Most dog owners are aware of the importance of balancing regular exercise with a healthy diet. However, just like with human adults and children, different amounts and types of exercise are more suitable to dogs at different stages of life.
Pet nutrition experts James Wellbeloved advise puppies and junior dogs (i.e. before reaching adulthood at around 12 to 18 months) exercise 5 minutes for every month of their age, twice per day. So, a puppy of 3 months should have 2 exercise sessions of no more than 15 minutes each. A dog of 8 months should have 2 sessions of up to 40 minutes per day.
This is because young dogs don’t have the energy stores of mature dogs, so they tire faster and need regular rest. Also, because puppies are naturally curious, they exercise themselves just by exploring their environment anyway.
Once your dog reaches maturity (this depends on the breed), they will be strong and developed enough for longer sessions. However, this changes according to breed, too. While Border Collies needs long walks of 2 hours or more, twice per day, to stay mentally and physically healthy, this would be excessive for a French Bulldog. To make sure your exercise your dog for long enough each day, consult your vet or an online dog breed guide.
While age is a factor, every dog is unique. So, owners need to not just use suggested guides to gauge how long to exercise their dog, but also the dog’s behaviour and body language. Most dogs will tell their owner when it is time to play by behaving livelier, getting your attention and then running to the door, or even picking up their toy or lead with their teeth. However, others may only get up when prompted, so schedule exercise time.
Equally, some dogs don’t know when to stop, no matter how tired they are. Retrievers have been bred to run all day. Unfortunately, this means they sometimes don’t stop to rest, so can end up injuring themselves. It is important to place time limits on exercise.
Physical limits are important, too. Generally, adult dogs can perform most exercises, and you will keep your dog entertained and mentally healthy if you mix up the type of exercise you do together. This might be agility training in the park, jogging together, going for a swim, or using interactive toys with food buried inside them.
However, which exercise you choose should depend on the age, physical and breed limitations of each dog. Some breeds, like Bulldogs, suffer from chronic hip dysplasia, so shouldn’t be forced to jump. Young puppies are soft teeth and bones which are growing every day, so agility training, running on pavement, or tugging toys can cause permanent damage. Meanwhile, any senior dog is likely to suffer arthritis or to tire quickly, so exercise should be reduced.
Finally, never force exercise—which means don’t engage in exercise where your dog cannot choose to rest at any moment. If you are running on a lead together and your dog pulls to stop, let them. Equally, make sure fresh water and shade are always available, so your dog can manage their rest and temperature, regain some energy, then continue when they are ready.