How Much Exercise Does A Dog Need?
July 23rd, 2019. Last Updated June 5th, 2020
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If you had to estimate the number of overweight dogs in the world, what would you guess?
A million? 10 million? 25 million?
One estimate by vets in 2016 claimed that nearly 27 out of every 50 dogs were overweight in the US. This works out to be around 42 million dogs.
These are alarming figures. If more than half of all dogs in the US are considered overweight, we have failed our canine companions…
While one can attribute obesity to dietary issues and excessive table scrap feeding, the big culprit is still lack of exercise.
In addition to the numerous health problems that can arise, lack of exercise is also a leading cause of destructive behavior in dogs.
Overexercise can also be a problem, though it’s much more likely that dog owners are underestimating their dog’s exercise needs.
To take the best care of your dog, you need to find that sweet spot between underexercising and overexercising them.
So how much exercise does a dog need everyday anyway? We’ll help you figure that out in this article.
The Short Answer
You’ve likely seen a figure out there that suggests dogs should get anywhere between 30 minutes to 2 hours of exercise a day.
This is the most general, conservative estimate. It’s not wrong, but it also isn’t a satisfying answer.
The truth is, your dog’s own circumstances will determine where they fit within this huge range. Factors include breed, activity level, age, weight, and other conditions.
As we dive into each of these factors, we’ll build on this 30 to 120 minute estimate of exercise time.
Defining "Exercise Time"
But first of all, a note.
When we mention “time spent exercising” in this article, it refers to the total amount of time spent in a single day doing casual walking.
More demanding exercises, such as agility training, obviously take up more of your dog’s energy.
Just keep that in mind. We don’t want anyone to interpret “60 minutes of exercise” as 60 minutes of intense uphill jogging.
In addition, we recommend that the total time spent exercising in a day be broken into two walks during the day. So 60 minutes of exercise effectively means two 30 minute walks per day.
How Activity/Energy Level Impacts Exercise Time
We’ll look first at the metric that plays perhaps the biggest role–activity level.
In this section, we’ll classify common breeds under three categories: low-energy, medium-energy, and high-energy.
As we do so, remember that activity level varies wildly among dogs within a breed. It’s entirely possible to have a frisky French Bulldog or a lazy Labrador Retriever! It is dog-specific.
But this initial classification is useful in narrowing down the 30 to 120 minute ballpark estimate.
How Much Exercise Does A Low Energy Dog Breed Need?
We’ll start off with lower energy dogs. The most general recommendation is that they need between 30-60 minutes of exercise in a day.
If we’re talking general breed, Purina lists the following as low-energy dog breeds: Basset Hound, Bichon Frise, Bulldog, Chow Chow, Great Pyrenees, Havanese, Papillon, Pekingese, Pug, Shih Tzu.
How Much Exercise Does A Medium Energy Dog Breed Need?
Healthy, medium energy dogs should get between 45-90 minutes of exercise in a day.
Purina’s medium energy breeds include: Bernese Mountain Dogs, Corgis, Dachshunds, English Cocker Spaniel, French Bulldog, Golden Retriever, Italian Greyhound, Maltese, Pomeranian, Saint Bernard, Welsh Terrier.
How Much Exercise Does A High Energy Dog Breed Need?
High energy dogs should get between 60-120 minutes of exercise in a day.
Purina’s large energy breeds include: Australian Shepherd, Beagle, Border Collie, Dalmatian, German Shepherd, Greyhound, Labrador Retriever, Poodle, Rottweiler, Russell Terrier, Samoyed, Shiba Inu, Siberian Husky, Yorkshire Terrier.
What About The Very High Energy Wild Childs?
For very high energy dogs (think those that seem to only know how to run and not walk), aim for at least 90 minutes a day.
I once heard of a Border Collie who needed 30 minutes of fetch along with two 3-mile runs in a single day.
The best thing you can do is start in your breed’s energy group, and tack on or subtract a couple of minutes depending on physical characteristics like snout-length and size. Observe your dog to figure out their activity level.
How Physical Traits Impact Exercise Time
Dogs come in all wonderful shapes and sizes. It’s important to understand how your dog’s physical characteristics impact the amount of activity they should get daily.
