Exercise for Dogs: Ultimate Guide

By Britt Kascjak

Does your young dog get the “zoomies” each day? Do you have a dog that has too much pent-up energy? Are you caring for a dog in recovery and don’t know how to provide healthy exercise?

Exercise is an important part of a healthy, happy life for your dog. The old saying goes, “A tired dog is a happy dog.”

But, there is such thing as too much exercise in some cases.

Every dog is different! The secret to a healthy life for your dog is accomodating their unique exercise needs.

How Much Exercise Does My Dog Need?

The exact amount of exercise that your dog needs will depend on its age, breed, and current health. Smaller toy breed dogs will need less exercise than a larger working or herding breed.

How Much Exercise Does a Dog Need a Day?

The rule of thumb suggested by many professionals is at least 30 minutes to 2 hours of exercise each day.

Finding where your dog fits into this spectrum will take some careful consideration.

A healthy adult dog, in its prime, will need more exercise than a dog in its golden years. Meanwhile, the amount of exercise that’s safe for a puppy can also fall on the lower end of that estimate.

If your dog is a brachycephalic breed like a pug, bulldog, or boxer, be cautious. Due to their shortened snouts, they can over-exert themselves and have trouble breathing.

Supervise your dog and be prepared to limit exercise levels as needed.

How Much Exercise Does a Puppy Need?

When deciding on the amount of exercise for your puppy, there are unique concerns. Too much exercise for a puppy is just as bad as not enough.

At this young age, a puppy is still growing. At the end of the long bones in their body, puppies have soft growth plates.

This allows the bones to continue to grow. But, these growth plates are also fragile and at a higher risk of injury.

The trick with puppies is to protect these growth plates until they fuse and close. At the same time, you want to provide enough exercise for your young pup.

The exact amount is a subject of debate in the pet industry with no easy answer.

Unfortunately, there is no scientific proof that will shine a light on the magic number. Instead, there are several factors to consider when exercising a puppy.

It is generally recommended to stick to shorter periods of exercise. This could mean a 10- or 15-minute walk instead of a 1-hour hike. You can do this several times each day.

Choose exercise options that are low-impact for young puppies to reduce the risk. Avoid activities that involve a lot of jumping or sudden directional changes.

Training sessions with your puppy will provide both mental and physical exercise. Short walks around the neighborhood or through a local store are also a good idea. These offer both exercise and socialization opportunities.

How Do I Know if My Dog Needs More Exercise?

Lack of exercise is one of the biggest reasons for behavior problems in dogs. A dog with pent-up energy may start to bark, chew, dig, or destroy items around the house.

This doesn’t mean you have a bad dog. It means that you have a dog that needs more options to let out this energy in a positive way.

You may also notice changes in your dog’s personality.

A dog that needs more exercise could become withdrawn or depressed. Your dog may also show signs of being restless like pacing.

Finally, there are some physical signs that your dog needs to get moving more.

Dogs that lack proper exercise may gain weight. They can also become stiff or experience joint pains.

How Can I Exercise My Dog?

Fun Outdoor Exercises for Dogs

Running/Walking: Of course, the most obvious form of exercise outdoors is to take your dog for a run or walk.

This could be around the neighborhood or, for a change of scenery, take a trip to your local park.

Dog Sports: There are many great sports that you can introduce your dog to. These are activities that you can enjoy together as a team.

Some examples of dog sports include:

  • Scent work
  • Agility
  • Dock diving
  • Flyball
  • Draft work (pulling a cart or sled)
  • Skijoring
  • Frisbee

When selecting a sport for your dog, make sure to consider their size, fitness level, and age.

Swimming: This is a great form of exercise for older dogs or those with joint injuries.

Swimming is low-impact while still providing a cardio workout. It’s also a great way to cool off in the summer months.

Hiking: Best suited for a healthy adult dog, hiking is a good opportunity to get outdoors.

Be sure to choose a hiking trail where dogs are permitted and also one that fits your dog’s fitness level. You can always work up to longer and more challenging hikes over time.

Fun At-Home Exercises for Dogs

Tug-of-War: It’s one of the most traditional games to play with your dog and a great way to exercise.

This is also a great opportunity to teach your dog self-control and how to let go of an item on command.

Hide and Seek: This is a fun game for the whole family that will get your dog up and moving.

