Keeping your canine fit and healthy is important. Much of this comes through proper nutrition and periodic trips to the veterinarian for exams and vaccinations. But another determiner of overall health is their physical fitness. When dogs don’t get enough exercise it can lead to all sorts of problems like weight gain, depression, pestering family members with a need for attention (good or bad) and even stiff muscles and joints from lack of activity. That’s why it’s important to walk them regularly, but how much is too much or not enough?
Over 2,400 years ago, Hippocrates said, “Walking is a man’s best medicine.” Well, it can be a dog’s best medicine as well. Inactivity in pets is just as bad as inactivity in humans. It doesn’t allow for proper cardiovascular function, it can lead to inflammation and it can result in lowered levels of endorphins that leave us feeling blue or lethargic. Studies have shown again and again that simply by walking we can improve on all of these negative effects. Depending on the breed, for most canines, a 10-minute spin around the block is simply not enough for a day’s worth of exercise.
Dogs that fall into the category of working, hunting or herding need a lot more exercise than breeds like companion or lap dogs. Even these toy breeds should get in at least two 10- to 15-minute walks a day, but dogs bred with a purpose beyond keeping us amused need a genuine workout to maintain both their physical and mental health. Oftentimes animals will begin exhibiting negative behavior because they need to be worn out. It’s in their nature. A prime example of this is the Queensland heeler or Australian cattle dog. These tough and tenacious little dogs need a lot of exercise or they can get very destructive.
Exercise Levels for Working Dogs
If you’ve got a dog in one of these task groups, as long as they’re in good health, you’ll want to ensure they get a minimum of 30 minutes of high-energy exercise several times a week in addition to the daily walks you provide. Those walks should be brisk and at least 20 minutes in duration. If you can, take them for two 15- to 20-minute walks daily. For some examples of high-energy exercise, consider a vigorous round of fetch with a ball or Frisbee or putting them through the paces on an agility course. You can easily set one up in your backyard, if you have the room, and your working dog will love you for it.
For breeds that don’t fall into one of the above categories, pay close attention to the signs they exhibit to determine how much exercise is enough. Just like people, it’s important to evaluate an animal’s health prior to starting an exercise program. If you’re unsure, asking your pet’s veterinarian is a good place to start. Begin by walking them briskly for 20 minutes. If they’re not showing signs of fatigue or pain, add on another 10 minutes. Remember, you’ve still got to get them home, so walk them X amount of minutes in one direction and then turn around and head for home. You can always bypass your home, if they’re not too tired or hot.
Walking Dogs in Extreme Temperatures
Limit your dog's outdoor activity in extreme temperatures, especially if they’re 85º F or higher. Dogs that are very old or very young are more sensitive to heat exhaustion, so walk them in the early morning or late evening in the summer or if you live someplace hot. This is also true of animals with heavy, dark coats. Also, make sure and bring along some water during warm weather, just in case. Another thing to consider is your dog’s paws; blistering heat or cold should dictate the use of paw protectors, because hot sidewalks and salted streets can produce burns.
Creating daily routines involving bonding activities with your four-legged friend will enrich both of your lives and improve your health and fitness levels. Follow these tips and pay attention to how your dog responds and you’ll know when enough’s enough. If you ever have any questions, concerns or doubts, contact your vet immediately. Now, get out there and enjoy yourselves — plus, you never know, you may just lose a few pounds in the process.