Complete In-depth Guide to Labrador Retriever Exercise

Why do you need to exercise a Labrador?

Photo of a Labrador retriever

Labrador 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 Retriever doesn’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 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 Retriever receives the exercise and activity that they as a working breed need.

How to tell if Labrador is overweight.

overweight dog

It is hard to say what the ideal weight for a Labrador 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 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 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.

For more on calculating if your dog is overweight see here.

How much exercise does a Labrador need?

The amount of exercise your Labrador 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 or more of energy-burning exercise and activity. daily. Labradors from working bloodlines as opposed to show or pet bloodlines will require more activity.

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 the bottom of this article for more on exercising a Labrador puppy.

For an older Labrador, exercise is still crucial to maintain good health and keep muscles and joints functioning well. However, the volume of exercise becomes a balancing act between enough to keep their joints mobile and manage weight, but too much can make them sore. See the bottom of the article for more on exercising a senior Labrador Retriever.

The key to keeping your Labrador 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.

There are three main types of exercise and activity you must provide your Labrador Retriever every day.

  • 1. Daily walk
  • 2. Purposeful Activity and Play (see Labrador exercise ideas below)
  • 3. Mental stimulation (see Mental enrichment for Labradors below)

Is going for a walk sufficient exercise for a Labrador?

Daily walks are a good basis for meeting your dog’s requirement, but it has its limitations. Labradors 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.

The Daily Walk

The daily walk is essential for a Labrador not only to release some pent-up energy. The walk allows your Labrador 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 Labrador can go all day long. After all, they were bred to hike long distances over uneven terrain with a hunter. For this reason, Labrador Retrievers make an excellent hiking companion.

Ideally, the minimum should be 45 to 60 minutes daily but more would be better. 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.

If your Labrador has good recall and comes on command, walks at the park, or out on trails off the leash are ideal. Alternatively, you can use a retractable leash or long lead to allow them more freedom while maintaining control. In general, Labradors are obedient and usually have good recall if trained.

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.

Labrador exercise ideas

The best way to exercise a Labrador 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.

Here are some recommended exercise ideas for your Labrador.

Swimming

Labrador swimming in a pool

Labradors were bred to swim. Swimming is also one of the best exercises for any dog. The benefits of swimming for your Labrador include

  • a strenuous activity that burns energy fast.
  • helps strengthen and tone muscles from the resistance provided by the water.
  • is a low impact activity that doesn’t put a strain on joints and tendons.
  • is an ideal therapy for a dog recovering from injury or surgery – see what is Canine Hydrotherapy to learn more.
  • Labradors love to swim and will want to do it

If you don’t have access to a pool, river, lake or the ocean for your Labrador to use most cities have canine hydrotherapy centers especially for dogs to swim.

You can also add other activities to your Labradors swimming session to make it more fun and provide a fuller workout. This can include activities such as retrieving toys, flirt pole (see below for what a flirt pole is) and using a Jolly ball (see below for what a Jolly ball is). For more on swimming exercise for dogs see here.

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. It works directly with their natural prey instinct. Be sure they have a good “leave it” command and don’t allow them to destroy the toy. This game is excellent for burning up that pent-up energy in a short amount of time.

Also, a great toy to use in the water to encourage your dog to chase the lure as you move it around.

View Flirt Poles on Amazon

Jolly Ball

Jolly Ball is a nearly indestructible ball for dogs that they push and chase around. As the ball is too big for them to pick up in their mouths, so they must push it with their nose or paws.

Jolly Balls come in a variety of sizes, styles and are also available with a handle or rope attached for tug of war.  With these types of Jolly balls, they are able to use their mouths. For additional resistance and strength building, you can fill the Jolly ball with water to add weight.

Also a great toy for adding variety to swimming as it will float and your dog will chase and push it through the water.

View Jolly Balls on Amazon

Fetch

Playing Fetch with your dog is another fantastic way to burn pent-up energy. Obviously, retrieving games like this are exactly what Retrievers were bred to do.

Labradors 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

Frisbee Toss

Most dogs can chase and catch a ball. But a Frisbee requires a little bit more skill, coordination, and timing. Labradors 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.

Dog toys that move

There is a wide selection of dog toys that shake, rattle, roll and make sounds. Similar toys move around on their own. These type of toys are highly stimulating to dogs as there is more interaction than passive dog toys.

For more information on dog toys that move on their own see here.

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

dog running on a leash with his owner

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 Labradors have good levels of stamina and can go for long distances, they can make 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 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.

Play with other dogs

Provide the opportunity for your Labrador to play with other dogs. This is not only great to burn energy and stimulate their mind, but teaches them important social skills.

Labradors love the company of people and other dogs and in general, are very social and friendly.

Dog sports

There are many dog sports that your Labrador would enjoy including agility or fly ball. Consider enrolling your Labrador in a local club. You can enter as a serious competitor or simply for fun.

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

Mental Stimulation for Labradors

Two Labrador retrievers playing with each other

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

Some more ways to provide mental stimulation and enrichment include;

Puzzle Toys

Puzzle toys are ideal for dogs like the Labrador to challenge their minds and test their problem-solving skills. As Labradors are smarter than alot of people think, try to find puzzle toys that are a bit more challenging as they tend to work these out quite quickly. Check out “Top 7 puzzle toys for dogs” for my top picks.

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

Scenting and nose games

Labradors have a keen nose which enables them to find the prey they are retrieving.  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 Labrador 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.

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 Labrador 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.

For more activities, you can do with your Labrador, check out 50 Boredom Busters and games for dogs

Over exercising your Labrador

Providing sufficient daily exercise for your Labrador is crucial for their overall health. Overdoing it can be worse than not providing enough exercise.

Dogs often don’t know their own limits and simply don’t know when to stop. It is important for a Labrador owner to be aware of the signs and symptoms of over-exercise. This is especially important in hot weather as a dog may suffer heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.

Read “Overexercised dog symptoms”  and “Dog exercise in hot weather” to learn more.

When to limit Labrador exercise

There are times when you will need to monitor and limit the exercise volume you are giving your Labrador. This may be due to their age (puppy or senior) or for other medical or health reasons. These times include

Pregnancy: The volume of exercise your should give your Labrador if she is pregnant will depend on how far in to the pregnancy she is. The best guide is to follow her lead. She will let you know if she is not feeling up to the activity.

Exercise will help the mother dog to maintain muscle tone and mass, keep the heart and lungs functioning efficiently and helps keep the mother dog from becoming bored and frustrated. It also helps her mental health by relieving stress and keeping her calm.

For more information on exercise for a pregnant dog, see here.

After Spaying or Neutering: The volume of exercise to give a dog right after being desexed will need to be reduced while they are recovering from the surgery.

The recovery time for a dog after being desexed is dependant on whether they are a male or a female. The desexing operation for a female dog is more involved and recovery time will be longer.

It is important for both genders to limit activity such as walking, running, playing, and jumping after being desexed to avoid injury or tearing their stitches. Light exercise can actually help with the healing process.

For more information of exercise after spaying or neutering, see here.

After Illness, Injury, or Surgery: It is important to discuss any needed changes or limitations in your Labrador’s usual exercise routine with the veterinarian. Make sure any and all advice from the vet is adhered to. This will promote faster healing and prevent actually doing harm.

Lifecycle Stages: If your Labrador is a puppy (under 12 months old) or a senior dog (7 years plus), their exercise needs will be different from an adult dog. See below for more details abut exercising a Labrador puppy or senior dog.

Signs your Labrador isn’t getting enough exercise

It is often easy to tell when your Labrador has way too much pent-up energy. They will be racing around the home and not want to settle. They will often start misbehaving also.

Excessive pent up energy and boredom are a major cause of behavior issues in dogs. Indications that your Labrador needs more exercise, both physical and mental include;

  • They are developing unwanted behavior problems such as chewing and destructive behavior, excessive nuisance barking, digging or even escaping.
  • If they are not listening to commands that they have been trained to follow.
  • They are gaining weight even if they are not being fed more.
  • They seem hyper and will not settle or relax.

If your Labrador is showing any or all of these signs, try to increase their exercise volume for a few days. Obviously, don’t give them excessive exercise as this may cause an injury. You may be surprised how quickly their behavior improves.

How much exercise does a Labrador puppy need?

The exercise suggestions above relate to a healthy adult Labrador. The exercise needs of a puppy are quite different to those of an adult dog. 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 high impact on the joints should also be avoided.

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

Labrador caring for her new puppies

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 Labrador 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 to 20 minutes is enough. Monitor you Labrador 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 Labrador puppy read “How to exercise your puppy

Exercise for an older senior Labrador Retriever.

The average life expectancy for a Labrador Retriever is 10 to 12 years. However, it is not uncommon for a Labrador to live way beyond this if they are given a quality diet and receive sufficient exercise.

A Labrador is considered to be a senior dog at around 7 to 8 years old. This doesn’t mean that they will suddenly stop being active. However, As a dog gets older they become less active and have lower energy levels.

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.

Labradors are also a breed that is prone to hip and elbow dysplasia as they age. Read “Exercise for a dog with hip dysplasia” to learn more.

Summary – Labrador Exercise Needs

Your Labrador 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 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.

Let us know in the comments how much and what types of exercise your Labrador gets daily.

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