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Dogs need exercise. It doesn’t matter how young or how old they are: Your dog needs to get out there and move. ￼“Exercise at any life stage is important for both physical and mental well-being,” said Heidi P. Watkins, D.V.M., a small animal veterinarian at Airport Irvine Animal Hospital in Costa Mesa, California. “Healthy weight maintenance, joint and muscle flexibility, and positive mental stimulus are all good reasons for exercise at any age.”
That said, the kind of exercise you give your dog will depend on his age and condition.
When my Corgi, Nigel, was 12 weeks old, I learned why young puppies need lots of exercise. After spending two hours asleep in his crate one rainy night in the car, Nigel was wide awake and raring to go when we got home. The only problem: It was a Sunday night, and we humans had to get up for work the next morning.
Full of energy from his long nap, Nigel was wild, running around, and acting like a crazy nut. My husband, Randy, tried to get him to settle down by watching TV with him in his lap, but that backfired big time. Instead of cuddling up, Nigel leaped up at Randy’s face and accidentally sliced through his earlobe with sharp puppy teeth. While Randy mopped up the blood, I took my wild canine outside in the rain to play with him for nearly an hour before he was ready to fall asleep.
Puppies are bundles of energy, and if they don’t get enough exercise, they can get pretty wild. That’s why giving your puppy plenty of playtime is a must if you want him to ever settle down.
Here are some energy busters for puppies:
Remember not to force your puppy to exercise, as it can cause trauma to developing joints and growth plates in the bones. That means no really long walks or jogging until he’s fully grown.
Young adult dogs are pretty close to puppies when it comes to being full of energy. What makes it harder is that they are a lot bigger than young puppies, so their crazy get-up-and-go can be tougher to take when you are trying to settle down in front of the TV, eat dinner, or go to sleep.
My friend Jorge has a 7-month-old German Shepherd named Hemi who was recently neutered. For a few days after his surgery, Hemi wasn’t allowed to run around and play in the backyard with the other dogs. The result was a lot of pent-up energy. Picture a black German Shepherd in a plastic “Cone of Shame” crashing into everything in his path as he barreled through the house. The fact that he’d just had his testicles removed didn’t seem to make much difference. Hemi was a poster child for how much young dogs need exercise.
Young dogs are still not finished growing, so they shouldn’t be subjected to forced exercise like jogging or long hikes. Only encourage your young dog to exercise as much as he would if he were playing with another dog.
Here are some energy busters for young adults:
When dogs become adults, they usually don’t need as much exercise as younger dogs. That said, it really depends on the dog. My 6-year-old Australian Shepherd mix, Candy, is very laid-back and happy to just sleep all day. I still make sure she gets walks and playtime with other dogs because I don’t want her to get fat. She’s also a scaredy cat when it comes to new people and situations, and the more exercise she gets, the less anxious she seems to be.
My parents have a 7-year-old Pomeranian named Monique, and even though she’s an adult dog, she’s still hyper and needs to run around. If she doesn’t get enough exercise, she uses her excess energy to bark at everyone who walks past my parents’ condo. This does not make her a popular resident in their quiet senior community. If my dad plays with her by throwing a sock she can fetch, she gets tired out after half an hour. (Yes, she fetches a sock. Dad is 94 and never bought into the idea of paying for a dog toy.)
Some adult dogs need exercise to stay calm, but others are big couch potatoes who really don’t care. Some breeds, like Basset Hounds and even Greyhounds, are happy just lying around most of the time. But all dogs need exercise.
Here are some energy busters for active adult dogs:
And some energy boosters for those couch potatoes:
Before you start getting your poky pooch to exercise, make sure he’s in good health. “Adult dogs can tolerate a more structured and extensive exercise program than when they were young,” Watkins said. “But pre-existing physical issues, like hip dysplasia, should be considered when developing an exercise program.”
Remember too that conditioning should be slowly ramped up over time so your dog doesn’t injure himself.
Senior dogs are a whole other story. It’s rare to find an old dog who needs a lot of exercise. Senior dogs are a lot like senior people: They just don’t feel like running around anymore. Some old dogs have arthritis, and this makes it painful to move too much. Some are just beyond the idea of playing. But just like with adult dogs, senior dogs are all different.
When Nigel was 12, he earned a Coursing Ability title from the American Kennel Club. This required him to chase a lure 300 yards, three different times. Even though he was a senior canine, Nigel was beyond excited about chasing the lure and quickly earned his title. He tore after that plastic bag like he was a puppy.
But then you have guys like my friend’s dog, Chance. A geriatric German Shepherd, we don’t know how old he is because Kimberly adopted him from a shelter a year ago. He was really old then, and she thought she would only have him a few months. But the old man is hanging in there. And even though he’s riddled with arthritis and walks around with the stiffest hips I’ve ever seen, he still wants to play.
He romps with Kimberly’s other dogs, chases toys, and patrols the property, all with a big silly grin on his face. He runs out of gas pretty quickly and then collapses in the dirt for a while. But then he’s up again in a few hours, ready for more. It’s pretty clear that all this activity keeps Chance involved in life and helps him stick around.
While you should never force an old dog to exercise, it’s good to encourage him. Give him lots of breaks and plenty of time to rest in between. And if he’s been sedentary, have him checked out by a vet first to make sure he’s healthy enough to start an exercise program. Once you know he’s ready for some action, here are some energy boosters for your senior:
Whatever you do with your dog for exercise, remember it’s supposed to be fun — for both of you! Have a good time and keep building that bond.
Read more about exercising with your dog:
About the author: An award-winning professional writer and editor, Audrey Pavia is a former managing editor of DOG FANCY magazine, former interim editor of Dog World magazine, and former senior editor of the AKC Gazette. A member of the Dog Writers’ Association of America, she has authored seven books on dogs, including Having Fun with Your Dog (ASPCA Kids) and The Labrador Retriever Handbook, 2nd Edition. Audrey has also written extensively on horses, as well as other pets. She shares her home in Norco, California, with a rescue dog named Candy.