I believe in the importance of fitness for myself, and I also believe in fitness for my dogs. We have always run, biked, hiked, swam, and walked with our dogs on a daily basis. No, not all of those activities every day, but some type of physical activity was always on the daily agenda. We’ve been lucky to have very active dogs, mostly Labs, who enjoy all sorts of outdoor activities. But Labs are known for their exuberance, so there were many times I asked myself: Are we overdoing it? Are we exercising them too much, and how do we tell what the right amount is and what is too much?
Here’s what we’ve learned over the years and what we’ve experienced with our dogs.
Currently, we have two Labs, Slimdoggy Jack, who the vet estimates to be eight to nine, and Maggie, who is almost nine. Before we had Jack and Maggie, we had three senior dogs. Sally, who lived to be 13 years old; Tino, who lived to be 14; and Becca, who also lived 13 years. They were larger dogs (two Labs and a shepherd mix) and each had varying exercise and nutritional needs.
When Sally and Tino were younger, we would run with them four to five times a week and sometimes for long five- to six-mile runs. Sally, being a very active Lab without an off-switch, developed some orthopedic issues as she aged and we had to cut back her running, but she still needed exercise, so we had to increase her walks and other activities like swimming.
Tino was an indestructible mixed breed, never had ortho issues, and he ran with us regularly until about age 10 — even though he developed glaucoma and went blind at age nine. Becca had severe orthopedic issues in her back and knees when we adopted her at age 10. She couldn’t run, but in order to strengthen her back and legs (which were badly atrophied) she needed regular short walks multiple times a day. We also enrolled her in physical therapy sessions where she walked on a water treadmill, and we did core exercises with her when her condition allowed it.
While these dogs were all of a similar age, build, and weight, they all had differing exercise needs.
SlimDoggy Jack is another story. He was obese when we got him (20 pounds overweight) and needed exercise not only to lose the weight, but to drain the extra energy he had accumulated from being locked up in a shelter for almost a year. We started him on a regular walking routine and slowly built up to running. Now he runs three to four times a week for 35 to 40 minutes, and walks for 20 to 30 minutes at least twice a day. On occasion, he has developed a slight limp, so we immediately cut back on the running, but it disappears with a few days’ rest. We do core exercises and other strength building work with him and lots of mental exercises -– treat games such as “find the food” or challenge toys. He needs the mental stimulation to help drain energy and bring about a calmer state of mind.
Maggie, our latest addition and also a Lab, was thin — too thin when we got her. She spent her life in a crate as a breeder mom — she had no muscle mass or stamina and we had to slowly build up her strength and endurance through short walks and then longer walks. Now she can run a few miles a few times a week with us. Since she is timid, we haven’t introduced any of the more challenging exercises that Jack does -– except the treat related ones.
My point? There is no one-size-fits-all answer for how much exercise your dog needs, or even what type of exercise they may need. The only constant is they all need some form of exercise — even your little guys need to move their muscles!
If you are a regular reader of our SlimDoggy blog, you probably already feed your dog well and exercise them regularly, since you care about their fitness. And you may have read our article discussing the research that found our pets experience the same “runner’s high” that people do from the release of endorphin-like chemicals during exercise. (See it here.)
We all know exercise is good for us and for our dogs, but to get back to the question posed in the title of this piece, yes, there absolutely is such a thing as too much exercise for your pet, just as there is for people. You see those people at the gym — obsessed with their body fat, starving themselves to death, causing more damage to their body than good by the excessiveness of their methods.
Dogs won’t do that to themselves like humans, but we can push them too far if we aren’t watchful of the signs they give us that they don’t feel up to a workout. Maybe one of their limbs is sore or their tummy aches or they are just tired — each pet is different and has different exercise needs. As a responsible pet owner, you need to read your pet’s behavior and their response to the exercise you provide, and react accordingly to their needs.
Some signals that your pet may have overdone it include:
- Excessive panting during or after the exertion
- Extreme thirst
- Lagging behind when they are normally in front raring to go
- Any lameness or limping or a reluctance to move in ways they’re usually comfortable with
- Appearing to be overtired after the exercise, or sleeping or laying down more than normal
- Reluctance to go out for the walk or run
- Missing cues or commands they know well
You need to be watchful of these signs and know when to cut back. Do walks instead of a run, do more frequent but shorter walks rather than one long walk, limit the number of fetches in the front yard. Swimming is a good alternative if your dog has joint problems. If, for some reason, you need to cut back on activity for more than a few days, be sure to adjust your dog’s feedings appropriately or they will start to put on weight.
And remember, as your dog ages, his exercise needs are going to change. Your senior dog may try to do what he did as a puppy, but remember his age and keep his exercise level appropriate. You should also adjust feeding to reflect changes in activity level, so that as your pets age, they don’t slowly add weight. Any excess “baggage” can really place a burden on their joints and tendons, and then you end up with orthopedic issues and arthritis.
Awareness and moderation have to be your goal. If they are, you will be able to exercise with your pet their entire life. By doing so, you will increase their longevity and have them around for that much longer! And isn’t that the best reward?
What types of exercise do you do with your pets? Share your tips in the comments!
Read more on exercising with your dog: