or for you around the house! Hunting provides bodywork, mental stimulation, and recall skills.
Box gamesPut your dog in a separate room. Hide treats or toys in small boxes of different sizes and allow your dog to find the hidden items in the boxes.
Training sessionsTake time each day to work on obedience skills or to fix behavioral problems. Many trainers offer virtual dog training classes now and social media is full of DIY dog training classes to help you teach your dog basic commands and some amazing tricks. Remember to keep training a positive experience!

Outdoor games for dogs

Outdoor games for doga
Walking Brisk or moderate walking is the most common form of exercise for dogs. Try walking in new areas every now and then to keep things fresh!
Bike ridesBest for medium to large-breed healthy, adult dogs, biking with your dog is a great way to get some cardio in with your high-energy pup. 
HikesThe sights and sounds of the forest, a field, or a lake will stimulate your pup’s brain and condition their bodies. Just be sure to clear it with your vet first, read up on safety, and watch for ticks!
SwimmingIf your dog is a water lover, swimming is a great low-impact exercise. If your dog doesn’t like water, don’t push it. Always use a life vest for your dog’s safety!
Disc throwingWhat dog doesn’t like to fetch? Disc throwing has a huge following for both people and pets alike. Become a team with your dog and enjoy exercising and bonding over the throw of a frisbee.
Scent workThis is another increasingly popular outdoor activity you can do with your dog. Scent hounds love this!

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What other exercise can my dog and I do besides walking?

Besides walking, you and your dog can play with toys together, play fetch, or even visit the dog park to play with other dogs. Also, don’t underestimate the power of mental exercise as well as physical – puzzle toys are a great alternative for rainy days.

If my dog has a yard to play in, does it still need exercise?

Yes, you still need to exercise your dog even if they have a yard to play in. The yard may give your dog space to run around, but it’s up to you to get your dog moving and engaged. 

Why do dogs need a daily exercise routine? 

Dogs, like humans, do well with a daily exercise routine for both physical and mental reasons. It’s a great way to get your dog’s blood pumping and jumpstart their brain. You might even find that routine exercise helps strengthen your bond with your dog. 

How do I know if my dog is bored from lack of exercise or acting out? 

Most dogs will exhibit similar behaviors if they’re bored or acting out. However, behaviors stemming from boredom should go away once you institute an exercise routine. If your dog continues to act out, there could be something else going on.

How much exercise does a dog need? Well, it depends.

While we wish there was a cut-and-dry answer to this question, the truth is that different breeds have different needs! Though every dog needs mental and physical stimulation, they also have varying energy levels, instinctual motivations, and games they might enjoy. Remember that no one knows your dog better than you, so if you think something’s up, don’t hesitate to check in with your vet or a trainer for advice.

Lynn Guthrie

Lynn Guthrie

Writer, Mom of a Fab Fur Fam of Five
Lynn is a writer and long-time Learning & Development Manager at a large PNW retailer. She's also mom to 3 dogs & 2 cats!
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