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Work that Dog: A Guide to Dog Exercise

Updated on October 26, 2007

Get Off The Couch!

Hey, you there my canine friend. It's time to get off the couch. And not just because you're shedding hairs. No, my friend, it's time to workout.

Fitness is important for dogs too. Looking good--yeah, that's important. Feeling good--even more important. Exercise increases your heartrate, increases blood flow, improves lung capacity, and makes muscles and bones stronger. And when you are fit, this means less health problems, a good attitude, and happy owner.

So, the components of good health are...anyone...that's right of course: a good diet and moderate exercise.

Let's just look at the exercise. 

How Much Is Enough?

A couple of 10-minute walks, half hour games of fetch or a good long run every day--how much exercise should your dog get?

Well, it depends on several things: your dog likes, what you like to do, your pup's physical condition, and his natural inclinations.

For instance, as you'll see below, some breed types are more inclined to walk and others play games.

At a baseline, if you have a healthy dog, then 30-minute work outs at least four days a week are sufficient for good health. It doesn't matter if it is one 30-minute session or 2 fifteen minute sessions, the benefits are the same.

If you have a highly active dog, she should get more sessions during the week to work off the energy. Dogs who are overweight also need more activity in order to shape up. However, you have to start small and add activity gradually. For instance, if your pudgy pooch has had no regular activity for quite some time, start with 10- to 15-minute leisurely walks on at least 5 days.

And don't think, taking two 1-hour walks on Saturday and Sunday will make up for a week of inactivity. This could actually harm your dog if they are not in shape or suffer from certain conditions like arthritis.

It's not always easy to fit in fitness, for dogs or humans, in the day. But if you schedule for it--just like the housework and sleeping--you will be inclined to exercise consistently

Ramping It Up

If you are looking to start a more vigorous routine, either because your dog needs it or you want to start running again, you should already have an established walking routine consists of at least 2 miles or its equivalent.

Add ten minute increments to your routine every 1-2 weeks until you are at the point where you want to be.

Naturally if you have any concerns at all about the state of your dog's health, talk to your vet.

The Right Exercise for the Dog

The type and amount of exercise your dog should get depends on the dog. Just as with people, there is not necessarily one that that will fit all of us. First, look at the dog breed to get a general idea.

  • Companion breeds like the Shih Tzu and Chihuahua tend to have minimal exercise needs, at least a walk a day.

  • Gun dogs, like Labrador Retrievers and Poodles are bred for lots of activity and require long walks (at a minimum) all their lives.

  • Terriers, although smaller, are clever, high energy dogs. Play is as good for them as much as walks.

  • Hounds can switch easily between work and play mode so long, low key walks are good and extremely interesting to them.

  • With Guard dogs like German Shepards and Great Pyrenees, walks and runs are great exercises. Establish limits when playing games, as they can take them seriously quickly.

  • Herding dogs like the Collies and Sheepdogs have moderate to high energy levels and are highly intelligent. Exercise is a must for their mental stimulation as much as their body. Games and sports are definitely their thing.

  • Northern dogs like Huskies and Malamutes have energy to burn, so keeping them active, walking or sport, is a good idea.

More specific information on breed types

Personality counts

Both of you will be happier if you incorporate activities in your routine that are compatible to your dog's style. What kind of personality does he have?

Dominant dogs are harder to train, insistent, and competitive. Because they can easily be provoked into biting, a walk or a run (in an area without crowds) may be preferable to games. When you do play games, you should keep them short and you must maintain control before Fido gets serious.

On the other hand, confident dogs are dominant, but they readily accept their owner's leadership. Most any type of physical fitness will suit this type of pooch, especially games or sports that challenge them or play that includes other dogs.

Apprehensive or shy dogs will likely prefer quiet walks in less populated areas. If you want to work in games in your routine, start very slowly with mild games. In fact, she or he does best with predictable, structured routines that are not overly demanding.

A dog with an independent personality is not demonstrably affectionate and has a low need for human companionship. These dogs sometimes seem so low-key you may think they don't need much exercise. Not so. If in good health, these dogs do well in steady, endurance activities like runs, bike rides (with proper equipment), and hikes.

