Exercise Needs for Puppies, Adults and Senior Dogs

Written by Small Door's medical experts

Dogs need exercise to maintain happy and healthy lives, just like people do. Your dog’s exercise needs will vary depending on their age and breed. So, it’s important to tailor your pup’s exercise according to their stage of life.

In This Article 

Why do dogs need to exercise?

The list of reasons why dogs should exercise is a long one, and there are many ways dogs can get exercise. From taking a walk around the block, to playing fetch, or, even getting as advanced as agility training. Not all dogs need high levels of activity, but their need for exercise boils down to these reasons.

  • For their physical health: Dogs need exercise to stay in shape. Exercise results in tip-top body condition, from a healthy weight and muscle tone to a healthy metabolism.

  • For their mental stimulation: Dogs need as much physical exercise as they do mental exercise. Physical activity plays a big part in dogs’ mental states and provides stimulation for both the body and brain.

  • To reinforce positive behaviors and reduce unwanted ones: Just as exercise affects dogs’ physical and mental wellbeing, it also impacts their behaviors. With ample exercise, dogs are satiated, leading to fewer destructive behaviors.

  • To find a balance: Lack of exercise, as well as too much of it, can result in poor health and habits for your dog. Aim to find a happy medium.

How much exercise does a puppy need?

Puppies have unique exercise needs. They are eager and active, but they are also brand new to the world and to exercising. This means that while they have huge amounts of energy, they don’t have the stamina to match.

  • Start with shorter play sessions. Puppies get large bursts of energy followed by long periods of rest and napping. To hold their attention and introduce them to exercise, hold a few short walks or play sessions throughout the day.

  • Don’t overwork your puppy. If they’re sleeping, let them sleep. Too much exercise can be harmful to your new best friend’s developing mind and body. Wait until your puppy’s bones and joints are fully grown, at around one year old, before making them your running partner. This is especially important for large breed dogs, as too much strain from exercise can damage their delicate cartilage.

  • Be mindful of your pup’s safety. Puppies should not be overexposed to the outside world until they are fully vaccinated and their immune system is armed and ready. We recommend having the majority of your play sessions indoors. Carrying your pup outside before they are fully vaccinated is a great way to introduce them to the sights and smells of their new home and to tire them out.

  • Learn your puppy’s breed. Regardless of their stage of life, some dog breeds are genetically and physically built to exercise more than others. Your 10-week-old Husky, while they may grow to 50 lbs, is still a small puppy right now. Don’t take them on a strenuous hike that they’ll be able to tackle in a year or two.

  • Make sure you are the one to initiate play and exercise sessions, not your puppy. This will prevent them from becoming over-demanding and hyperactive.

How much exercise does a dog need as an adult?

When it comes to exercising adult dogs, it’s crucial to consider their breed and lifestyle. Adult dogs can perform a larger variety of exercises than puppies and seniors, so mix things up and have fun. In general, dogs need a minimum of 30 minutes of exercise each day.

  • Less active breeds should get 30 to 60 minutes per day. This can be as simple as a few leisurely walks and some indoor playtime. Make sure you listen to your dog, as these breeds can tire out rather quickly.

  • Flat-faced breeds: Also known as brachycephalic, dogs like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzus have a lower exercise tolerance due to their breathing constraints. Extreme caution should be taken with these breeds in hot weather. Even 10 minutes in the sun on a hot summer’s day can be more than they can handle, as they often cannot breathe well enough for adequate heat exchange. If you’re worried your dog is overheated, check out our tips to help cool them down.

  • Toy and small breeds: These little guys can’t take on as much as larger breeds. They are best suited to smaller amounts of exercise throughout the day.

  • Large and giant breeds: The biggest of the breeds are prone to joint and hip issues. Try a range of exercise types that won’t put continual strain on their legs, like brief hikes and fetch sessions. If you have a breed that enjoys swimming, this is a great low impact exercise for your dog.

What tires out a little Pomeranian will barely warm up an eager Border Collie. High energy breeds need vigorous physical and mental exercise, typically 60 to 90 minutes everyday. Adapt their workout regime to what they do best.

  • Sporting breeds: Retrievers, Pointers, Setters, and Spaniels. These dogs are made for intense activities. Try taking them for a run, hike, or swim.

  • Herding breeds: Collies, Shepherds, and Sheepdogs. They are incredibly intelligent and easily bored. Set up a game of hide-and-seek using treats to put them in their element.

  • Working breeds: Huskies, Bernese Mountain Dogs, Boxers, and Rottweilers just to name a few. They thrive with long, consistent exercise. Spend an hour with them at the dog park, or go for a longer hike.

Most dogs need at least 30 minutes of exercise each day. A quick walk around the block probably won’t cut it for your furry friend.

How much exercise does a senior dog need?

The physical and mental health of senior dogs can be forgotten because of their mobility limitations. Set your senior dog up for success by giving them consistent exercise throughout their life. This way, they’ll stay as healthy as possible into old age.

  • Break up exercise. Even if your dog is considered senior, you’ll still want to give them at least 30 minutes of daily exercise. Because of their age, exercise might need to become shorter but it’s still necessary to make sure they’re getting the required stimulation.

  • Choose low-impact activities. Go on walks, not runs. If you have access to a pool or water, go for a swim. It’s a great activity that is gentle on their older joints.

  • Evaluate your dog’s weight. If your senior dog is overweight at all, consider a diet change or more consistent exercise. Being at a healthy weight will help reduce as much physical strain as possible.

  • Look into physical therapy. Just like it can help in people, physical therapy can relieve pain and discomfort that your senior dog is experiencing. Water therapy, massage therapy, heat therapy, and cold therapy are just some of the types out there.

Exercise for dogs with medical conditions

Just like a trainer can help you pick exercises that are right for your body, your veterinarian can help you determine which exercises are best if your dog has a medical condition. 

If your dog has arthritis, joint problems, or other health issues that cause them pain, they can still get exercise, but you’ll likely need to modify it to one or more short walks each day You may also need to discuss pain medications to help keep them comfortable during exercise. 

Try to avoid throwing the ball, as fast starts and stops can be tough on joints and lead to further discomfort for your dog. 

Like humans, water therapy or swimming can be an effective way to get exercise without adding to the stress of joint or hip problems. You’ll want to equip your dog with a doggy life jacket to help them stay afloat and let them focus on paddling without any added pressure.

Dogs that don't need much exercise

Some dog breeds need significantly less exercise than others. So if you have a busy lifestyle without the time to dedicate to a lot of exercise, these are some lower maintenance dog breeds. 

  • Flat-faced breeds: Pugs, bulldogs, and Shih Tzus have a lower exercise tolerance due to their breathing constraints, so naturally, they need less exercise than others.

  • Chihuahuas: These are some of the smallest of dog breeds, and therefore, don’t have a whole lot of energy to expend. While they do get bursts of energy, these are typically short and they don’t require much exercise. 

  • Dachshunds: Both miniature and medium size Dachshunds require minimal exercise. Because they have short little legs and long bodies, they aren’t great with excessive running and jumping and make for great couch companions. 

  • Basset Hounds: Another low energy dog breed, Basset Hounds are known for being laid-back and relatively low maintenance when it comes to exercise needs.

  • Mastiffs: Although they are a large breed of dogs, Mastiffs are relatively low energy and don’t have high endurance. While they’ll still need exercise to remain reasonably healthy, these dogs are more likely to be big couch potatoes

Tips for exercising your dog outdoors

Getting some fresh air with your furry friend can be a great way for you both to get in some exercise — and of course, your dog will enjoy getting out of the house. Below are some important tips to keep in mind when exercising your dog outdoors. 

  • Give your dog time to build up stamina: If you plan on taking your dog running or hiking, remember that just like you, it will take your dog time to build up their stamina and fitness level. Even if your dog appears fit or is in good health, be sure to give your dog time to adapt to your routine.

  • Use equipment that’s comfortable for them: We recommend attaching a leash to a harness rather than a nylon collar if your dog tends to pull or you plan on going for a long run or hike.  

  • Give them a warmup and cooldown period: Just like when you exercise, your dog needs a warm up and cool down period, especially if you’re doing any high intensity exercising. A short leisurely walk can be enough to warm up and cool down their muscles.

  • Be careful with hot weather: This is especially true during the hot summer months or warm climates. Unlike people, dogs cannot sweat out excess body heat and can only cool down through panting. Be careful to prevent heatstroke by avoiding exercise on very hot days and during the sunniest parts of the day, steering clear of of hot sidewalks or pavement, keeping them hydrated, and moving them to a shaded and cool area after exercising outdoors.

Tips for exercising your dog indoors

Getting your dog to exercise indoors is naturally a bit different since they won’t have much space to run. Whether you lack the space or it’s too cold outside for your normal outdoor routine, below are some tips for getting your pup to exercise indoors:

  • Dog treadmill: While it might not be the most exhilarating exercise for your dog, an indoor dog treadmill can be a good way to keep your pup healthy during the cold winter months indoors. Note that human treadmills are not safe for dogs, so it’s important to have a treadmill that’s specifically built for your four legged friend.

  • Create obstacle courses: If you have a spacious enough room, create an obstacle course for your dog out of household furniture to keep them stimulated and moving. You could also incorporate some agility work such as weaving in between objects. This can also double as a great activity if you have kids and pets.

  • Hide and seek treats: Plant treats throughout your house and send your dog on a quest to sniff them out. 

  • Monkey in the middle: If you have a partner, use this as an opportunity to play keep away with your dog’s favorite toy. Toss it back and forth to keep them engaged and interact together.  

  • Tug-o-war: This can be another fun game if you have a sturdy dog toy to play with. Alternatively, if you have two dogs, let them tug at it. Just remember that tug-o-war can lead to dogs getting overly competitive, so know when it’s time to stop and lighten the mood.

How to exercise your dog if you have a busy schedule

Most of us have busy schedules, but that doesn’t mean we should let our furry friends’ exercise and wellbeing fall by the wayside. If you’re pressed for time there are a handful of ways you can still help your dog get the exercise they need while without encroaching onto your busy schedule.

  • Combine your exercise time: You and your dog both need exercise, so why not combine both activities? Take your dog on your morning or evening run, or take them hiking with you.

  • Utilize doggy daycare: Perhaps one of the most efficient ways to make sure your dog gets enough exercise during the work week is to drop them off at doggy daycare. There they’ll have plenty of supervised play time with other dogs. 

  • Find a playmate for your dog: This doesn’t mean going out and getting a second dog, but it’s often worth making friends with other dog owners and seeing if your dogs hit it off together. Even a short play session with another dog can help them burn off their excess energy.

  • Hire a dog walker: If you’ve got a long work day, trusted pet sitters or dog walkers can be a lifesaver, making sure your pup gets their exercise without having to worry about rushing home and taking them out.

  • Take your dog to work: If you’re fortunate enough to have a pet-friendly work environment, take your dog to work so they can interact with others and explore a new environment. 

  • Hide and seek games: Plan out games around your home that require your dog to sniff out and find treats and fun toys they enjoy. This can be a good opportunity to utilize stairs – encourage your dog to run up and down to find treats, and use up plenty of energy in the process.

Exercising your dog safely

No matter how old your dog, it’s important to mention that you shouldn’t let them off the leash in an unfenced area until they’ve mastered recall in areas of high-distraction.

Dog parks and dog runs can also be an incredible tool for pet owners, allowing your pup to play with others and run around in safety. However, it’s crucial that again, you don’t take your dog to a dog park until you know they will always come back to you when called – just in case.

You should also ensure your dog is always within sight when you’re at the dog park. Even if your little one loves playing with other pups, others may not be so friendly. Watch out for signs of distress or aggression from your dog and others around them, so you can call your dog back to you straight away before things escalate.

Speak to your vet for more advice about how much exercise your dog needs

Your vet can also help advise on the precise amount of exercise your dog needs, given their breed, size, weight, and any health issues they might be facing. Also bear in mind that some days your dog may have more energy and need more exercise and stimulation than others, depending on their recent activities and sometimes the weather. With a little trial and error, you’ll soon find a balance that works well for your dog, keeping them happy and healthy no matter how old they are.

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