Guide to exercise for an Australian Shepherd

Australian Shepherd looking up

The Australian Shepherd often referred to as the Aussie, is an active working breed. They are intelligent and excel at obedience, dog sports and learning tricks. The Aussie Shepherd needs to be kept busy and has a strong desire to engage with you.

In short, they are very active, their minds are constantly switched on and they need human interaction. Exercise for an Australian Shepherd is not just about burning pent-up energy. It is also about providing mental enrichment and providing them with a job.

The Australian Shepherd actually comes in three sizes – the toy, mini, and standard. Whatever size of Australian Shepherd you have or are thinking of getting they all share the same qualities of being active and smart herding dogs.

How much exercise does an Australian Shepherd need

The simple answer to this question for an Australian Shepherds that are a pet and not a working dog is more than they are currently getting. They were bred to work hard and all day long.

The minimum amount of exercise an Australian Shepherd need is 1 to 2 hours daily.

The three main ways to exercise an Australian Shepherd are:

  • Daily Walk
  • Purposeful Activity (see below for Aussie Shepherd exercise ideas)
  • Mental stimulation and enrichment

We will look at each of these three categories in turn. These recommendations relate to a healthy adult dog. The exercise needs for a puppy are different due to the fact that they are still growing and developing. See the bottom of this article for details of how to exercise a puppy.

For older senior dogs from around 7 to 8 years of age on the volume of exercise needed will decrease. However, it is still crucial to provide sufficient exercise to maintain a healthy weight and to keep muscle and tendons supple and strong. See the bottom of this article for more on the exercise needs of an older Australian Shepherd.

Herding dog behavior problems

Lack of activity is the main reason why people find it difficult to handle their Australian Shepherd. Failure to provide for their physical and mental needs will make them restless and agitated which may lead to several bad behavior problems such as chewing furniture, ripping clothes, excessive barking and nipping. Also, being a herding dog if they are bored they will look for something to herd such as the other family pets or people. Read “Herding dog behavior problems” for more information.

Australian Shepherd exercise-induced collapse

Is it possible to over-exercise your Aussie Shepherd? Over-exercising any dog can have severe consequences such as muscle, tendon and joint injury, overheating and heatstroke and even collapse. It is important for a dog owner to know the signs to watch for to prevent over-exercising their dog. Read “Over exercised dog symptoms” to learn more about potential problems and solutions.

Australian Shepherd walking

The daily walk is essential for all high energy breeds like the Australian Shepherd. This is not only to release some pent-up energy. The walk allows your dog to stimulate the mind with the sights, sounds and smells they come across.

The length of the walk is only limited by your time and energy as a working dog like this can go all day long. Ideally, the minimum should be 45 to 60 minutes daily. This can be just once a day, or two walks a day would be better if your schedule allows. A gentle walk around the block simply will not be sufficient.

If your Australian Shepherd has good recall and comes on command, walks at the park off the leash are ideal. Alternatively, you can use a retractable leash to allow them more freedom while maintaining control. In general, working breeds are obedient and usually have good recall if trained.

Dogs also like routine, so try to schedule the walk for around the same time each day. Daily walks are much better than nothing all week and a big walk at the weekend.

You can add extra resistance to the walk by using a weighted vest or dog backpack. It is recommended that no more than 10% of their body weight be added. This is more than sufficient to tire them and strengthen their muscles without overworking them. Other ways of increasing the resistance on the walk are to walk on sand or include uphill sections in the walk.

australian shepherd walking on a leash

Australian Shepherd exercise ideas

The Australian Shepherd is energetic, strong and has bucket loads of stamina. Ideally, you need to find activities that can burn energy in a short period of time and use these skills. This can include high-intensity games and strength training is recommended to keep their muscles in peak condition. By keeping the muscles strong they will support the joints and tendons preventing injury.

These are some of the recommended activities and exercise ideas to play with your Australian Shepherd. These activities aren’t just about burning pent-up energy. They are also a way to provide enrichment by giving your working dog breed jobs to do.

Herding balls for dogs

Herding balls are an excellent way for herding dog breeds to burn off energy while catering to their natural herding instinct. It is like cattle or sheep herding without the cattle or sheep and is similar to the herding dog sport Treiball.

These breeds were bred to chase and control moving objects. Teaching your dog to play herding games will actually reduce their desire to herd people and other dogs as herding breeds often do.

Recommended Herding Balls

Jolly Ball

The Jolly Ball was the original herding ball for dogs and is inexpensive. It is made from hard plastic and is virtually indestructible. However, some dogs are able to scratch the surface with their teeth or claws which can leave sharp ridges on the toy. It can also be filled with water or sand to add weight to give more resistance to the workout.

View Jolly Balls on Amazon

The Jolly ball also comes in a range of sizes from 4 1/2 inches to 14 inches so you can choose the size that is best suited to your particular dog. A further option is the Jolly Soccer Ball if you want to be able to kick it yourself. This ball floats on water and will not puncture.

Red Jolly Soccer ball

Virtually Indestructible Ball

Virtually Indestructible Best Ball for Dogs

The Virtually Indestructible Ball is super tough and is slightly more expensive. It also comes in a range of sizes to suit your particular dog.

View Virtually Indestructible Balls on Amazon

Flirt Pole

Flirt pole is like a giant cat tickler for dogs. It has a long handle with a bungy type rope with a lure or toy attached to the end. You simply move the lure along the ground around in circles or in different directions as your dog chases it. This activity is ideal for an Australian Shepherd as it works the whole body and strengthens their muscles. It is also one of the fastest ways to burn energy and provide a great aerobic workout for dogs. Be sure they have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow them to destroy the toy. It is important that this be a controlled exercise. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.

View Flirt Poles on Amazon

Frisbee Toss

Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Australian Shepherds look spectacular playing this due to their agility and excel at this in competitions. Roll the Frisbee on the ground towards your dog. They will instinctually want to grab it in his mouth. Once you’ve accomplished this, try tossing it at a very low level first to your dog. If you feel like your dog is ready to go to the next level, toss the disc a little higher and further. Great energy burner and you may be amazed at your dog’s agility and acrobatic skill.

Fetch

Playing Fetch with your dog is another fantastic way to burn pent-up energy. Working dogs are generally ball or toy crazy can play this for hundreds of throws. These types of want to play fetch for far more throws than you are willing or able to do.

A great alternative is to use an Automatic Ball Launcher so your dog can play Fetch by themselves. As the Australian Shepherd is highly trainable as long as you focus their attention they learn to use this quickly. For more information check out “Automatic Ball Launchers for Dogs

Dog toys that move on their own

There are many dog toys available that shake, rattle, roll and move about on their own.   See “Dog toys that move on their own” to learn more.

The dog moving dog toy that I highly recommend for all herding dogs is the GoBone.

The GoBone is the ultimate motorized dog chase toy. Just touch the GoBone and it will keep your dog entertained for up to 8 hours. Alternatively, you can use the app to control the GoBone yourself. This makes for a fun game for both your dog and you. The  GoBone is tough and made from durable materials. However, if your dog does chew it you can get a replaceable exterior cover.

To make it even better for your dog you can place treats inside the wheels. Even more reason your dog will love one.

Backyard agility

Set up an agility or obstacle course in your backyard. You can use items you have around the home, build your own agility or you can get reasonably priced agility sets on Amazon.

You can include tasks such as the weave, hurdle jumps, tunnels or jumping through hoops or a platform to jump on and stay.

Running, biking or skating with your dog

The faster your dog is moving the more energy they will release. Try running, biking or skating with your dog to really get them moving. As the working breeds have good levels of stamina they can go for long distances making them great running partners. Just be sure to build up the distance and intensity of the activity over time to prevent causing injury to your dog. Read “Running with your dog” for more on this.

Tug of War

A firm favorite of the majority of dogs.  Make them crouch and pull back to use extra energy. Ensure that this is a controlled game and they release when you want them to.

This is a great activity to release energy while also be an excellent strength and muscle building exercise. An alternative to playing tug of war is to provide your dog with their own spring pole.

spring pole is simply a spring connected to a rope that hangs from a tree branch or beam with a lure or toy attached to the end. This allows your dog to play tug of war with him or herself even if you are not there. Popular with a lot of dogs that love a good game of tug of war.

View Spring Poles on Amazon

Dog sports

There are many dog sports that your Australian Shepherd would enjoy including agility or fly ball. Consider enrolling your dog in a local club. You can enter as a serious competitor or simply for fun. Australian Shepherd particularly excel at sports like agility and frisbee competition.

Swimming

Although Australian Shepherds are not a  water breed as such, they are often very keen swimmers.

