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Exercising your dog: how much is enough vs. how much is TOO much?

The age-old question of “how much exercise does my dog need” is sadly often irrespective of the dog’s abilities, needs and emotional capability. You would think that young, growing puppies need a lot of exercise but that does not include lots of running, twisting, fetching etc. as all these movements are rather detrimental to the developing musculoskeletal system of a youngster. We need to offer age-appropriate physical activities and it may be much more beneficial to have the pup follow us in our everyday doings around the house and still get enough “exercise” because they can cope with this physically and emotionally. As they are growing up you can include walks, training and other forms of gentle exercise but be aware that bones, ligaments, cartilage and tendons have not finished forming until about 18-24 months of age. There is no place for “over-exercising” or “tiring the dog out” as this can lead to early hip or elbow dysplasia, arthritis or an injury as a result of repeat strain injuries that were caused because the body couldn’t fulfil the movements properly and joints were “strained” ongoing. Sadly, nowadays we see the onset of these diseases in dogs as young as 12 months.

The same goes for older dogs or those who have a chronic or acute injury, an impairment, less than ideal conformation or are breed-specifically not an active dog. How much exercise do they need? We want to get it right and know that fitness is important.

But here is a thought: let’s make sure that these dogs don’t get exercised while in pain or the exercise may add more strain and injury to an already compromised system. We do need to “move” them to keep the muscles strong, metabolism going, lymphatic flow switched on and to add to their enrichment but how about HEALING first before we think about fitness. There are so many ways you can exercise in a gentle way, with the dog’s ability in mind, using “exercise” as a way of healing (e.g. physio and bodywork) rather than just ticking off the km’s. A walk that is only five minutes on the flat ground can be much more beneficial to the dog that’s recovering from an injury because it is just enough to not damage any soft tissue and keep the musculoskeletal system happy. Do this 3-4 times a day and soon you’ll be able to add a few more minutes to the walk. That way cells can re-grow that contribute to healing rather than having to always just fix what has been broken again and again.

Swimming, slow walking and sniffing, wading in water, walking up gentle slopes are all much safer options and more fun for the dog emotionally as running and fetching. This way the dog can enjoy their outing rather than becoming stressed about the walk/ pain/ over-exercising.

So, how do you know how much is exactly right? Observe your dog… do they fall behind you on walks? Do they stop or even sit down? Do they turn around or go back to the car? Then, that is a clear indication that you have overdone it. Next time cut your walk short. Or have a break, sit on a bench for a few minutes before going on. Find other things to do, different terrain if your dog is no longer enthusiastic when the leash comes out. Some dogs are better off having a couple of short walks a day rather than a long walk.

Generally, most dogs who can walk without compensational issues are happy with a walk that is 25-30 minutes long with lots of stopping for sniffing. You may only get as far as a few hundred metres. If you find that does not tire your dog out, you may have to think exactly the opposite is true. Dogs that “need” more exercise often suffer from high adrenalin on a permanent level. More exercising will only add to this problem so again, less is more.

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