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Dog Exercise Tips: Basic Guidelines on Pet Activities

Everyone needs exercise—including your canine friend! An active lifestyle for your pet benefits both body and mind.

Veterinarians say that dogs of all ages and activity levels need regular exercise to stay happy, healthy and trim.

Regular workouts can keep dogs from "boredom behaviors," such as chewing slippers or cushions or digging up your pansies. Besides making your dog healthier, exercise also encourages happiness and relaxation.

And the best part about getting active with your pet? It's one more thing you can share together.

Getting started: a quick check-up

Regular dog exercise helps your pet to stay healthy, fit and happy. Before beginning any new activity, take your pet to your veterinarian for a pre-exercise physical. Your pet's exercise program should be tailored to their age, size and breed. Ask your veterinarian how much exercise, and what kind, is appropriate for your dog.

Even if your dog has a health problem or is pregnant, fitness is still important. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate exercise program that works around her condition. Healthy dogs can begin to incorporate exercise into their routines with two short exercise sessions a day. Possibilities include a 15-minute walk, a game of fetch in the backyard or a quick swim. Start slow and listen to your vet's advice... but start!

Basic guidelines

If you plan to exercise your dog outdoors, pick areas with soft grass or dirt. Exercising your pet on hard or slippery surfaces can damage footpads or lead to falls.

Prevent heatstroke by skipping exercise sessions on extremely hot days. Watch your pet closely to see that your pet drinks plenty of fresh water during the day and stop if you notice excessive panting or fatigue during workouts on very warm days.

Also, avoid exercising your pet within an hour of eating a large meal, especially the larger, deep-chested breeds predisposed to bloat. (Bloat is a serious disease in which the stomach fills with air. In serious cases the stomach can twist, trapping the air and causing shock or even death.)

How much is enough?

Different breeds require different exercise routines. The average adult dog needs about 20 to 45 minutes of moderate exercise, such as brisk walking, twice a day.

More active dogs, including many of the sporting, herding and working breeds, may need one to two hours of vigorous exercise each day. By contrast, small toy breeds may get much of the exercise they need inside an apartment. Ask your veterinarian if you have any questions.

Remember: Your canine companion can't tell you “that's enough”, so it's your job to look for signs of weariness, including an altered gait or heavy panting.

Use your dog's exercise session to connect with your canine companion. Your dog will not only release pent-up energy, but will also look and feel great!

Exercising an obese dog

An overweight dog strains their heart and joints with every movement, so talk to your veterinarian before you start. If your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead, remember to exercise in moderation. Walking and swimming are the best choices.

Start slowly, and stop when your pet gets tired—heavy panting and a lolling tongue will be your first clues. Once your dog sheds those extra pounds, be sure to keep up the routine and incorporate a healthy diet to maintain that new figure.

Great pet activities


Walking is a great activity choice for your dog. Walking doesn't stress joints, can be done in almost any weather, and lets your pet explore.

No matter how well behaved and trained you believe your dog is, keep him on a leash. The local wildlife, other dogs, people and other outside activities can be a big distraction, and you don't want your friend to run out of sight or into a street. For off-leash fun, explore your local off-leash dog park, and let the play begin!

Jogging and running

Do you enjoy running (or have been meaning to start)? This might be something you can do together with your best friend. Make sure you introduce jogging slowly to a pet that's new to the activity: speed up the pace gradually over several weeks, and watch your dog for signs of fatigue. Keep in mind that the best canine companions for running are medium-size to large dogs that are energetic and in excellent health. If you have any questions or concerns if your pet is fit enough to run, consult your vet.

A couple of cautions:

  • Don't feed your dog in the hour before or after a run; doing so can cause bloat.
  • Watch the heat! You shouldn't run with your pet on very hot days because it can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke.
  • Pavement can hurt your dog's paw pads. Look for softer ground like grass or a park when going for a run with your dog.


Does your dog like the water? Then splash right in! Swimming is a great complete workout that offers both muscle toning and aerobic benefits. It also makes a great lifelong sport because it's easy on the joints, and a good exercise for dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis. If mobility or stiffness is a problem for your pet, try to minimize stress on the joints by picking a swimming location that won't require your pet to maneuver an awkward dock or a steep incline.

Some dogs, including the retrieving breeds, are natural swimmers, while others have no interest in water. If your dog refuses to consider water sports, don't force it. If your dog is just lukewarm about swimming, don't give up right away. Many dogs grow to enjoy it if they're introduced to the sport gently and gradually. And it's a great choice in the summer because your dog won't overheat.

Keep the first session short and stay at your dog's side, praising and encouraging forward paddling. If your dog only uses the front legs to swim, you can help by placing a hand under the lower abdomen for support. Soon your dog will get the hang of it and use the rear legs too.

After a few minutes, show your dog where to get out of the water. You'll see that with a low-pressure approach, your dog may be swimming happily in no time. If your dog likes to fetch, toss a buoyant toy into the water.

Watch your dog carefully during any swimming session. If the swimming motion slows down, it's time to quit for the day. Also, you'll want to rinse your dog off or even draw a bath after swimming.

Playing fetch

Most dogs love a good game of fetch, and it can be a lot of fun as well as great exercise.

Choose a toy that your dog likes to hold in the mouth. Soft balls, frisbees, squeaky toys and fleece toys are all good choices. Avoid small balls that your dog could swallow or inhale, and never use sticks because they can tear or puncture your dog's mouth. Fenced yards or parks are the best places to play – your pet won't run into foot traffic or the path of a moving vehicle.

Activities to Avoid

Biking and in-line skating are fun for people, but for most dogs, keeping up is too hard. It could be especially dangerous if your pet runs free near roads and traffic. If your dog is on a leash, the strap could tangle in the wheels of your bike or blades and you or your dog could end up seriously hurt.

Exercising with your dog can lead to a lifetime of good health and good times. Now and then you'll need to adjust your pet's routine to suit age and physical condition, so consult your veterinarian periodically. Have fun keeping both of you fit!