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Why Activity is Important for Your Dog

And How to Engage Them

Your dog’s long-term health depends, in part, on staying active. That’s good news for both your dog and you as their pet parent since you’ll both get some exercise and enjoy some great bonding moments along the way.

The following guide will cover what activity looks like for your furry friend, ideas for activities and important considerations for their health. Then you’ll have the tools you need to have fun while adding more activity to your lives together. 

Understanding What Activity Means for Your Dog

Dogs of all ages and breeds require ample exercise and playtime to meet all their physical, social and mental needs.

  • Physically, a dog who gets plenty of exercise and playtime will likely be leaner and at lower risk for certain health conditions, including arthritis and diabetes.
  • Socially, an active dog has a better chance of being less aggressive and of exhibiting more confidence.
  • Mentally, dogs who engage in exercise and play tend to be more fulfilled and experience greater cognitive development. That, in turn, can equal less boredom, which can translate into fewer destructive behaviors.

While both exercise and play are vital to your dog’s wellbeing, these two types of activity are slightly different. Understanding their differences can help you ensure that your dog is getting enough of both types of activity each day.

Exercise for a dog includes:

  • Physical exertion, which is usually cardio-based and experienced over a prolonged period
  • Mental stimulation, such as conquering a new challenge, exploring a new location or sniffing a new smell

Play for a dog includes:

  • Object play with a toy
  • Locomotor play, such as running around with you or a case of the zoomies
  • Social play between your dog and yourself or another canine buddy

It is also worth noting that many times, exercise and play are interlinked and can overlap. The above lists are not exhaustive, and the goal should be to include both physical and mental exercise and play in your dog’s routine every day.

Exercise Ideas

Adding exercise to your dog’s daily routine is a great way to improve their overall health. Remember, not every day has to look the same and not every dog is the same. The key is simply to ensure they are getting enough activity and enjoying themselves while they are at it!

Walking puts minimal stress on joints and can be done in almost any weather, as long as everyone has the right gear. Your dog also gets to experience exciting new sights and smells, which is also good for their mental health.

You can even incorporate mental exercises into your walks, such as having your dog sit when another dog walks by, asking your dog to find a hidden treat in the woods or other creative mental exercises. After all, 15 minutes of mental exercise is roughly the equivalent of an hour of physical activity for dogs! 

When introducing your dog to running, be sure to start slowly. Speed up and increase the distance gradually over several weeks and always watch your dog for signs of fatigue.

Note:

  • Never feed your dog in the hour before or after a run as doing so can cause bloat.
  • Avoid running when it’s hot as this can lead to heat exhaustion or heat stroke (for both of you).
  • Wait until your dog’s joints are fully formed before introducing them to running. If you have a young dog or puppy, consult your vet before adding running to their exercise routine.

For dogs who love the water, swimming is an excellent workout that offers both muscle toning and aerobic benefits. It’s also a great lifelong sport as it is easy on joints and is a good exercise for dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis. If mobility or stiffness is a problem for your pet, choose a swimming location that won't require them to maneuver an awkward dock or a steep incline.

Watch your dog carefully during any swimming session. When they start to slow down, it's time to quit for the day. Additionally, invest in a life jacket to help ensure that your dog stays safe in the water.

Play Ideas

In addition to daily exercise, it is important to engage your dog in play. Playtime is a wonderful time to bond with your pet and allow their personality to shine.

Most dogs love a good game of fetch, which is a great way to engage your dog physically and mentally.

It’s about more than just the physical exertion of running across the yard. It’s also about engaging with your dog in a mental game, teaching them how to recall, drop objects on command and retrieve items.

Choose a toy that your dog likes to hold in their mouth. Softballs, flying discs, squeaky toys and fleece toys are all great choices. Avoid small balls that your dog could swallow or inhale.

Throw your dog’s prized toy or ball across a fenced yard. Once they’ve retrieved the object, call them back. If your dog is new to fetch, use treats to entice them to recall with their toy. When they return, ask them to drop their toy and begin the game again.

If your dog isn’t big into fetching, you can also experiment with monkey in the middle. With a friend or family member, toss or kick a toy between the two of you, with your dog in the center. The goal of the game is for your dog to capture the toy.

Another great way to engage your dog in play is with puzzles and games. Many puzzles require your dog to solve a task to get to a piece of food or a treat.

You can also invent your own games to play with your pup. Get creative and try out the following fun indoor games:

  • Hide-and-Seek: If your dog knows how to sit and stay, lead them to one part of your home and ask them to stay. Hide, then call them to you. Reward them with pats or a tasty treat when they find you.
  • Treasure Hunt: If your pup is food motivated, hiding treats around the home is a great way to play together. Once treats have been hidden, teach your dog to search for the “gold.”

Considerations When Increasing Activity in Your Dog's Day

Before making a major change to your dog’s activity level, take your dog 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 some physical limitations, fitness is still important. Your veterinarian can recommend an appropriate exercise program that works around their condition and includes mental exercises as well.

At your annual checkup, ask your veterinarian for a recommendation on how much activity is ideal for your pup. 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.

While your vet can give you the best recommendation on how much activity your dog needs in a given day, there are some common indications that your dog might not be getting enough exercise and play.

Physical Indicators:

  • Weight gain
  • Stiffness or lack of endurance when exercising
  • Restlessness or pacing

Behavioral challenges:

  • Hyperactivity or rough play
  • Destructive behavior
  • Barking and whining or pestering/annoying behavior to try to get your attention

Mood challenges:

  • Becoming withdrawn, sluggish
  • Lack of excitement for things that used to excite them in the past

If you observe any of the above with your dog, consult with your vet to rule out or identify possible health issues.

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.

Achieving a Full, Healthy Live

Providing your pup with a full, healthy life is part of the joy of being a pet parent. If you are looking for more ways to enrich your dog’s life, check out the following guides: