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Exercise - for a healthy, happy dog

All animals need exercise to be happy and healthy. Exercise improves general fitness levels and helps to prevent obesity. If your dog isn't able to work off his energy by exercising outside, he may do inside! Taking regular exercise together will alleviate boredom and also strengthen the bond between you.

Your questions answered

How much exercise does my dog need?

The amount of exercise required to satisfy your dog will depend on your dog's age, breed and health. A puppy needs less exercise than an adult dog and too much exercise in a young puppy may damage the developing joints. Some breeds need more exercise than others, spaniels, for example, have very high energy levels and can become difficult to manage in the house if they cannot burn off some energy. Toy breeds, bred for companionship, often have much lower energy levels.

Generally, if your dog has very high energy levels, it may need up to 30-60 minutes of exercise 2-4 times a day whereas dogs with low energy levels may be satisfied with only 10-20 minutes 1-2 times daily. Most dogs fall somewhere in between these.

Although regular exercise will help to keep your pet active for longer, inevitably as dogs get older their ability to exercise will decline. Take note if your dog seems unable to complete their usual exercise regime, if they are lagging behind on walks, or seem more out breath than normal. These can be signs of other problems rather than just old age so always visit your vet if you are concerned - there may well be a simple solution to resolve the problems and allow your pet to fully enjoy their walks again.

How should I exercise my dog?

Exercise should be varied - your dog will enjoy a walk more if the route is varied and if you add some games and challenges. A ball or Frisbee will provide a fun and challenging activity for your dog but avoid throwing sticks as the wood can splinter and sharp pieces of wood can damage the throat or stomach.

Some dogs prefer sharp bursts of exercise, eg terriers, and others, eg pastoral breeds enjoy canine sports. Some breeds of dogs such as pointers need wide open spaces where they can roam in order to burn off energy; others such as retrievers often like to stay closer to their owners but may like to romp and play with other dogs. Contact the Kennel Club to find out about your dog's instinctive exercise preferences.

Dogs should be allowed off leash only in safe areas where regulations permit but make sure that your dog is well-trained and you can be sure it will come back when called.

When shouldn't I exercise my dog?

Young puppies only need small amount of exercise (a few minutes at a time to start with). Exercise can be built up to adult levels as the puppy matures (and this will vary from breed to breed).

Dogs need regular exercise whatever the weather conditions and, although some dogs may show reluctance to go out if it is cold or raining, once out they will usually enjoy the walk. Some breeds of dog have unsuitable coats for certain weather conditions. Breeds such as whippets and greyhounds do not have particularly warm or weather proof coats and these breeds definitely appreciate being able to wear a waterproof coat in winter. Dogs designed to live in cold climates such as malamutes can find hot weather quite distressing. If the weather is very hot do not exercise your dog during the middle of the day - try to take them out in the cooler parts of the day and stay in the shade where possible.

Avoid giving your dog vigorous exercise (such as running or chasing after a ball) dogs immediately after mealtimes.

Never force your dog to take exercise that leaves it exhausted, struggling to breathe or stiff. If your dog is not fit you should start with a gentle exercise regime and gradually build up the time and speed of the exercise at a rate that your dog can tolerate. Some breeds of dog (particularly those with short faces such as pugs and Pekingese, boxers and bulldogs etc) may find it difficult to breathe at rest let alone when they are asked to exercise. If your dog has particular medical or physical problems, ask your vet for advice on an appropriate exercise programme.

Benefits of regular exercise

The benefits of exercise to dogs are similar to those in people. In addition to helping to keep your dog fit and healthy, regular exercise is fun and stimulating for your pet. Exercise can reduce the risk of undesirable behaviours associated with boredom such as digging, excessive barking, chewing and hyperactivity. The shared experience of walking and playing with your dog will help to build confidence and trust between you. After exercise your dog will feel more relaxed and sleepy when at home. Walking with your dog will also make you fitter and gives you a chance to unwind.

What other ways are there to exercise your dog?

Exercising your dog does not have to be all about walking. Some people like to take their dogs with them when they are jogging, roller-skating or cycling. If you jog with your dog on a leash, be careful not to overestimate his abilities and go too far. If your dog is stiff, sore or exhausted for hours after exercise, scale back next time. If your dog forges ahead, pulls to the side or lags behind, this can result in you constantly pulling on the leash which can damage your dog's throat so you will need to teach your dog not to pull on the leash.

Some breeds of dog are natural swimmers but it is best not to allow your dog to swim in rivers with strong currents, deep water or areas where it may not be easy for them to climb out. Dogs can be fitted with a canine life vest or you can use a long nylon lead to prevent your dog swimming too far out.

Canine sports, eg agility, flyball etc can bring a whole new world of fun exercise and competition for you and your dog. To find out more about various activities that you and your dog can take part in, visit http://www.thekennelclub.org.uk/activities/.

Conclusion

Owning a dog is a big commitment in so many ways, but with the huge variety of dog types to choose from there is no excuse for not finding a pet that suits your lifestyle. Before getting a puppy consider what its exercise needs will be and whether you are able to fulfil these for a lifetime. The Kennel club and dog breeders are ideally placed to advise you on the exercise requirements of your chosen breed.

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