Like humans, dogs should exercise daily to maintain good mental and physical health. When vets or trainers diagnose the reason for a dog’s problematic behaviour, it often comes back to one thing - lack of exercise.
Exercise is vital for our companion animals; we asked two vets and a behaviourist to share some exercise wisdom.
Walks vs. toilet breaks
There’s a clear difference between letting your dog out to go to the loo and going for a walk. Regarding toilet breaks, “adult dogs need to be let out ... a minimum of three times a day,” says vet Dr. Ashley Rossman. “Puppies need even more than that, especially when they’re not yet house[trained].” Beyond that, how much time your dog needs to burn off energy will depend on their age and breed.
“Younger dogs have more energy than older dogs, and will need more time to walk or run around. Older dogs, especially ones dealing with issues like arthritis, may need shorter walks to avoid causing additional pain. Working dogs - think Retrievers and Sheepdogs - need at least 30 minutes of significant exercise,” Dr. Rossman says. If you have a working-dog puppy, consider investing in a good pair of trainers!
Plan an hour-long walk
According to Lauren Novack, a dog behaviour consultant, how often you walk your dog will also depend on whether or not you have a garden. If a dog has free rein to run around, they’re not going to need as regular an exercise routine as a pet whose idea of open space is the hallway from the bedroom to the front door. Still, Novack says people tend to under-exercise their dogs - especially small ones.
“An hour-long walk every day is generally a good recommendation - preferably all in one session,” she says. “A long walk benefits a dog’s physical body as well as their mental health. The problem with a 15-minute walk is that you’re not going anywhere new.” If you can’t block time in your calendar for an hour-long walk a day, consider hiring a professional dog walker to ensure your dog gets the exercise they need - even if you’re working from home.
Boredom equals bad behaviour
Dogs thrive on variety just like we do, so if they’re stuck in the same loop, they’ll eventually find it uninspiring. And dogs who aren’t getting enough exercise will struggle physically and mentally. “If you’re not walking your dog enough or providing them with enough playtime, they can become anxious or destructive,” says vet Dr. Sara Ochoa. “They might tear up the house or start licking their paws obsessively.” Their energy has to go somewhere, and if not walked, your dog might end up chewing all the wires behind the TV.
Physical Activity Should Be Fun
That said, not all dogs like walking. Novack suggests finding a form of activity that excites your dog, like playing fetch or swimming. Your dog may even master a dog agility course. Researching what your dog’s breed traditionally enjoys can help, too. Or maybe it’s you who doesn’t like walks because your dog pulls on their lead or is aggressive toward other animals. “In that case, try training techniques and walking gear to help your dog heel, or walk them when you’re less likely to see other dogs, like late at night,” Dr. Ochoa says. Peak dog-walking hours tend to be right after rush hour when people get home from work.
Mind the Weather
Besides a dog’s age and breed, the weather can also affect how long you exercise with them. “Walks in the summer are tricky,” admits Dr. Rossman. While your dog can wear a coat in the winter, there’s less you can do to manage the temperature on a warm day. So if it’s hot and sunny (above 25 degrees Celsius), don’t keep your dog out for too long. In hot periods early morning or evening walks are best to prevent your dog from burning their paw pads or overheating. “Heat exhaustion is very real, and emergency vets see many cases,” Dr. Rossman adds. Some breeds are more prone to overheating, like Malamutes or Huskies, who originate from colder climates. Older dogs and sick pets can struggle in the heat, too, as can brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boxers. “Always remember to bring drinking water for your pet,” she says. Avoid taking your dog out during the hottest part of the day, usually between midday and 3pm - if you do, make sure you walk in wooded or shaded areas.
You can always keep your dog moving indoors with fun games or interactive dog puzzle toys whenever the weather is too hostile.