Dogs are an ever steady source of emotional comfort and unconditional love, no matter the deadlines you failed to meet or the catastrophes in the world at large. Given their perpetual optimistic streak, it only makes sense that dogs would be more enthusiastic about exercise than even a fitness fanatic can muster most days. It could be that your four-legged friend is just the fitness buddy you’ve been looking for.
Pet happiness has grown to become a multi-billion industry, with Halloween costumes for dogs earning $300 million in past years. And recently, doggie fitness has blossomed into a lucrative niche all its own. Sure, there’s dog walkers for owners who are away from home, physically incapacitated or don’t feel like putting pants on. But there’s also now dog-exclusive gyms where lucky canines can work their core atop doggie fitness balls, run for treats on miniature treadmills and become part of a larger dog gym community.
But you can also include your dog in your exercise regimen without any membership fees. And unlike your lethargic work colleagues or less-than-motivated significant others, your dog will always be willing to be your workout buddy. Here’s what you need to know about exercise for dogs, and a few tips based on your dog’s size and breed.
Why dogs need exercise, too
Physical fitness plays a huge role in improving humans’ emotional health. But considering dogs lack the mental stimulation of a job outside of what their owners give them, exercise and playtime are just as important for your canine. Simply put, physical exercise serves as much more than just a workout for dogs.
While longtime owners can typically tell whether their dog harbors pent-up energy, new owners may mistake behaviors symptomatic of insufficient exercise as being due to a “bad dog.” A devoured couch can be due to a bored dog and not necessarily a dog bent on destroying furniture. The moral of the story? Give your four-legged friend the exercise it deserves.
Fitness can determine a dog’s mental and emotional health, its destructive behavior or lack thereof, and overall happiness. That said, one outlier to the equation are all breeds of puppies. While puppies may seem like ideal fitness partners because of their elevated energy levels, most puppies actually tire out after five to ten minutes of play time. More exercise than that can be detrimental to a puppy’s growth. As for adult dogs, breed and age determine how much exercise is needed.
Fitness needs of high-exercise dog breeds
More than others, dogs bred for specific jobs—think, hunting and assisting in farming livestock—are especially in need of physical exercise. These breeds include terriers, hounds, retrievers, pointers and shepherds. Although many dogs nowadays are a blend of breeds, you can usually spot a dog’s working and sporting heritage through their pronounced intelligence, mischievousness and obsessive behaviors. These high-exercise breeds require an hour to 90 minutes of fitness per day, whether all at once or in bursts.
Extra active dogs can take on dog sports like agility or the increasingly popular balance work. Later in life, these breeds require half an hour to an hour of daily exercise broken up into sessions. Your furry friend might not move as quickly as they used to, but they’ll thank you for trading in that run for a leisurely walk together. For dogs with joint issues, swimming can help high-exercise dogs satisfy their need for movement.
A high-exercise dog’s energy can sometimes seem unending, but it’s important to listen to how much exercise your dog seems to want. These dogs will transform into much more easygoing roommates with intense cardio, and aging dogs can stay healthy and fit with supervised, thoughtful exercise.
Fitness needs of low-exercise dog breeds
Toy dog breeds were bred mostly as companion animals, and their exercise needs reflect this. While the tiny chihuahua, toy poodle and all “smushed face” breeds (think pugs and French Bulldogs) fall into this category, giant breeds such as Great Danes and Mastiffs also require lower levels of exercise. But no matter the amount or type, these dogs still require daily cardio to prevent future health problems. This may mean carrying your buddy on the way back, but you’re doing both of yourselves a favor by getting up and moving.
A word on canine hydration
Dogs lack verbal communication, and while this can be one of their most endearing attributes, it also comes with its risks. Since your dog can’t pester you for a drink, it’s up to humans to pay attention to their pet’s body language to ensure dogs are kept hydrated.
Dogs only sweat through their paws, and they lower their body temperature primarily through panting. While panting is a very easy sign to notice in a dog’s behavior, the evaporation of water loss from its mouth and respiratory tract can increase 10 to 20-fold during exercise.
A refusal to move or an unusual level of distractedness can come not from a bad attitude dehydration. When hydrated, dogs should be given water in small amounts so as not to upset their stomach. Hydration is just as important for your dog as it is for you, and it’s easy to manage with a little observation.
Workout buddies have been shown to increase our motivation, enjoyment and performance in exercise. But the next time your gym friend bails on you, don’t overlook your dog as a workout partner. Like humans, dogs need exercise for physical and emotional wellbeing. And who knows? Hitting the trail with your four-legged friend could be just the motivation you need to take your fitness to the next level.