How much exercise does a German Shepherd need
The most common of the shepherd breeds is the German Shepherd. There are many other dogs that fall into this category including the Belgian Shepherd, Australian Shepherd, Dutch, and Belgian Tervuren Shepherd. They are all similar in that they are a working breed and as a result are very high energy.
They thrive on activity so a gentle walk around the block on a leash just will not cut it. Shepherds are at their best when they receive an energetic workout every day for at least an hour. They are also very intelligent and have a sharp mind. They are as intelligent as they are athletic. This means that they also need a lot of mental stimulation and challenge.
It is important to understand that even if they have a fenced backyard to run around they are not really getting real exercise to meet their needs. Many dogs will not play by themselves. They still need to get out to run, play, chase and fetch.
How much exercise does a Shepherd need?
Once they are a fully grown adult they will need a least half an hour to an hour of active strenuous exercise. For puppies, it is important to not exercise them too hard as their bones, joints, and tendons are still growing. For more on this read “How to exercise a puppy”.
Signs that your Shepherd is not getting sufficient exercise are hyperactivity, excessive chewing, digging, barking or escaping. They may also start to put on weight. Older Shepherds are prone to weight issues.
On the other hand, signs they are being over-exercised are they lag behind or stop and lie down during a workout, shortness of breath and excessive panting, visible signs of distress or agitation and signs of lameness in their legs and joints.
They will also require as much mental enrichment and mind stimulation as physical exercise. This can include things like social contact and play with other dogs, chew and puzzle toys or nose games. For more on this read “Mental enrichment and Mind stimulation for dogs” and “12 scenting and tracking nose dogs for dogs“.
Common health issues with Shepherds
The shepherd breeds can be prone to health issues, many of which are genetic, that you should be aware of. These include;
Hip Dysplasia – This is the result of the malformation of the hip joint. Overfeeding, over exercise and injury while young may contribute to making this issue worst leading to degeneration.
Inter-Vertebral Disc Disease – this is a degenerative disc disease and can make some Shepherds prone to back problems
Elbow Dysplasia – this is a developmental disorder of the bones associated with the elbow joint. It is generally accepted as genetic in nature.
Skin Problems – many Shepherds are prone to react to allergens and this causes many to have sensitive skin issues. This can range from poor coat texture, itching and chewing, hot spots and even self-mutilation. They can often also lead to ear infections as the inside of the ear is obviously skin.
Epilepsy – this is a hereditary seizure disorder that can not be cured, only managed. It can often show itself later in life. I had a German Shepherd who was eight years old before he developed epilepsy.
Bloat – this is actually quite common in many deep-chested breeds. There are two types of bloat. Firstly, gastric dilation, which is when the stomach fills and distends with gas and fluid. the second is volvulus which is when the distended stomach rotates around itself.
Symptoms of bloat are a bloated appearance and enlarged abdomen, and in addition, anxiety, pacing, profuse salivation, and unproductive attempt to vomit. It is also very painful and your dog. If for any reason you suspect bloat, see veterinary help immediately.
Ways to minimize the risk of bloat in a Shepherd breed are
Dog breaking meals down into 2-3 portions a day
Feeding from a raised bowl
Restrict access to water for one hour before and after meals
No exercise for one hour before and after meals
Not allowing your dog to eat too fast
Having water available to keep them hydrated so they don’t need to drink too much at one time.
Types of exercise for Shepherds.
As a high energy and intelligent breed, you will need to provide adequate physical and mental exercise to prevent boredom and the resulting behavior issues, manage weight and keep them happy and balanced. Check here for more exercise ideas for Shepherds
The daily walk.
Providing a walk every day is crucial for any hyper high energy dog. This not only gives them some physical exercise, but the opportunity to leave the property is essential for mental enrichment also. Whenever possible allow them the chance to run off leash as long as they have good recall. Add extra resistance to your walks by using a backpack or weighted vest (with no more than 10% of their body weight added), going uphill or stairs or walking on sand or in shallow water. You can even get a resistance parachute that attaches to a weight vest for an even better workout.
