Exercise for a happy, healthy dog

After a hectic day at the office, it can be hard to motivate yourself out the door to walk your best friend. Totally understandable, but don’t underestimate the importance of that daily walk! The number one cause of canine misbehaviour is lack of exercise. Activity is vital for your dog’s mental health, fitness, and his good behavior.

“A tired dog is a good dog”

Most dogs will survive a day of lazing around once in a while without much hardship, but walking your pup every day is a good habit to get into. You’ve probably heard the old saying, “a tired dog is a good dog.” It’s all true–a tired puppy isn’t going to chew on your furniture, tear down the curtains, or steal food off the kitchen counter. But exercise is vital for more than just your home and your peace of mind: it’s also important for your dog’s mental health.

Dog psychology 101: Why walks are important

Dogs are social animals, and a big part of their social life happens on the move. Wolves and wild dogs spend hours every day trotting across miles of terrain, bonding with their pack as they experience the world around them. Your dog is civilized and doesn’t have to bring down a deer in order to know where his next meal is coming from, but his brain is still wired the same way as his wild relatives’. As a result, walking your dog is one of the most positive ways to cement your relationship and reinforce your role as pack leader.

Keep in mind that not all walking is equal. Walking your dog on a short leash (with 1-4 feet of loose leash) is a controlled walk, and it’s a great opportunity to practice your training and build your pack bond with your dog. If your dog is wandering off with yards of flexi-leash, though, they are basically off-leash–and the mental and psychological benefits of walking your dog disappear.

Walking two dogs together who don’t get along well at home can also help you to build a better relationship between them, by taking advantage of the “pack programming” that is part of every dog’s mental wiring.

What kind of exercise is best?

Walking is important for your dog’s mental health and his relationship with you, but it’s not the only kind of exercise he needs. For high energy dogs like shepherds, Jack Russells, and boxers, even an hour or two of walking won’t necessarily burn through their exuberance. Running, chasing a ball, and play with other dogs will do a lot more to take the edge off of the “puppy crazies” and help them to settle in and relax at home.

If you have a yard or an off-leash dog park near home, either can be a great option. Jogging with your pup is also terrific, since it combines the benefits of running with walking on leash. It may take some practice to get your dog to behave while you jog, but it’s well worth the effort.

During the bitterest days of winter, or if your dog is injured or recovering from surgery, it’s possible to give your dog some exercise by taking a car trip to explore the local pet store, or by doing indoor training at home. The mental stimulation of learning new tricks can occasionally be substituted for outdoor exercise.

How much exercise?

Your dog’s exercise needs will depend on breed, age, health, and energy level, but a good baseline is 30 to 60 minutes of walking daily. Even small breed dogs need this much activity to keep them mentally and physically healthy. If you can’t get out to walk your dog daily, consider hiring a dog walker who can give your pup the exercise and training he needs.

Very energetic breeds like shepherds, border collies, Jack Russell terriers, and huskies need a lot more–as much as 2 to 3 hours of exercise daily. If you have a very high-energy pup, you might find that doggie daycare a few times a week works wonders.

Dog boarding and exercise

Exercise is an important factor when you’re looking at vacation boarding for your pup, as well. A well-exercised dog will get along better with other dogs, behave better in a boarding home, and adapt more calmly to a new environment.

For the same reason, it’s a good idea to pick a boarding home that will provide your dog with the level of exercise he needs. Most kennels provide brief daily walks, and a good boarding home should be able to provide at least one or two daily walks, and/or a yard for puppy play. If you’re in doubt about how much exercise your dog will get while you’re away, always ask!