This is important because of all the beautiful mutts in the world! Determining exercise needs based on breed alone doesn’t make much sense because many dogs are a unique mix of breeds.
So while you can definitely fit breeds on a general activity level spectrum as we’ve done in the previous section, don’t discount the impact physical traits have on exercise time.
Moreover, activity level can vary greatly among dogs in the same breed as well.
And just take our sweet Yuna as another example. Most docile Lab ever–I’d definitely classify her as a low to medium activity level dog, despite her breed’s reputation for being rambunctious.
But anyways, we’re focusing on physical characteristics here. The two main factors are snout length and size.
All dogs deserve a boop on the snoot!
Due to the structure of different dog’s snouts, certain breeds are more tolerant of exercise than others.
Consider pugs or other brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds. Brachycephalic dogs generally require less exercise, because too much can make it tough on their breathing.
Let’s use this information to build on the time estimate you got in the previous section.
If you’ve got a flat-nosed pup, we’d recommend subtracting that number by 10 minutes.
Mesaticephalic (medium-snout) breeds such as Beagles and most retrievers should not adjust their time estimate numbers.
Dolichocephalic (long-snout) dogs such as Collies also shouldn’t adjust those time estimates.
Got your updated estimate? Good. Now let’s move on to size.
Size definitely affects exercise as well.
For example, a toy breed will usually do well on just 30 minutes of exercise.
In general, dogs that are short in the legs department tend to tire more easily! You could probably start a corgi off at 45 minutes per day, for example.
For larger dogs, it’s even more important to exercise daily so they don’t get overweight. Obesity can cause joint problems which are all the more dangerous the larger the dog.
It’s important to note that exercise needs vary wildly for larger dogs, with breeds all over the traditional activity level spectrum.
For example, where an adult Retriever breed may require 60-90 minutes daily, an adult Great Dane may require just 30-60 minutes.
But the general rule of thumb is, the larger the dog, the more exercise is generally required.
Again, let’s take the estimate we have so far and build upon it depending on your dog’s size.
If you’ve got a toy breed, like we mentioned before, you should probably cap that exercise at 30 minutes a day to start with.
For small dogs (i.e. under 20 pounds), don’t adjust your estimate, but cap it at 60 minutes a day to start with.
For medium-sized dogs (i.e. 20-60 pounds), we recommend adding 10 minutes a day, and capping it at 90 minutes a day to start with.
And for the large boys and girls (i.e. over 60 pounds), we recommend adding 10 minutes a day, and capping it at 120 minutes a day to start with.
How Much Exercise Does A Dog Need? Summary
At this point, we’ve covered all the key pieces for you to have a good estimate of how much exercise your dog needs in a day.
Let’s summarize this nicely in an infographic.
Now of course, there are still more factors to consider.
What do we do for puppies and senior dogs, for instance?
Well, we’re glad you asked, because we’ll talk about this and other special cases next.
How Age Impacts Exercise
It’s no surprise that puppies, adults, and senior dogs have varying exercise needs.
The previous figures we’ve listed in this guide all pertain to healthy adult dogs. What about puppies and our senior canine citizens?
Whereas many adult dogs are underexercised, for puppies the opposite can be true.
Puppies have an underdeveloped skeleton. If overexercised too early on, they can develop arthritis.
In addition, puppies have a harder time efficiently delivering oxygen to cells due to underdeveloped lungs and heart.
All this means that you need to be more mindful of exercising a puppy.
If we’re talking pure exercise requirements for puppies under six months of age, regular 10-15 minute sessions of play in the house should suffice. Long walks on top of that probably aren’t necessary.
However, it’s also paramount to socialize your dog at this stage of their lives. That means getting out and experiencing the world!
Here’s a stricter regimen for puppies six months or younger to avoid overexercising them.
The general rule of thumb is 5 minutes of outdoor walking per month of age.
This simply means that if your puppy is 4 months old, they should be getting 20 minutes of outdoor exercise per day (two 10 minute walks).
6 month old puppy? 30 minutes a day.
Note that you’re probably taking your dog out to potty train them anyway. This is simply time you spend outside of that, where the purpose is specifically to walk your dog.
In general, exercises that are short and sweet work best for puppies. Short wading/swimming sessions, games of fetch, and just goofing off in the house with your pup are wonderful options.
After six months, most dogs are still considered puppies both physically and emotionally.
However, some still choose to follow the 5 minute per month rule up to about 1 year of age. This is a perfectly good ramping up schedule for your dog, provided they can handle it.
If during the first year of ramping up you do feel like you’ve reached a good amount of exercise for your dog, just cap it there and continue that through adulthood.
So it’s really just a simple rule. If your dog often gets too rowdy, ramp up their exercise. If they seem content, keep doing what you’re doing.
By the time your dog fully matures into an adult (usually between 1 to 2 years of age depending on breed), they should be able to handle a healthy adult’s exercise load.
How much exercise does a senior dog need?
As your dog begins to enter seniorhood, you’ll probably be the first to notice the lack of bounce in their step (sadly…).
This is usually when a dog reaches the age of 6 to 8 for larger breeds, and 9 to 10 for smaller breeds.
As you ramped up their exercise when they were young, it’s equally as important to scale down now that they’re older.
A good recommendation is to reduce their exercise by around 10 minutes from the adulthood phase to start, and continue scaling that down as necessary.
For example, if your toy breed was previously getting around 30 minutes, 20 minutes will do.
For a senior Retriever, if they previously had 60 minutes, 50 minutes is a good new time to aim for.
How Other Conditions Impacts Exercise
Health issues are never fun. Perhaps two of the most common exercise-impacting conditions are arthritis and hip dysplasia.
When dogs have these conditions, they are still capable of exercising, but please do it with caution!
Swimming, swimming, swimming. One of the best options for arthritic dogs.
The water supports most of their body weight while also serving to impede any sudden motions that could worsen achy joints.
In general, shorter, low-impact walks are recommended.
Start it off with a warm up phase where you slowly get your dog up to walking speed. End it with a cool down phase where you might give your dog some sore muscle massaging.
Hip dysplasia… ouch. I feel for all the dogs who have to suffer through this.
Dogs with hip dysplasia still need to exercise to keep their weight down, otherwise their condition just gets worse.
Take extra care if you decide to go for a walk. You’ll need to choose an area with level ground, and walk extra slow, at your dog’s pace.
Your vet will be able to recommend proper steps.
Side Note: Weather Matters Too
And of course, “other conditions” can refer to exterior conditions such as the weather.
If it’s extremely hot and humid, scale your exercise back and also take care not to burn your dog’s paws on the burning concrete.
Instead, put that leash on after the sun sets.
How You Exercise Matters
Not all exercise is made equal. As we’ve noted, in the above time estimates, these refer to casual walking time.
However, walking is considered lowest in terms of intensity.
Want something more challenging for your dog? Check out our article where we highlight 22 ways to exercise your dog at varying intensities!
Just know that many of these are likely to tire your dog out much quicker. So if you plan to use these new exercise methods regularly, be sure to scale down the time to something that makes more sense!
Listen To Your Dog! Signs of Underexercise or Overexercise
How much exercise does a dog need everyday, you ask? Well, your dog is giving you the answers! Are you paying attention?
The classic signs of underexercise include:
- Destructive behaviors, such as chewing on furniture
- Excessive barking
- Weight gain
Some signs of overexercise include:
- Excessive panting
- Lagging behind in walks, or laying down completely
If you’re doing everything right:
- No destructive behavior
- Calm and willing to settle when indoors
- Weight hovers at the same number (for adult dogs)
Based on what your dog shows you, adjust their exercise levels accordingly.
Remember, your dog should be “happily tired, not exhausted!”
In this article, we’ve given you some guidelines to narrow down the range of exercise your dog might need to start with, depending on breed, activity level, age, weight, and other factors.
Experiment within this range! Scale up if your dog requires it, and down if they don’t.
As with many things related to dog care, your dog will let you know if they’re getting too little or too much exercise. It’s up to you to notice the signs and respond intelligently!