Provide the right type of toys.
Dog toys are a great way to provide additional exercise and mental stimulation for your Shepherd. For recommended dog toys for German Shepherds see here.
Running, biking or skating with your dog
This 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.
If your dog loves water swimming is a strenuous activity and an excellent way to tire a dog. Ten minutes of swimming is equivalent to an hour-long walk. If they are not a confident swimmer ensure you put a lifejacket on them and supervise them while in the water. If you don’t access to a pool, river or the sea there are many canine hydrotherapy centers around that can provide swimming facilities for your dog.
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 a hill or stairs
Frisbee – throwing a frisbee will really get your dog moving
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 it 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 it. They will play tug of war by themselves.
Automatic ball launcher – an automatic ball launcher will throw the ball for your dog. If you have a dog that loves chasing balls one of these is an absolute must. Once they know how to drop the ball into the launcher they can quite happily ball fetch by themselves.
With a little imagination, there are countless quick easy games like these that will go a long way to releasing that pent-up energy.
Use a dog activity monitor
A dog activity monitor allows you to measure how much exercise, activity and rest your dog is getting. It is much simpler to manage and increase if required your dog’s exercise if you know how much they are getting. For more on this read “9 Reasons to use a dog activity monitor”
Set up an agility or obstacle circuit in your backyard
You can set up obstacles such as tunnels and jumps and when you have a spare five to ten minutes run them through the course a few times. See agility equipment on Amazon.
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 safety.
Play with other dogs
Provide the opportunity to socialize and play with other dogs whenever possible. This not only helps to release physical energy, but it also provides socialization and a mental release for your dog.
Consider involving your Shepherd in one of the many dog sports available such as agility, lure coursing, dock diving and many more. It is not necessary to compete as a serious competitor to reap the benefits for your dog.
Mental Exercise for German Shepherd
Providing for your dog’s physical health through exercise is good and very necessary, but channeling your dog’s mind is equally as important.
Read “Mental enrichment and Mind stimulation” for more on this and to learn about the six types of mental enrichment and mind stimulation.
Two of the best ways to provide mental enrichment is through toys including puzzle and interactive toys and thorough scenting and nose games. Check out “Top 7 Puzzle Toys for Dogs”
Using dog toys to mentally challenge your dog.
There are three main categories of dog toy: Chew toys, interactive and puzzle toys and plush toys. If you understand the three main categories of dog toy you can develop a strategy to use the various toys to develop your relationship, teach important skills and behaviors and help to make your dog calm, balanced and happy.
For more on the three types of dog toy read “Secrets to maximize the benefit of your dog’s toys”
See the selection of dog toys on Amazon
Chewing is a natural instinct for dogs and has many benefits including keeping them busy and occupying and stimulating their minds. To learn more about the benefits of and the best chew toys see here.
Why play scenting and tracking nose games?
Scenting and tracking nose games are an excellent way to provide that very important mental enrichment and mind stimulation that dogs truly need to be calm, well behaved and happy. When a puppy is born they are blind and deaf but their sense of smell is fully intact. The newborn puppy relies on this sense to decipher the world they have entered and it will continue to do so for their entire lives. The nose rules the brain and the portion of the dog’s brain that is dedicated to examining scents is 40 times larger than that of humans. Scientists estimate that the dog’s brain can identify smells 1000 to 10,000 times better than humans. You can combine this extremely powerful sense of smell and a dog’s natural desire to hunt with their love of toys, food, and exercise to play many games. You can have fun together, exercise your dog’s brain, and expend some of that pent-up energy all at the same time. Being a social animal, playing is very important in developing relationships and bonding.
For 12 scenting and tracking nose games you can use with your hyper high energy dog click here.
Your Shepherd breed dog is an extremely active, athletic and intelligent dog that will require a good amount of both physical and mental exercise daily. Don’t over-exercise a puppy as their bones, joints, and tendons are still growing and any injury when young may lead to health problems later in life. Also, be aware of the health issues that Shepherd breeds can be prone to such as joint issues and bloat.
Recommended for Shepherds