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How Much Exercise Does A Dog Need?

Written By
12 min read

Updated - Jun 9th, 2022

All dogs need exercise, just like we do. Even if you have a yard, or live in the city and take regular walks, your dog needs both mental and physical stimulation to remain happy and healthy. 

A routine exercise schedule provides many benefits for your canine companion. It can help manage weight, reduce or eliminate stress, and even prevent illness. A well-exercised dog is less likely to get into destructive boredom shenanigans.

But how much exercise does a dog actually need? That answer is not so simple. Many things play into how long those walks should be, or how many games of fetch you need to play. 

Today, we’ll show you 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.

The benefits of exercise for your dog

When your dog has a consistent exercise routine, their body condition is more likely to stay within the healthy boundaries. There is less risk of obesity, heart disease, cardiovascular issues, skin problems, and respiratory issues. Regular exercise also promotes gastrointestinal and urinary health. 

Exercise also maintains joint health by strengthening muscles, bones, tendons and ligaments that provide the framework for joints and by encouraging turnover of joint fluid. Motion truly is lotion. 

A study conducted in 2014 concerning Labrador retrievers  and exercise showed that greater levels of exercise were associated with lower aggression, fear, and separation anxiety. So that hyperactive dog that gets into frequent trouble may need more exercise!

How can you tell if your dog needs more exercise?

Dogs that need more exercise show some clear signs. 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, or you struggle to maintain a consistent healthy weight, increased exercise will help. 
  • Dog behavioral problems: Bored dogs get into trouble trying to find something interesting to do. This can mean they dig in the yard, try to escape, chew your best shoes or furniture, or get into the trash can.
  • Restlessness: Just like a bored human, dogs get restless with frustration when they need to move around. If your dog is constantly begging to go for walks, pacing, barking, or 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 when moving.

How much exercise does your dog need?

As we said earlier, how much exercise your dog needs depends on several factors. Their breed, age, energy level, personality, and any pre-existing conditions all factor into exercise recommendations. Regardless of needs, having a consistent routine is key. 

Most pet parents don’t realize that all forms of exercise are not appropriate for all breeds of dogs. Looking at each dog breed group can help you get a good idea of what will instinctively motivate your dog and what type and how much exercise they need. The below recommendations and guidelines only pertain to healthy, adult dogs. Always check with your veterinarian before starting a new exercise regimen with your dog. 

Breed groups with high exercise needs:

Sporting group breeds

Dog breeds in this group include Spaniels, Retrievers, and Pointers, to name a few. Breeders bred these dogs  to swim and hunt fowl. They have high energy levels and are very intelligent, requiring both physical exercise and mental stimulation. 

Exercise requirements: 1 – 2 hours daily that includes both mental and physical activities.

Instinctual motivation games: hide and seek, retrieving, dock diving, long brisk walks, and brain work games.

Working group breeds

Dogs in this group need steady moderate jobs. The breeds are Boxers, Doberman Pinschers, Akita, Husky, Alaskan Malamute, Schnauzers, Newfoundlands, and Great Danes. They prefer longer, steady exercise like hiking or longer walks. Some of these dogs also like to swim. Avoid activities with a lot of running or high-intensity activities.

Exercise Requirements: 1-2 hours per day of low impact, moderate, sustained exercise.

Instinctual motivation games: Swimming, puzzle toys, long moderate walks, and hunting games (see below for ideas).

Herding group breeds

These dogs are very high-energy and intelligent. Breeders bred them for herding purposes and they are most happy with high-intensity activities. This group includes Collies, Corgis, Border Collies, Australian Shepherds, and German Shepherds

Exercise Requirements: 1-2 hours of exercise per day with at least 60-90 minutes of high-intensity activity. 

Instinctual motivation games: Fetch (try a ball launcher), frisbee catching, agility, and brain games like Hide & Seek, or a box game to keep them busy while indoors.

Terrier group breeds

This group consists of dogs bred to chase and dig. You’ll really need to keep these feisty dogs busy with both mental and physical stimulation. Their group includes the breeds Jack Russell Terrier, Cairn Terrier, Yorkshire Terrier, Westies, and Scottish Terrier. 

Exercise Requirements: 60-90 minutes of moderate to intense exercise.

Instinctual motivation games: Hiding toys (buried toys or treats inside another toy), squeaky balls they can chase, as well as agility, and tug games.

Scent Hound Group breeds

Beagles, Bloodhounds, Basset Hounds, and Elkhounds are in this group of dogs known for following scents for miles. They have amazing stamina and require a modest amount of exercise and mental stimulation to keep them happy. 

Exercise requirements: 60-90 minutes of moderate exercise with brief periods of intensity. Long hikes work well for most of them. The Basset Hound and dog breeds that run low to the ground require less exercise because of the structure of their legs.

Instinctual motivation games: Hide and Seek (with food or favorite toys), puzzle toys with hidden treats, long walks, and hikes.

Breed groups with medium and low exercise needs

Brachycephalic breeds

These breeds are not a specific group, but are worth a separate mention because of their physical limitations. English Bulldogs, Neapolitan Mastiffs, Bull Mastiffs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Pekingese all have flattened or short noses making breathing difficult. 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.

Exercise Requirements: 20-30 minutes of exercise per day. Short walks are ideal for these pups. Avoid exercising in extreme heat. 

Instinctual motivation games: Indoor play when the weather is warmer as well as hide and seek, hunting for treats, and tug games.

Sight Hounds group breeds

Dogs in this group include Grey Hounds, Whippets, Afghan Hound, Saluki, and Irish Wolfhound. Bred for hunting game and chasing it down, these dogs thrive with opportunities for short bursts of incredible speed and then rest. 

Exercise Requirements: 30-45 minutes of moderate exercise with short bursts of intensity. They love to have opportunities to run. Because they are so fast, only ‌let them run freely in enclosed areas.

Instinctual motivation games: Fetch, frisbee, agility, moderate intensity walks, puzzle games, and playdates with other dogs or at the dog park.

Toy or small breed group

Humans bred these breeds to be small, adorable lap dogs. They include Maltese, Pomeranians, Chihuahuas, Pekingese, Italian Greyhounds, Toy Poodles, Yorkies, and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels

Size doesn’t make a difference in determining whether a dog needs exercise. Many toy breed dog parents feel their dogs don’t need daily walks or mental stimulation however that is incorrect. 

Toy or small breeds don’t require as much as a large dog does for sure, but exercise and mental stimulation will keep unacceptable behavior at bay with these little guys.

Exercise requirements: 30-60 minutes of moderate exercise per day. Walks and mental stimulation games work well and keep these small love puddles happy and healthy.

Instinctual motivation games: Puzzle games, plush toys to toss around and play tug with, puzzle toys, moderate-paced walks, and playdates with like-sized buddies.

Puppies

Puppies need lots of exercise to strengthen their muscles and socialization, but they also require a lot of puppy naps for brain and muscle development. Your puppy will run around (Zoomies!) and suddenly plop down and nap. This is perfectly normal. 

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

Senior dogs and dogs with pre-existing conditions

Senior dogs can have multiple issues, making intense or even moderate exercise painful or not advised. Always check with your doctor before starting a senior dog on a new exercise routine. 

Arthritis requires movement to keep joints lubricated and free of pain, but how much will depend on the degree of arthritic damage and pain your dog experiences. Your vet can advise you on exercise ideas and amounts for dogs with arthritis. Additional pre-existing conditions that benefit from veterinary clearance before starting exercise regimens include:

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

In general, it is a good idea to always talk to your veterinarian before starting a new exercise and start out slow!

Play time ideas

Indoor games

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

  • Tugging games. Make sure you make up the rules. Have your dog sit until it’s time to play, or follow some other directive, so the game remains on your terms.
  • Hide and Seek: Hide and Seek dog toys encourage your dog to discover and remove toys within toys. Treats can go inside them also, just watch for weight gain.
  • Puzzle Toys: Most pet stores carry many challenging puzzles to stimulate your dog’s problem-solving skills and keep them busy as well.
  • IQ Tests: IQ tests are a fun way to test your dog’s problem solving abilities. 
  • Indoor Fetch: Playing fetch on carpets or rugs will protect your dog from injury and slipping or scratching a wood floor while they get some exercise. Squeaky toys make excellent indoor fetch toys.
  • Treadmills: These enable your dog to get a good walk in inclement weather. Make sure to supervise at all times and never tether your dog to the equipment.
  • Indoor hunting: Let your dog hunt for hidden snacks, toys, or for you around the house! Hunting provides body work, mental stimulation, and recall skills.
  • Box Games: Put 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 Sessions: Take time each day to work on obedience skills or to fix behavioral problems. If you need professional help, many trainers offer virtual 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. Make sure to keep training a positive experience!

Outdoor games

  • Walking: brisk or moderate walking is the most common form of exercise for dogs. But it’s not the only answer. Try something new, or walk in new areas to break up any monotony you and your dog feel during your walks.
  • Bike Rides: Best for medium to large breed healthy, adult dogs, biking with your dog is a great way to get some cardio in with the high energy crowd. 
  • Hikes: The sights and sounds of the forest, a field, or a lake will stimulate their brains and condition their bodies.
  • Swimming: Some dogs love to swim and others don’t. If your dog is a water lover, swimming is a great low-impact exercise opportunity. If your dog doesn’t like water, don’t push it, some dogs just don’t swim. Always use a life vest for your dog’s safety!
  • Dock Diving: If you’ve seen a diving dog, you know how much fun it is to watch. Throw a toy into the water and watch your dog jump to fetch it. The popularity of dock diving is growing. Sport dogs who love water will love this activity.
  • Disc Throwing: What dog doesn’t like to fetch? Disc throwing has a huge following for both people and pets. Become a team with your dog and enjoy exercise and bonding at the same time. 
  • Scent work: Another outdoor activity you can do with your dog that is gaining in popularity. Scent hounds love this!
  • Skijoring: Cross-country skiing with your dog is a great way to get exercise in snow.

Can a dog get too much exercise?

The short answer is yes. Dogs can get too enthusiastic and overexert themselves or get overheated. They can also risk injuries or wear and tear to their bodies. Here are some signs to watch for that mean your dog might be getting too much exercise.

Wear & 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 at the completion of 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 and needs to slow down until the soreness is gone. Remember to start out 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 have had too much exercise and needs a rest. Allow them to rest until they can go farther. Offer them treats or a healthy snack, and water to keep them hydrated.

The last word on how much exercise a dog needs

An exercise routine is important for all dogs, no matter their size or breed. Match the exercises that correspond to your dog’s breed, age, energy level, and temperament, and find instinctual motivating games they will enjoy for that important mental stimulation, too. Just remember to introduce any new activity slowly and always check with your vet to make sure they are appropriate for your dog.

Most of us don’t feel we need pet insurance until we do. A good pet insurance policy for your dog can help offset the costs of unforeseen accidents or illnesses. Start your dog off on the right paw, with best-in-show dog insurance for the best dog ever – yours.

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!