What the best exercise for a dog is will depend on several factors. When finding the perfect exercise for you and your particular dog certain things need to be taken into consideration.
Breed – what may be a great exercise for one breed may not be suitable or even harmful to a different breed. For example, stair exercise is one of the best types of exercise you can give a dog, yet it is not recommended for breeds with a long back.
Age – exercise for an adult dog is different from the exercise you would do with a puppy. For a guide to how to exercise a puppy see here. Likewise, exercise for an older senior dog would differ from a healthy adult dog. For a guide to exercise for a senior dog see here.
Location – where you are doing the exercise will influence what type of exercise you can do. Exercising a dog inside will have limitations compared to the park.
You – how much effort you want to put in. Running with your dog will take more effort from you than using a flirt pole.
Objective – what you wish to achieve from the activity. Are you wanting to tire your dog out in a short time? Or are you more focused on muscle conditioning and strength?
The Daily Walk
Taking your dog for a walk should be the basis for your dog’s exercise routine. This can be just once a day, or two walks a day would be better if your schedule allows. 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.
The daily walk is essential for all dogs 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. A dog can not spend their entire life without living their own property. This can be psychologically stressful for a dog.
If your dog 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.
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.
Top 5 Best Exercise Methods for Dogs
Swimming exercise for dogs
Many dogs don’t like water. However, if your dog is a keen swimmer this can be one of the best all-round exercises for a dog.
There are numerous benefits to swimming exercise for dogs. It is a low-impact activity so there is no hash impact or jarring on their bodies and joints. Swimming is a high-intensity workout tiring a dog quickly. Five to ten minutes of continuous swimming is equivalent to a 30 to 45-minute run.
Swimming gives your dog an entire body workout as they are using their muscles to push their limbs through the water. All of their muscle groups are used to swim.
Swimming is the ideal solution for exercising an overweight dog. With the water supporting their weight they are able to burn calories and improve their metabolic rate without the risk of injury. It is also an excellent exercise for dogs that are recovering from injury or surgery, or suffer from arthritis or hip and elbow dysplasia. This is known as canine hydrotherapy. To learn more about hydrotherapy for dogs see here.
For a detailed look at swimming exercise for dogs see here.
Stair exercise for dogs
Stair exercise for dogs is a great exercise for dogs. Alternatively, using a hill has the same benefits. Studies show that along with swimming, stair climbing is one of the most effective and quickest ways for dogs to lose weight and get a good overall workout.
One of the main advantages of stair exercise is that it is a good strengthening exercise and uses muscles your dog would not normally target going for walks. It works a dog’s legs, shoulders, hips, and lower back muscles, and also their core. As your dog walks up the stairs they have to lift his entire body weight from one step to the next. When they go back down the stairs, they have to control the descent which involves negative contraction on the muscles.
This video gives a good insight into this.
Stair exercise may not be suitable for all dogs particularly breeds with long backs and short legs or dogs with limited mobility. It is also not recommended for young puppies.
For a more detailed look at stair exercise for dogs see here.
Running exercise for dogs
Running or jogging with your dog is a great exercise to build endurance and give them good aerobic exercise. It also benefits their heart, lungs, and digestive system and burns pent-up energy.
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. 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.
Flirt pole exercise for dogs
A 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 a high-energy dog as it works the whole body and strengthens their muscles. 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.
Be sure to warm your dog up to avoid injury and keep the session short. Five to ten minutes of flirt pole exercise is more than sufficient to burn energy and give them a good workout. For a full guide to flirt pole exercise for dogs see here.
A Flirt pole is also a good training tool and helps to teach impulse control. Watch the video to learn more about training with a Flirt pole.
View Flirt Poles on Amazon
Mental exercise for dogs
Mental stimulation and enrichment is often an overlooked part of a dog’s exercise routine. Mental exercise can tire a dog out just as much as physical activity.
All dogs need an outlet for their minds. 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. Read “Mental stimulation and mind enrichment for dogs” to learn about the 6 types or categories of mind stimulation a mental enrichment and some great ideas to provide this.
Some suggested ways to provide mental exercise for your dog include –
Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills. Try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as many dogs tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out “Top puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.
Scenting and nose games
Dogs have a keen nose. Playing scenting and nose games helps to provide mental stimulation. Read “12 Scenting and nose games for dogs” for some ideas.
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 more on the benefits of chewing and the best chew toys click here.
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.
Turn mealtimes into an opportunity for your 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.
More ways to exercise a dog
Playing Fetch with your dog is another fantastic way to burn pent-up energy. Most dogs love a good game of fetch and can play this for hundreds of throws. A great alternative is to use an Automatic Ball Launcher so your dog can play Fetch by themselves. For more information check out “Automatic Ball Launchers for Dogs”
Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Many dogs look spectacular playing this due to their agility. 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.
A Jolly Ball is a nearly indestructible ball for dogs that they push and chase around. They come in a variety of sizes, styles and are also available with a handle or rope attached for tug of war. This is particularly suited to herding dogs as this is a great activity that caters to their natural herding instincts. Also a very popular game for breeds such as Pitbulls and Staffies. Check out the video to see what great exercise and fun they are for dogs.
Weight pulling is an actual dog sport but you can incorporate this type of exercise into your dog’s muscle building and strength program. The most important thing is that you use a proper weight pulling harness. These are designed to distribute the weight evenly over your dog’s body.
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.
A smart play bone for dogs is an interactive that moves around in random directions while your dog gives chase. There are a number of different types of play bones available. The top of the range is the Varram Pet exercise robot.
The Varram Pet Robot has a few more functions than the other smart chase toys shown below, and as a result, is a little more expensive. It has a built-in treat dispenser to reward your dog for playing. It also provides all the stats and reports on the smartphone app such as monitoring your dog’s activity and how many treats were dispensed.
View the Varram Pet Fitness Robot on Amazon.
In addition to the Varram, other options include the GoBone and the Wicked bone. If you are wanting a simpler play bone there is the Petgeek play bone. This play bone doesn’t have the functions such as a phone app like the others. However, it is less expensive. You simply pat the bone and it bursts into action.
To learn more about smart play bones for dogs see here.
Tug of War
A firm favorite of all strong 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. Also, a great way to build muscle and strength.
A 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.
There are many dog sports that your dog 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.
Provide a digging area or pit
Many dogs love to dig. If you have problems with your dog digging where they shouldn’t, giving them activities that cater to their natural digging instinct will help to eliminate the problem behavior. Provide an area or digging box for them so they can dig to their heart’s content. Just be aware that if the weather is warm and you use sand, it may get hot. You can wet it down with the hose if it is. See “Dog Toys for Diggers” for more ideas on catering to a dog’s natural digging instinct.
Play with other dogs
Provide the opportunity for your dog to play with other dogs. This is not only great to burn energy and stimulate their mind, but teaches them important social skills. If your dog is not friendly with an unknown dog make sure this is a supervised activity to prevent fighting.
Let us know in the comments any other exercise ideas for dogs you use.