Swimming is a great exercise for all dogs as it burns energy and uses all the muscles groups, in particular, the front legs and shoulders. It is also a low impact activity so it doesn’t put a strain on the joints and tendons. It is a good exercise for dogs recovering from injury. See “What is Canine Hydrotherapy” to learn more.

For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.

Mental stimulation and enrichment for Australian Shepherds

All dogs need an outlet for their minds. This is especially true for these highly intelligent working breeds. If they are not provided the opportunity to challenge their minds they will come up with their own ways to achieve this.

This usually manifests itself in bad behavior such as excessive barking, digging, escaping and other destructive behaviors.  To learn about the 6 types or categories of mind stimulation a mental enrichment and some great ideas to provide this see here.

Mental exercise for a dog can tire them just as much as physical activity and exercise. To try to tire an Australian Shepherd using purely physical activity is next to impossible. The more you can challenge their brains the better.

Some ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment include;

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs like the highly intelligent cattle breeds to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills. Due to their high intelligence, try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as they tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out Top Puzzle Toy for Dogs for my top picks.

In addition to puzzle toys, Kongs for dogs are another great way to get your dog to solve a problem and challenge the mind. Read “How to use a Kong for dogs“.

Scenting and nose games

A great way to challenge a dog’s mind is to stimulate their nose. Playing scenting and nose games helps to provide mental stimulation. Read “12 Scenting and nose games for dogs” for some ideas.

Chew Toys

Provide your dog with good strong chew toys. Chewing is a great way to occupy them. In addition, chewing releases endorphins and helps to relax a dog. Many dogs hold stress in the jaw.

For the best chew toys for dogs see here.

Learning

Teaching new commands and tricks is also excellent to provide mental enrichment. A popular game that involves learning is to teach them the names of their toys. Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names.

Food enrichment

Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your cattle dog to get a mental challenge and enrichment. Instead of feeding them from a bowl, give them activities that require them to work for their food. To learn more about feeding enrichment for dogs see here.

Enrich their environment

Environmental enrichment is the process of making a dog’s living space more engaging and interesting. To learn more about environmental enrichment for dogs see here.

Australian Shepherd puppy exercise

Australian shepherd puppy exercise

The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult dog. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different. With puppies, their bones, muscle, and joints are still growing and developing.

Overly strenuous walks are not necessary and in fact, could possibly cause harm. An activity that is a high impact on the joints should also be avoided.

The best exercise for a young puppy is free play with age-appropriate toys.

Socializing with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn some of that puppy energy along with teaching them the social skills they need.

As your puppy gets older you can take them for short informal walks allowing them to sniff and explore and get used to being on a leash. Puppies under three months probably haven’t had all their vaccinations so shouldn’t be walked in public. Check with your vet when it is alright to venture out to the park or street.

The general rule of thumb for walking a puppy is around 5 minutes for every month of age. So, for example for a 4-month-old puppy, a walk of 15 minutes to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor your puppy on the walk for signs such as lagging behind, lying down or panting. End the walk if they seem too tired.

Mental stimulation is important for puppies and can tire them just as much as physical activity. For more on mental stimulation for puppies see here.

For more on exercise for your puppy read “How to exercise your puppy

Exercise for an older senior Australian Shepherd

As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels. However, it is still important that they remain reasonably active to keep their joints and muscles mobile and to manage their weight. Read ” Dog exercise for a senior dog” to learn more.

Many dogs develop arthritis as they age. Exercise for them becomes a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. Read “How to exercise an arthritic dog” to learn more.

Summary – Australian Shepherd exercise requirements

Working dogs like the Australian Shepherd or other cattle herding breeds were bred to work all day long. They require far more exercise, both physical and mental, than the average dog. The minimum daily volume of exercise should be at least 1 to 2 hours.

In addition, they were bred to work for a handler and as a result, they like human company as much as possible. If your Australian Shepherd is left at home alone for long periods of time they can become bored and frustrated. This often can lead to behavior issues such as nuisance barking, destructive behavior and even escaping.

For ways of how to keep your dog entertained when home alone see here.

Let us know in the comments how much and what types of exercise your Australian Shepherd has daily.

One thought on “Guide to exercise for an Australian Shepherd

  1. What kind of exercise would you recommend for a mostly blind Aussie with horrible directional hearing? We can walk on leash or be off leash in the backyard, but she can’t fetch or anything like that, and she can’t really learn recall very effectively at all and I don’t want her to get super bored ya’ know?

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