Fetch, run, repeat: A dog exercise guide for active pups

August 17, 2023 - 7 min read
A middle aged women enjoys a morning run on a beautiful sunny day with her pet, the dogs appreciating the time outside. They jog on a forest trail, the setting sun casting an orange glow on the scene.

Dog ownership is rewarding and demanding in equal measure; you have to be a parent, a best friend, and a personal trainer all in one. No matter how many treats or belly rubs you give them, your pup can’t live their happiest, healthiest life without a heaping helping of daily exercise. It can help combat obesity and disease, improve sleep, and help your dog live longer.

Just as importantly, exercise yields immense mental and behavioral benefits, helping your dog build confidence, develop social skills, and stave off anxiety and depression. A poorly exercised pooch is unlikely to be the tail-wagging type, and may instead be loud, destructive, or even aggressive.

All that being said, the canine kingdom is vast and varied. Dogs have wildly different exercise needs based on factors like breed, age, and current fitness level. In this guide, we’ll help you understand your dog's unique exercise needs and provide tips for creating a fun and effective physical fitness plan.

Which Breeds Need More Exercise?

Some breeds are naturally active and require heaping helpings of outdoor exercise, while others may mostly be content to snooze on your lap while you clack away at your laptop.  Understanding your dog's breed traits can help you tailor an exercise plan to their precise energy level.

Herding and Sporting Breeds

German Shepherd Lying on the GroundFor instance, some members of the Herding Group (German Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Border Collie, etc.) may need as much as one or two hours of exercise per day. The same guidelines apply to many members of the Sporting Group (Golden Retriever, Labrador Retriever, and more).

Hound, Working, and Terrier Breeds

Staffordshire Bull Terrier with mouth openMembers of the Hound Group (e.g., Beagles, Bloodhounds, etc.), Working Group (Great Dane, Bernese Mountain Dog, etc.), and Terrier Group (Staffordshire Bull Terrier, Border Terrier, and more) also need a fair amount of exercise—as much as 30–60 minutes today, depending on the breed.

Non-Sporting or Toy Breeds

Non-Sporting Group dogs (e.g., French Bulldog and Bichon Frise) may need as little as 30–45 minutes of daily exercise. And Toy Group dogs (like Chihuahuas and Cavalier King Charles Spaniels) need no more than 20–30 minutes of mild exercise per day; some low-energy walks might do the trick for these diminutive doggos.

Of course, you don’t exactly need to be an American Kennel Club-certified trainer to guess that “Sporting,” “Working,” and “Herding” dogs need more exercise than “Toy” or “Non-Sporting” dogs. But these are good basic guidelines to remember for healthy adult dogs.

How Does a Dog's Age Impact Exercise Needs?

Age also has a major impact on your dog’s exercise needs.

Puppies

Bernadoodle puppy eating food out of pink bowlPuppies are bundles of energy. They need tons of exercise in short bursts, and you’ll need to shower them with playtime. But as dogs get older and stronger (not to mention better socialized and fully vaccinated), their exercise needs change.

Adolescent and Adult Dogs

long haired dog baring teeth on tan backgroundAdolescent and adult dogs may not need as many exercise sessions as puppies, but the ones they do get will need to be longer and more energetic. Your adult dog can likely handle a spirited sprint at the dog park. An itty-bitty puppy? Perhaps not.

Older and Senior Dogs

Bulldog laying on his belly with tongue hanging outSenior dogsmay be slower than they once were, but it’s still vital to give them ample exercise. In fact, daily exercise (including interactive play) is the best way to keep your senior dog’s mind and body in tip-top shape. Just make sure your senior pup’s exercise regimen isn’t strenuous enough to cause injuries or exhaustion.

The Best General Dog Exercises

Always choose exercises that complement your dog’s abilities, and don’t cut playtime short if you can avoid it.

Here are some fulfilling exercises that both you and your pup can enjoy:

#1. Dog Walking and Running

Shopper walking dog

Regular daily walks let your dog explore their surroundings, maintain basic fitness levels, and do their business on fire hydrants like nature intended.

Walking your dog is also one of the best ways to bond with them! Plus, it’s incredibly easy to customize walks—in terms of both intensity and duration—to match your pup’s energy levels. (Smaller, less athletic dogs will likely need shorter walks.) 

And walks are also crucial for mental stimulation. There’s no better way for your pup to engage with new sights and scents, not to mention socialize with other people and dogs.

If your dog is the athletic type, they may also appreciate a day at the dog park or an energetic frisbee chase through an open field. Again, just make sure you tailor their activities to their specific needs.

#2. Outdoor Adventures

MP_Stick_Dog

Some dogs are more athletic than others. If you find yourself with an outdoorsy pup who’s well-equipped to accompany you on spirited hikes—or even to run alongside you while you’re biking—then lucky you!

And if your dog loves to doggy-paddle, here’s some more good news: Swimming provides a full-body workout that works wonders for cardiovascular health. It’s also low-impact, which means it can be perfect for seniors or dogs suffering from certain health conditions. Just make sure the swimming environment is safe, and keep in mind that some dog breeds are more inclined to swim than others. (Brachycephalic Breeds like tk and tk, for instance, shouldn’t be swimming.)

As a rule of thumb (paw?), you should keep your dog leashed most of the time, but you CAN let them roam free in designated off-leash areas like dog parks or in certain other enclosed spaces where you can strictly supervise them and make sure they don’t run into traffic.

A dog should never be off-leash unless they’ve received solid recall training.

#3. Interactive Games and Training

Pet training - dog jumping through hoop illustration

There’s plenty of basic puppy training, command training, and leash training you can (and should) do at home. And it’s easy enough to squeeze some fulfilling physical activity and bonding time out of these everyday training sessions. The same goes for basic interactive games, like giving them puzzle toys or playing a simple game of fetch.

We know, we know, “dogs enjoy fetch” probably isn’t a shocking revelation. But sometimes tried-and-true really does do the trick. Robust games of fetch can provide your pup with great exercise, and also help them develop coordination and muscle strength.

Agility training is another great option. Feel free to design an obstacle course in your own backyard using cones, hula hoops, or any other items that can help you develop your dog’s agility and problem-solving skills.

Tips for Safe Exercise

When your dog is exercising, nothing’s more important than keeping them safe. Again, you should only let them off the leash in secure environments and only if they have proper recall training.

You’ll also need to monitor your pup’s physical condition. If they’re panting profusely, slowing down, or if they seem disinterested in physical activity, it’s time to take a break. Pushing your dog to exercise when they’re tired can lead to illness or injury.

Weather conditions can also impact your dog’s ability to exercise safely. In hot weather, you should restrict your dog’s exercise to the cooler parts of the day (these are often early morning, dusk, or evening). And you should always provide plenty of water. Overworking your dog in high temperatures is absolutely dangerous and can lead to heatstroke.

When walking your dog in cold temperatures, make sure your pup is dressed for the weather. If temperatures are dangerously low, restrict their outdoor exercise time to brief walks. And protect their paws from ice and salt.

Whether it’s very cold or very hot, always check the temperature of the pavement before heading out for a walk with your dog.

A Note About Overweight Dogs and Exercise

Obesity in dogs can lead to a number of canine health issues, including joint problems, diabetes, heart conditions, and a reduced quality of life. It can even heighten their risk of cancer. So if your dog is too heavy, you’ll need to help them lose weight.

Exercise can’t solve everything. When it comes to weight management, nothing’s more important than a healthy diet. (Ideally, healthy eating habits should start when your dog is still a puppy.) If your dog is overweight, consult your veterinarian about adjusting your pup’s diet. Your vet might recommend reducing portion sizes, feeding your dog lower-calorie foods, or even switching to a prescription diet.

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Exercise can certainly play a role in your dog’s weight-loss journey. Again, you’ll need to consult your vet before you do anything to drastically change your dog’s activity level. But generally speaking, you’ll start by incorporating low-impact activities that are suitable for overweight dogs, like leisurely walks or gentle swimming sessions. As your dog's stamina and fitness level improve, you can gradually increase the intensity and duration of these activities.

It's also essential to consider your dog's age and any pre-existing health conditions that might affect their exercise capabilities. Older dogs and dogs with existing illnesses will require an even more cautious approach; otherwise, you might strain their joints or exacerbate their health conditions. Unfortunately, senior dogs and dogs with serious health conditions are often more likely to suffer from obesity, so that’s something you’ll need to keep in mind.

As your dog embarks on their new diet and exercise regimen, you’ll need to take them to the vet for regular check-ups and weigh-ins. These visits will help you track your dog's progress, make any necessary adjustments, and make sure their overall health is improving along with their weight.

How Dog Insurance Can Help

Regular exercise can dramatically improve and extend your dog’s life.

But if your pup does develop a health condition—obesity-related or otherwise—dog insurance may help ease the financial burden of treatment.

Just be sure to insure your dog when they’re still young so that chronic conditions may be covered. Otherwise, they may be excluded as pre-existing conditions.


David Teich
Lead Editor

David oversees content strategy and development at ManyPets. As Lead Editor, he focuses on delivering accurate information related to pet care and insurance. David’s editorial background spans more than a decade, including a pivotal role at Digiday, where he wrote content and managed relationships with media and tech companies. As an Associate Editor at Cynopsis Media, David wrote the Cynopsis Digital newsletter and interviewed executives and digital marketing experts in the TV industry. His background also includes film journalism. His diverse experiences in journalism and marketing underpins his role in shaping content within the pet care industry.