How to exercise a Labrador or Retriever

 Why do you need to exercise a Labrador or Retriever?

There are six different breeds of retriever –
1) Golden Retriever.
2) Labrador Retriever.
3) Chesapeake Bay Retriever.
4) Curly Coated Retriever.
5) Flat-Coated Retriever.
6) Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever.

The best known of the retriever are the Labrador Retriever and the Golden Retriever. These are very popular family pets because of their gentle and fun nature.

However, the Retrievers were bred to be working dogs and to retrieve birds or other prey and return them to the hunter without damage. This involved hiking long distance, running and swimming. Even though they are commonly pets these days they still have the genetic makeup of a working dog and were bred to be high energy and very active.

What happens if your Labrador or Retriever don’t get sufficient exercise and activity?

Failure to provide sufficient exercise, both physical and mental stimulation, will result in a dog that is bored and frustrated with a massive amount of pent-up energy. In that situation, they will often resort to behaviors to try and meet their psychological needs by resorting to destructive behavior like digging, chewing, excessive barking and attempting to escape to go on adventures.

In addition, Labradors and Retrievers are very food driven breeds and not having the opportunity to burn off the calories they consume often lets to being overweight or even obese. This becomes a problem as it can lead to strain on the joints, damage to the internal organs such as the heart and even lead to diabetes.

This is why it is critical to ensure that your Labrador or Retriever receives the exercise and activity that they as a working breed need.

How to tell if labrador or retriever is overweight.

It is hard to say what the ideal weight for a labrador or retriever is as this can vary depending on gender, breed or whether they are small or large boned. Also, muscle weighs more than fat so a well muscled in shape dog may weight the same or more than an overweight dog.

On average an adult dog weights between 27 to 30kg (60 – 85 lbs) but your dog may weight less if they are a smaller example of the breed.
The first way to determine if your labrador or retriever is overweight is to keep a record of their weight and notice if it changes. This will give you early warning if they start to gain weight.

Secondly, you should not be able to see the ribs, but if you give them a light touch there should be a light layer of fat but you should still be able to feel rip. If the rips are visible your dog may be too skinny.

Thirdly, is visual. Take a look at your dog to see if the belly slopes upwards towards the groin, or is it a straight line or is it hanging between their legs? A Labrador or Retriever should have an upward sloping line from the base of the rib cage to the front of the hind legs. Looking from above you should be able to see their waist just in front of their hips. They should not be the same width the whole length of the body.

How much exercise do Labradors and Retrievers need?

The amount of exercise your Labrador or Retriever requires on a daily basis can vary depending on the individual dog and other factors such as age and lifestyle. On average a rule of thumb is around one hour daily. This relates to an adult dog and exercising a puppy is very different due to the fact that they are growing and the joints, muscles and bone density are not fully developed. Refer to “How to exercise your puppy” for more information on this.

The key to keeping your Labrador or Retriever fit and healthy is regular exercise which means daily. Going for a big long walk on the weekend and doing nothing in between is not as effective as a shorter session on a regular basis. Being sedentary all week and then going hard in one session may cause soreness in the muscles and make your dog more prone to injury.

Is going for a walk sufficient exercise for a Labrador or Retriever?

Daily walks are a good basis for meeting your dog’s requirement, but it has its limitations. Labradors and Retriever are strong active dogs so if you have to walk your dog on a leash they aren’t getting much of a workout. It will get their heart and lungs working moderately and doesn’t put much strain on the joints. They will happily walk for an hour without much effort.

In addition, going for walks will provide some mental stimulation as well from the sights, sounds and ultimately smells they come across. If they are able to walk off leash at their own pace they will get more of a workout but ultimately you need to include activities and games that get their heart pounding.

Different ways to exercise a Labrador or Retriever.

The best way to exercise a Labrador or Retriever is by working with their natural traits. They are retrievers so lots of retrieval work is perfect. They are also excellent water dogs and in general, love to swim. Swimming is a good exercise in that it doesn’t put a strain on their joints and burns energy fast. Ten minutes of swimming is equivalent to an hour of walking. Or better still combine the two activities with water retrieval exercises.

Find activities that burn energy fast in a short time period.

There are many games you can play with your dog that use energy including

Fetch – throw a ball or toy a dozen or so times when you have a spare minute. To increase the intensity throw down hill or stairs

Frisbee – throwing a frisbee will really get your dog moving and will incorporate jumping to strengthen their back legs and burn energy.

Flirt Pole – a flirt pole is like a big cat tickler with a stick, rope and a lure or toy attached to the end. Move the lure around in circles or in all directions along the ground and your dog will chase it. Works with the dog’s natural prey instinct so will provide plenty of mental stimulation too.

Tug of War – play a game of Tug of War with your dog. Make them crouch and pull back using extra energy.

Spring Pole – a spring pole is a rope with a spring with a toy or lure on the end that is attached to a tree or beam. Encourage your dog to grab the toy and pull. They will play tug of war by themselves.

Add resistance to walks – Walking on sand or in shallow water will use just a little more energy than walking on firm ground, or walk uphill as much as possible. This is also great for strengthing there often weaker hind legs that can lead to a lot of back related problems. Alternatively, put a backpack or weighted vest on your dog with some added weight. No more than 10% of their body weight is recommended.

Make use of a treadmill – Walking on a treadmill is not going to be a substitute for going for a walk, but a least it will provide some release of physical energy. Once your dog is trained to walk on the treadmill you can fit in any other small tasks you have to do while they walk. Obviously, you will need to stay nearby and supervise for the safety

Running or Cycling with your dog – Your dog will be able to burn more energy in a shorter amount of time if they are moving faster.

Agility or obstacles – You don’t have to compete seriously in agility but you can join a club or set up your own agility or obstacle course at home.

See dog agility equipment on Amazon

With a little imagination, there are countless quick easy games like these that will go a long way to releasing that pent-up energy.

Include mental stimulation as well as physical exercise.

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise and can use just as much energy. This can include using toys such as a puzzle or interactive toy, playing hide and seek or scenting games like hiding treats and having them find them.

For more on how toys can play an important role in stimulating and teaching your dog, refer to the article “Not all dog toys are created equal
Providing chew toys and bones also burns energy and helps to release stress in your dog. Many dogs carry stress in their jaw and chewing has a calming effect.

Check out the great range of dog toys on Amazon

In summary.

Your Labrador or Retriever is a working breed and as such is high energy and very active. Not providing sufficient exercise, both physical and mental, can lead to behavior problems, affect their overall health and lead to them being overweight or even obese. A general rule of thumb for an adult Labrador or Retriever is to give around an hour of exercise and activity every day. By meeting their physical and psychological needs you will have a healthy, happy and well-behaved dog.

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