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The Many Benefits of Exercise for Dogs

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“A tired dog is a good dog” is a famous saying among dog owners. The logic is simple: a happy, well-exercised dog is less likely to channel any extra energy into undesirable behaviors like chewing furniture or digging around the house. 

Exercise offers numerous benefits for dogs. Activities like walking, hiking, and playing fetch improve your dog’s physical and behavioral health. As an added bonus, these exercises also help owners by improving your physical fitness and strengthening your bond with your dog. 

Read on to learn more about the advantages of physical activity for dogs.   

Benefits of exercise for dogs 

Routine exercise enriches your dog’s life, both mentally and physically. If you need a little motivation to keep your pet active, here are five benefits of exercising your dog. 

1. Keeps your dog fit and healthy

Like humans, dogs need physical exercise to stay fit and healthy. The American Animal Hospital Association estimates that over 51% of dogs surveyed in 2020 were overweight. Most of the dogs classified as obese were small breeds.  

A few extra pounds can have serious health repercussions for your dog. Obesity can cause or exacerbate dangerous health conditions, such as: 

  • Diabetes mellitus
  • Increased risk of experiencing complications under anesthesia 
  • Inflammation 
  • Intervertebral disc disease
  • Osteoarthritis and degenerative joint disease 
  • Reduced respiratory function 
  • Tracheal collapse

Physical exercise can reduce the risk of canine obesity and related health issues. By ensuring that your dog stays lean and fit, you can help them live longer and healthier lives. 

2. Provides mental stimulation 

Physical exercise also provides your dog with mental stimulation. To promote cognitive health, dogs need “jobs,” or tasks that challenge them to work their brains as well as their bodies. Mental stimulation enriches your dog’s life by allowing them to channel their canine instincts into healthy outlets. 

The most effective forms of exercise combine mental and physical stimulation. For example, a 20-minute walk with extended sniffing breaks will likely wear your dog out more than a brisk hour-long walk with no sniffing. Likewise, you can enrich games of fetch by asking your dog to perform a command like lying down or sitting before you throw the ball. 

3. Promotes joint health 

Keeping your pet lean as they grow and age can help to prevent development of and discomfort from osteoarthritis or degenerative joint disease. Engaging your pet in age-appropriate exercise may help decrease severity of joint issues later in life, even if they are predisposed due to an inherited risk.

4. Aids in digestion

If you regularly walk your dog, you probably make it a point to carry waste bags with you to clean up after your pet. Physical exercise promotes healthy digestion in dogs. Routine exercise can also help with housebreaking by giving your dog frequent opportunities to go to the bathroom outdoors. 

5. Strengthens your bond with your dog

The time that you spend exercising your dog can also strengthen your bond and improve your own physical health. Positive interactions through exercise are a great way to bond with your pet, bringing you closer together.  Dog owners who routinely walk their dogs also report higher levels of physical activity than non-dog owners do. 

Ways to exercise your dog 

The amount of exercise that your dog requires depends on factors like age, breed, health, personality, and size. High-energy breeds like German Shepherds and Siberian Huskies will usually need more physical activity than mellower English Bulldogs or Shih Tzus. Young dogs are typically more active than senior dogs are, though you should make sure not to over-exercise puppies. The type of exercise that is best for your dog depends on any health conditions present, individual interest, and access to certain activities. 

Fortunately, there are many fun ways to exercise your dog.

1. Fetch

Retrieving a ball or a Frisbee is an excellent cardio workout for your dog. You can make it more challenging by tossing the ball into tall grass so that your dog has to use their nose to find it. 

2. Hiking

A walk through the woods on a dog-friendly trail will engage your canine’s body and brain. Your dog will enjoy all of the interesting scents and get physical exercise as they climb, leap, and walk over the terrain. Always follow common-sense hiking guidelines, like bringing adequate water to keep your dog hydrated and not letting them roam off-leash in unsanctioned areas. 

3. Nose work

This canine sport challenges dogs to sniff out different scents or treats hidden in various containers. Nose work is a great way to bring cognitive enrichment into a physical activity, giving your dog both a task and a reward. 

4. Stair climbing 

If you have a safe set of stairs, you can exercise your dog by throwing a toy up the steps for them to chase. Avoid having your dog run on hardwood stairs or other slick surfaces to prevent injury. If your dog has a history of joint or orthopedic disease, avoid this form of exercise. 

5. Swimming 

If your dog likes water, swimming is a great way to keep them active. Some dog training facilities will allow you to rent a pool for a small hourly fee. You can also use a swimming pool or a safe natural body of water, as long as there aren’t dangerous predators like alligators present. Be sure that there is no blue-green algae present, which is toxic to dogs. Always supervise your dog when swimming.

6. Agility 

Training your dog to run an obstacle course will challenge them mentally and physically. You can take classes with a local agility trainer or set up makeshift obstacles like a children’s tunnel in your backyard.

7. Therapeutic exercises recommended by a certified rehabilitation specialist or veterinarian 

For dogs with orthopedic conditions, like hip dysplasia, specific exercise plans and routines may be better than traditional forms of exercise. These therapeutic plans may help to improve muscle mass, joint comfort, and slow progression of disease if done correctly. They should be done under the guidance of a veterinary rehabilitation specialist.  

Exercises you can do with your dog

You can also use creative strategies to exercise along with your dog, such as: 

  • Biking with your dog 
  • Climbing stairs at home or a local stadium together
  • Rollerblading with your dog
  • Taking your dog jogging  

Some of these exercises may not be appropriate for a growing puppy, so we recommend discussing with your veterinarian first. 

Incorporating a variety of activities into your weekly routine will provide both mental and physical enrichment. Prioritizing exercise can help keep your dog healthy and entertained and contribute to a longer, more enjoyable life.

Writer Dr. Brianna Anderson smiles at the camera while standing in front of a lake.

Brianna Anderson, PhD Contributor

Brianna Anderson is an educator, editor, and freelance writer. She teaches writing classes at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She received her PhD in English from the University of Florida, where she specialized in children's literature, digital writing, environmental literature, and popular culture. There, she served as the managing editor of the academic journal ImageTexT. She also holds a BA and MA in English.

Read more about Brianna Anderson, PhD

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