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Dog exercise needs

Thursday July 14th, 2011

We often think of exercise only as a health issue, but it has significant day-to-day effects on a dog's behavior as well. Dogs--particularly puppies and young dogs--have a lot of energy, and if they don't get the chance to burn it off, destructive behavior is often the result. If you're annoyed at the holes your dog has dug, have headaches from his barking, and have to replace pillows shredded into expensive fluff, your dog's probably not getting enough exercise.

These behavior issues cause many people to give up their dogs, even though they're completely preventable. (You know those "free to a good home, dog needs room to run" ads? They're usually placed by people whose dogs don't need room to run; they need exercise they're not getting.) Unfortunately, some people don't think enough about exercise when selecting a breed, and they choose a dog who needs more exercise than they're willing or have time to provide.

How much exercise does my dog need?

How much exercise is enough depends on your dog's age, breed, and health. A 10-month old Irish Terrier puppy is going to need more than a five-year old Whippet (you could appropriately sing, "Wild thing, you make my heart sing" as your puppy races around the house and yard). A sight hound needs short bursts of exercise; guarding dogs don't need as much overall as sporting breeds who like to hunt all day. Even within a breed, the need varies. A highly energetic eight-year-old Golden Retriever could easily need more exercise than a calm three-year old Golden. And geriatric dogs still need to go for walks--just shorter ones than they used to enjoy.

Generally speaking, a leashed walk around the block isn't going to cut it. Most dogs need 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. Your canine pal needs enough that he's slowed down by the time you stop. Some general rules of thumb:

  • Active breeds need a minimum of 30 minutes of hard aerobic exercise most days of the week, preferably daily.
  • Not all toy or small breeds get enough exercise inside the house (contrary to popular belief). Pugs, for example, are prone to obesity and need much more exercise than they usually get.
  • It's not safe to go out in extremely hot or cold weather. During such periods, stay inside and teach tricks to engage your dog's mind, throw toys, or run up and down the stairs together.
  • Good exercise uses both mental and physical muscles. Exploring a new hiking trail, for example, engages your dog's mind as well as his body.
  • Live by the philosophy that a tired dog is a good dog.

Where to get exercise

Like people, most dogs like both familiarity and a little variety in their exercise routines.

  • Many dogs get to know the neighborhood during walks and enjoy checking on their favorite spots.
  • Dog parks are popular places for off-leash exercise and romping with other dogs, which is exactly what most dogs need. However, not all dogs can play nicely with others. If your dog doesn't like other dogs, the dog park is definitely not the place for him.
  • Doggie day care can exercise both his mind and body. Dogs should come home from day care worn out and deliciously happy.

The cost of not getting enough

Inactive dogs are often overweight dogs, and as in people, that brings plenty of health risks. Obesity contributes to a dog's risk of diabetes, respiratory disease, and heart disease. It exacerbates common orthopedic concerns such as hip dysplasia and arthritis. Obesity can stress joints, ligaments, and tendons. Geriatric dogs often have a hard enough time getting up without the added problem of lifting excess pounds.

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