Have one person keep the dog contained in one room while everyone hides in other areas of the house. Then, call your dog and watch as they go on the search.

Make sure that each person has treats to reward their dog when they’re found.

Obstacle Course: Create an obstacle course in your home that you can take your dog through. You can use items around your house like blankets, chairs, a hula hoop, or cardboard boxes.

If your dog is a young puppy or a dog with any type of limited mobility, be careful to avoid jumping obstacles.

Lead your dog through the obstacle course using their favorite treats. This is a great bonding activity for dog and owner.

Use a Treadmill: There are treadmills specifically designed for use by dogs. They take up minimal space and make it possible for your dog to exercise in any weather.

If you have a human treadmill, you may also be able to train your dog to use it. This is only recommended for smaller dog breeds. 

When first introducing the treadmill, try adding barriers on each side. This will limit your dog to only seeing the path ahead, encouraging them to keep moving forward.

Start slow and work up the speed over time.

How Can I Exercise My Dog Without Walking?

If your dog is recovering from surgery or an injury, you may need to find low-activity options. These are things that your dog can do while remaining calm.

Training: There are many tricks that you can introduce that can be done sitting or lying down.

You can teach targeting with a “touch” command. Or introduce “Look at me”. Both of these exercises can prove helpful in keeping your dog safe in the future.

Other fun tricks you may enjoy include teaching your dog to speak or give you kisses on command. 

Food Puzzles: These food-centered toys tap into your dog’s natural hunting instincts.

There are many different styles, each with its own challenges. Your dog might need to move slides, flip open lids, or move the puzzle to release their treats or kibble.

By using a food puzzle for your dog’s meal, you can stick to a set daily calorie amount easily.

What is the Best Exercise for a Dog?

The best form of exercise for a dog isn’t physical in nature. It’s mental stimulation.

This is surprising for many first-time dog owners. But, our dogs thrive on challenges like training, food puzzles, and interactive toys.

Many mental exercises can also include a physical element, but the key is to challenge your dog’s mind. When deciding on exercise for dogs, always include a mental challenge at some point. 

Does Exercise Make Dogs Happy?

Have you ever looked at your dog and wondered if exercise makes them happy? Does exercise bring them joy?

The short answer is yes!

Like humans, dogs need to be active both for their physical and mental health.

A lack of exercise can actually contribute to poor mental health. It can increase stress levels or even cause your dog to become depressed.

Exercise provides your dog with opportunities to burn off this excess energy.

Even if you are limited on time, consider offering an interactive toy that your dog can play with solo. This will still help to challenge their mind and direct that energy to a positive outlet.

What if My Dog Doesn’t Want to Exercise?

It is okay to skip your dog’s daily walk occasionally. But, not exercising your dog for any extended length of time can lead to problems.

For this reason, it is important to find a form of exercise that your dog will enjoy. Or, if you’re struggling, offer an incentive to take part in your usual exercise.

High-value treats can be used to encourage a dog to walk by rewarding them for getting active. For home-based games like tug-of-war or hide and seek, try using your dog’s favorite toys.

If your dog hasn’t been active for an extended period of time, you may need to start small and work your way up.

For example, a dog that used to do 1 hour walks with you may need to start with a quick 15-minute walk at first. Just like a human, your dog will need to build up their muscles for more intense exercise.

Health Complications

If you notice that your dog suddenly isn’t interested in an activity that they once loved, take note. There is a good chance that your dog may be dealing with something health-wise.

Watch for any signs that your dog may be in pain. Joint or muscle injuries are very common and can turn your dog off the idea of being active.

Contact your veterinarian to discuss your concerns and schedule a full check-up.

Final Thoughts: Prioritizing Exercise for Dogs

Exercise is an essential part of providing your dog with a happy, healthy life.

Start right away, introducing exercise to a young puppy in small amounts. Praise and reward your dog to create a positive association with exercising.

Continue to focus on making exercise a priority in your dog’s life. This includes low-key activities to stay active during the golden years.

This will improve both your life and your dog’s!

Photo of author
Britt Kascjak
Britt Kascjak has been active in the animal rescue community for over 15 years, volunteering, fostering, and advocating for organizations across Canada and the US. Her ‘pack’ includes her husband John, their 3 dogs – Daviana, Indiana, and Lucifer – and their 2 cats – Pippen and Jinx.