Now Walk It Out

Walking the Dog 101

The simplest and most popular exercise routine is walking. A daily routine of walking is a good basis for any fitness program. And the easiest. Maybe even the oldest. And cheap too. Need I say more?

All you need is a collar and a leash. If you have a reluctant or overeager walker, get off to a good start with a training collar (nylon slip collar, check chain, or prong collar depending on how undisciplined the dog). These collar are humane but effective because they restrict her the more she pulls against the leash. Learn to use a training collar the right way!

Four Things That Can Make For Great Walks

1. A pooper scooper. Not only is does this make it nice for other people, it's the law in most places.

2. Water. If walking more than 20 minutes or in hot weather, bring a retractable or small dish and a water bottle.

3. Rest stops. Be attentive to your dogs needs if he needs to stop.

4. More buddies. Hey, you know the walk is good for you too. Take a roommate or your honey and talk about the day. Take your kids and get them on the dog care routine.

Need a little more than a walk? Try...

Resistance walking

Walk your dog on different surfaces like sand, shallow water, fallen leaves, or snow.

Enhanced walking

Make up an obstacle course as you go, walking over benches, around trees,over holes and logs to add jumping, crawling and balancing to your dog's workout.

Top Five Workouts NOT To Do With Your Dog

5. Walking the dog -- while you drive your car.

4. Race to the kitchen.

3. Frisbee toss with the good china.

2. Playing fetch with the neighbors cat.

1. "Law and Order" Marathon.

The Perils of Fetch - There's always a better way.

Let The Games Begin

Games dogs like to play. I'm not talking about throwing some dog toys out in the yard for Rover or Princess to entertain themselves. No, I'm talking about playing with your dog.

When you play with your dog regularly, you both develop understanding, respect and communication with each other. Games require the two of you to communicate and work together in some way.

One of the best ways to nurture dog's creativity is to play and create games around things that dogs just naturally love to do.


Young puppies have this natural inclination to wrestle to develop strength and play with siblings, but he or she does not have to outgrow this invigorating activity.

Start gradually with gentle pushes and Say 'Wrestle!' Keep the game gentle. When you are ready to stop, end gradually by pushing less and less until you give a big rub at the end.

Hide and Seek

Dogs just love to find things, especially you.

Tell your dog to sit-stay. Then, find a great hiding

place. Once you're away from her view, call out her name for her to look for you. Keep calling her name if she gets farther away. And when she finds you, give her a treat.

This game is best played on familiar territory with few, if any, distractions.


Some dogs are natural fetchers, others are not. But all can learn to enjoy this game. First, you have practice the "drop it" command before you even start playing. If your dog refuses to return the ball (and this is pretty instinctive!) or drops it too far away, end the game in disgust. Soon, he will get it right and run after the ball and bring it back.

Don't let your dog turn Fetch into "Keep Away"! To encourage more running, jumping and chasing, use a Flex pole to speed up the chase.

Follow the Leader

Set up lots of obstacles (traffic cones, balls, chairs, branches, a shallow wading pool, whatever) in no particular order. Have your dog follow you through the course, even racing him or her.

Tug of War

This is a great game for dogs especially for strength but it is crucial to remember that you have control of the game--you choose to start it and end it. Choose one particular toy of his or buy a tug rope (you'll only encourage bad habits if you use his leash or an old sock). Start with a cue like "let's tug". Then simply pull while he pulls.

As with Fetch, before you begin you need to have a "let go" command.

Other Sports

Running and Hiking

Because running and hiking are more endurance activities, you shouldn't just throw Fido into them. First, condition your dog by putting him on a training regime of walks. Increase the distance of your walk as you and your dog become conditioned. Do not try to run puppies younger than 9 months.

To begin distance training, start with half a mile every other day. Increase the distance by 10 percent each week. If running, give the dog a day off for every day of running.

Dogs can overheat quickly, so run when the day is cool, water the dog during (if over 20 minutes) and immediately after the run, let him run through puddles, even sprinkle him with the hose afterwards.

Watch the paws carefully no matter what surface you run on. Check the paws before and after every run for any cuts or abrasions. And avoid busy traffic as the dog's head and nose are at the same height as automobile exhaust pipes.

Frisbee / Disk Throwing

It looks cool if you've seen competitions. Even if you don't want to get serious, if you think your dog might like it, it is a great workout.

Start by rolling the disk on the ground like a wheel. This let your dog to get used to chasing it without a bad experience of getting hit.

Once your dog is going for the disc, it is time to encourage them to bring it back to you. You may use a long lead to "reel" the dog back in once you call her back.

When she is retrieving and returning the disk, you can start tossing. Do not throw the disc directly at the dog--throw to the left or right of his general direction. It may take time before he is able to catch it in the air.

Allow the dog to have fun and don't worry too much about the progress she is making.


Swimming is a great all-around workout. It is also a terrific substitute for long, hard runs when your dog just isn't up to it anymore.

Open bodies of water like lakes, ponds and pools are preferable to currents. If a public areas, you will have to make sure that it's OK for FiFi to get in the water. Rivers can be dangerous and hot tubs are a definite no-no! You can even check in your area for a dog aquatic center.

Most dogs know how to swim naturally, but if she apprehensive, ease her into the water. When she gets used to swimming, work up to a few laps (however you want to count them).

Did I help? Disagree? Have your own tip? I'm open-let me know.

What'd ya think?

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    • profile image

      john doe 3 years ago

      Guys just sharing, I've found this interesting! Check it out!

    • Bronx LM profile image

      Bronx LM 6 years ago

      @klee541: Hi, klee541. Am always open to others "quoting" my articles. Will send you an email.

    • profile image

      klee541 6 years ago

      Hi, Please can i get your permission to use certain paragraphs from your article in my feature called "The Importance Of Exercise" which is in my magazine Dog Mag Monthly due out August for the first time.

      Let me know of

      Many Thanks

      (pc i'll send you a copy for you to check over if you wish)

    • ChrissLJ profile image

      ChrissLJ 6 years ago

      I had the great(?) idea of taking both dogs out for a 20 min street walk yesterday. While I take them out together regularly, it's usually on the shaded trails. My JRT was loving every minute of it. When I went to the dumpster to toss the poopie bag though, I swear my Beagle plopped her butt in the middle of the sidewalk and gave me the look like, "NO MOMMY! The house is THAT way." Apparently my diva prefers to exercise indoors. The JRT on the other hand is a great runner companion. She never gets tired. Ever.

    • profile image

      Fit_Over_40_Buzz 7 years ago

      I just found your lens. I like it a lot. Thanks for building it. Gave you a thumbs up.

    • SoyCandleLover profile image

      BW Duerr 8 years ago from Henrietta, New York

      Nice work! I've posted this lens as a featured lens on my newest Oh, and I rated 5 *s, Fav and lensrolled, too. Thanks so much!

    • Dee Gallemore profile image

      Dee Gallemore 9 years ago

      Excellent . . . a 5-Star for this one. Please keep all the terrific dog-related lenses coming.

    • SusanDeppner profile image

      Susan Deppner 9 years ago from Arkansas USA

      Terrific lens! My lab puppy and I are going to keep each other in shape!

    • LynetteBell profile image

      LynetteBell 9 years ago from Christchurch, New Zealand

      Lots of great tips and information here. Thank you Bronx. My Dachshund, Jamie, loves to sniff on his walks. We usually go for a 10-15 minute walk in the morning and longer in the evening. Lately with winter upon us in NZ he's not keen on the morning walk and hides under the bed. Hates the wet tummy I think. Can't blame him really:)

    • JohannDog profile image

      Johann The Dog 9 years ago from Northeast Georgia

      Wow, great lens!!! Thanks for stopping by mine. Woofs, Johann

    • profile image

      K_M_George 9 years ago

      Exercise is such a key when you have dogs, I believe it goes hand in hand with the training. If they get enough exercise, chances are they will not destroy as much, because they have an outlet for their energy! Great lens!

    • Catalysthere LM profile image

      Catalysthere LM 10 years ago

      Great Lens, I loved the bit about Running and Hiking, It brings a new dimension to my doggie's exercise!!

    • profile image

      anonymous 10 years ago