Exercise is so important for our dogs on several levels - their physical health, weight management and their mental wellbeing.
So how much exercise does a dog need?
This will vary according to age and health, however a healthy adult dog should have at least 30 minutes exercise daily. Some breeds and personalities will require more than this, whilst puppies require less.
Like most things in life, exercise is best varied over the course of the week, including some brisk walks, some sniffaries, some off leash free running and possibly some canine sports and games in the garden.
What effect does a lack of exercise have on a dog?
Lack of exercise affects dogs both physically and mentally. The obvious result of lack of exercise is an overweight dog with poor body condition, muscles which are not toned and a lack of stamina.
Dogs who don't exercise regularly may also have less efficient heart and lungs, poorer coordination and lower bone density. They are also more prone to injury.
Dogs which are not exercised miss out on the release of endorphins, the hormone which promotes feeling of happiness.
Dogs who receive insufficient exercise may develop behavioural issues due to their frustration. These can include barking, digging, chewing and self harm eg chasing and biting their tail. Even if there are no obvious signs as mentioned above, the dog is likely frustrated and bored by it's sedentary life.
Why is swimming such a great activity?
Swimming is excellent exercise for dogs. Because it is low impact and not weight bearing, it can be used as remedial exercise to assist the rehabilitation of dogs recovering from surgery such as cruciate ligament.
It also allows older dogs who might have arthritis to still enjoy exercise.
Swimming strengthens the heart, lungs and uses a range of motions which are different to land based exercise and uses every major muscle group helping to strengthen and tone them.
Swimming also increases the metabolism and circulation helping to maintain healthy skin and coat.
As with other forms of exercise, swimming releases endorphins making the dog feel happy and more relaxed.
Finally, because the water supports the weight of the dog, it is an excellent form of exercise for overweight dogs, who can exercise safely without putting strain onto their joints.
Why is it a good idea to exercise a dog before you leave them?
Exercising your dog before they are left home alone for a long period is an excellent way of ensuring your dog is able to relax and rest in your absence.
The physical activity will ensure that the body is ready to rest, whilst the mental stimulation and feelings of happiness will enable the mind to relax.
Even if your dog has been exercised before being left, it is a good idea to leave them with something to occupy them. This shouldn't be anything that could be a choking hazard, so no bones. Also no toys that can be chewed and damaged, so not cotton tug toys where fibres can be ingested, nor rubber toys that can be chewed and small pieces bitten off.
Some sort of treasure hunt would be a good activity, using small pieces of food. The use of the brain together with the olfactory senses will definitely tire the dog – lots of sniffing is a great way to tire and relax your dog.
What about puppies?
Puppies shouldn't have vigourous or prolonged periods of exercise. Growth plates are not joined until at least a year old, as much as 18 months or more for giant breeds.
Doing too much impact activity at a young age will cause serious issues later in life, or even at a young age – puppies can suffer with hip or elbow dysplasia.
Puppies are also uncoordinated, so care needs to be taken that they don't hurt themselves. Puppies should not be allowed to jump, climb stairs, do fast running or quick changes of direction.
The puppy rule is for every month increase activity by 5 minutes! For example, an 8- week old puppy only needs 10 minutes physical activity a day - a 6-month-old only needs 30 minutes a day of physical activity!!
Young puppies, up to six months, should not be exercised with the intent to increase strength or endurance. Puppies should be allowed to play naturally, i.e. self-directed play.
Some ideas for appropriate puppy exercise from 0 - 6 months can be found here.
Although physical exercise is limited for puppies, removing the ability for all exercise is detrimental to the cognitive development of the puppy. Mental stimulation will help the puppy learn problem solving and assist with developing the memory.
Limiting all physical exercise can be as bad for the development of the body as too much exercise. Puppies need some gentle exercise to build muscle.
Generally, puppies and their owners play together. If this is lacking, the owner misses a chance to build a bond with the puppy. Allowing the puppy some exercise and activity helps with mental stimulation and stops the puppy from becoming bored – a bored puppy can be very naughty – and noisy.
What exercise does your dog enjoy? Is your dog a swimmer, a frisbee chaser, a ball fiend, or do you do canicross or agility - tell us in the comments.