Daily structured exercise is important part of keeping your dog happy and healthy. We tend to forget dogs are born to work. Most dogs are bred for a particular purpose, like hunting, herding livestock or providing protection.
Before domestication dogs spent most of their waking hours scavenging and hunting for food, caring for offspring, defending territory and playing with each other. They lead busy, complex lives, interacting socially and solving simple problems necessary for their survival.
It has only been recently in the dog’s evolution that a dog has become more of a household companion, leading more sedentary lifestyles. They get their food for free in a bowl and are often confined, alone and inactive, for most of the day. This lack of purpose leaves dogs no outlet for their naturally active tendencies—physical and mental—and it contributes to the development of behavior problems.
Reasons to Exercise
- Helps to reduce or eliminate the common behavior problems, such as digging, excessive barking, chewing and hyperactivity.
- Helps to keep dogs healthy, agile and limber.
- Helps to reduce digestive problems and constipation.
- Helps timid or fearful dogs build confidence and trust.
- Helps dogs feel sleepy, rather than restless, at bedtime or when you’re relaxing.
- Helps to keep dogs’ weight under control.
Structured vs. Play Exercise
Structured Exercise is about making the dog feel like they have a purpose. Dogs should still be rewarded during structured exercise. See the list below for types of structured exercise.
Play Exercise is about having fun. Play exercise should be done after structured exercise as a reward. See the list below for types of play exercise.
Types of Structured Exercise
- Walking or running without stopping to sniff: This takes training, the right mind set, and a lead/leash. This type of exercise should be treated like a mission rather than a walk through the park. It is about creating a purpose of getting from point A to point B without distraction.
- Running next to your bike: This takes training and should only be done with dogs who have been trained to heel or walk/run properly on a leash/lead as it can cause you and your dog injury. Just like the above, this type of exercise should be treated like a mission rather than a walk through the park. It is about creating a purpose of getting from point A to point B without distraction.
- Treadmill: With training some dogs will run on a treadmill. This is a great way to exercise a dog when the weather undesirable. Always supervise your dog while on the treadmill. Just use caution on hot days when your residence isn’t air conditioned.
- Obstacle Courses: You can buy or create an obstacle course. With the proper training you can teach your dog to run the course. It is another way to give your dog purpose.
- Herding: Some dogs are bred to herd. There are services that allow your dog to express their herding instinct. Herding is not meant for every dog and should only be done with a trained professional.
Types of Play Exercise
- Walking or running with stopping to sniff: Being able to enjoy a walk and having the ability to stop and enjoy a good sniff brings joy to a dog.
- Fetch: Fetch is about the thrill of the chase. It is a fun activity and will keep your dog engaged.
- Keep away: Similar to fetch, it is about the thrill of the chase. Just make sure to allow your dog to get the toy every once in a while.
- Socializing: Take your dog to the park, dog park, or some place with other dogs and allow them to play.
- Laser pointers: laser pointers are a great fun for both you and your dog. That pesky dot can’t be caught and it can drive a dog wild. But that can also be a problem. Follow up laser pointer play with a real toy to allow the dog to catch something, satisfying their need for not catching the laser.
Bad Types of Exercise
- Tug of War: With all the tug type toys out there you would think tug of war is a good healthy exercise but it can cause behavior problems. It teaches your dog to challenge you. If your dog doesn’t see you as the pack leader or doesn’t have complete trust in you, then your dog might challenge you during other activities.
- Obsession over fetch, a toy, or laser pointer: Dogs are routine driven animals, which in many ways it good but when your dog starts to obsesses over an activity or toy it can lead to problems. It is always good to try and break routines when bad habits or obsession starts to occur.
How Much Exercise?
Big or small every dog requires exercise but the amount and type of exercise will vary from dog to dog. Always consult your vet on the appropriate type and amount of exercise for your dog.
Examples of exercise amounts
- A walk around the block, roughly half a mile, twice a day.
- A run at the park, roughly 2 miles, once a day.
- 20 minutes on the treadmill, once a day.
- 10 minute walk on the treadmill, twice a day.
Followed up by
- A walk around the block, roughly half a mile, once a day, stopping to sniff.
- A walk at the park, roughly half a mile, stopping to sniff.
- 20 minutes of fetch.