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Getting the Lead Out: Exercising Your Dog

In This Chapter

Thousands of years ago, for better or for worse, dogs linked up with humans (see Chapter What Are Dogs and Why Do They Behave That Way? for more on this story). Overall, the marriage has been a great success for both parties. But one of the sacrifices most dogs have made is the ability to go outside and run free any time they want. Wolves often cover 100 miles a day while hunting and exploring; with most people leading very busy lives and working outside the home, dogs are lucky to do one mile on a leash every day, and most don’t even get that.
Exercise offers tremendous physical and psychological benefits for your dog — and for you, too. With all the companionship your dog provides, she deserves to get the exercise she craves. This chapter tells you how to give your dog the hard body she has always wanted — even if you work all day, are disabled, or just plain don’t have the energy.

Recognizing the Benefits of Exercise

Exercise provides immense physical and psychological benefits to dogs of all ages. Dogs who exercise regularly live longer, remain healthier, and are more active in their later years. With regular exercise, your dog will become stronger and more coordinated, and his muscles will become more powerful and ready to kick into action any time. Strong muscles stabilize the joints, slowing the progression of arthritis. Exercise strengthens the heart and the lungs as well, improving the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to tissues throughout the body. Exercise is also an excellent way to control your dog’s weight; strong muscles are larger and utilize more calories while at rest than smaller muscles do.
Runners and other fitness buffs have long recognized the psychological benefits of exercise. It causes the brain to release endorphins, biochemical messengers within the brain that induce a feeling of euphoria and overall well-being. So exercise (and the good feeling it brings) can prevent a dog from developing problems such as lick granulomas (sores caused by repeated licking or chewing at the skin), destructive behaviors (chewing the corners of your new couch or digging up your tulip bulbs), restlessness, or excessive barking.


In fact, exercise is so important to a dog’s psyche that it’s the first line of treatment for most behavioral problems. Dog behaviorists claim that lack of exercise is a significant contributing factor in over 50 percent of all behavioral problems in dogs.

Despite all the benefits of exercise, most dogs in North America do not get enough. If your dog spends so much time lounging that he’s starting to look like part of the furniture, it’s time to get him on his feet and out of the house. Do it gradually, however. Just as you wouldn’t head out the door to run a marathon without any training, you shouldn’t expect your couch potato dog to be able to exercise for hours without building up to that level.


If your dog is seriously overweight (more than 20 percent heaver than his ideal weight), get the thumbs up from your veterinarian before you start him on a serious exercise program. Your vet should give your dog a physical examination, with special emphasis on the heart, lungs, and musculoskeletal system, to be sure that he’s ready to up his activity level.

If you start your dog’s exercise program slowly, increase the amount of exercise gradually, and use common sense, your dog faces only minimal risk of injury. To be safe, overweight dogs should not do much running with quick turns or jumping until they have slimmed down.


If your dog shows signs of fatigue such as excessive panting, grimacing, or scuffing the toes, ease up or stop altogether. Dogs who have a tendency to go until they drop definitely need guidance about when to stop.


To remain fit and content, a dog should get a minimum of 15 minutes of exercise a day and should have a longer exercise period two to three times a week. Be creative with your dog’s exercise. This is a time when you and your dog can get to know each other better — make the most of it!

Try to provide a mix of both strength-training and endurance-training exercises. Like humans, dogs have a mixture of muscle fibers — some for strength and some for endurance. These fibers use energy differently and are called upon in different circumstances. Exercises such as retrieving and chasing, which involve many starts, stops, and turns, help build strength. Exercises such as trotting, in which the dog moves continuously for at least 20 minutes, build endurance. Dogs benefit most if you build both their strength and their endurance muscles.


If you are a fitness buff, be sure to not overexercise your dog. During sustained, repetitive physical activity, lactic acid builds up and breaks down muscle cells. Cells need 48 hours to repair themselves. So if you run with your dog beside you on a leash for more than 30 minutes, give your canine athlete a day off between runs to recover.

Being Creative with Your Dog’s Exercise Routine

Does the word exercise evoke images in your mind of runners with sweaty shirts, glazed eyes, and sore feet? Don’t worry, you can exercise your dog without sweating beside your panting pup over miles of hot pavement. You have at your disposal many more interesting and effective ways to give your dog the exercise she needs. With a little imagination, you can invent a variety of exercises and games that will build your dog’s strength and endurance and that you’ll both enjoy. Exercise takes a little time, but the payoff is enormous in terms of your dog’s health and vitality, her confidence and behavior, and your relationship with her. Besides, who among us can’t use a few moments of stress-free playtime during the day?


Inject a little variety into your playtimes. After all, too much of even a fun game gets boring. Play different kinds of games in different locales, at different times of the day, with different treats for rewards.

Instinctive activities

Often the activities that are the most fun for dogs (and their humans) are those that imitate the dog’s natural drives and instincts. When your dog plays fetch, she imagines herself as a mighty hunter, chasing her prey and bringing it home to the pups. For dogs with herding instincts, such as Shelties and Collies, it’s the chasing part that’s fun, not the capture. They bring the ball back so they can chase it again. A pair of dogs often exercises each other, alternating between being the chaser and the chasee. Terriers and other dogs originally bred to hunt vermin love to play games with a killing theme. Nothing feels quite as good to a Terrier as chasing a stuffed toy, capturing it, and shaking it to break its neck.


You can harness a dog’s latent herding instinct by inventing chasing games. One fun game is to have your dog sit and stay in the middle of a soccer field, place yourself approximately three-quarters of the way to the goal, release your dog, and start running. See which one of you gets to the goal first. Be sure to handicap yourself, if necessary, so your dog wins about half the time.


You also can recapitulate vermin-catching games for your Terrier. Drag a bone or a toy over the ground for 25 feet or so, and then bury it in an area of the garden that’s okay to dig in. Watch your Terrier’s face beam as you take him to the beginning of the scent trail and encourage him to “find the rat.” To a Terrier, there’s no delight quite like that of finding the prey and digging it out.


Many people derive great pleasure from a daily walk with the dog. For some, this means an early morning amble through the neighborhood, with the dew on the grass and the birds chattering in the trees. For others, it’s a chance to put on the headphones, crank up the music, and forget the day’s stresses. Most dogs enjoy walks because of their natural curiosity about the environment. They love to be surrounded by new sights and smells. You may find it kind of frustrating, however, to stop at each vertical object along the way so your dog can exchange pee-mail with the other dogs in the neighborhood.


Always carry a plastic bag and pick up after your dog (and remind your dog walker or pet sitter to do so, too). Just slip your hand in the bag, grab the dog poop, and then turn the bag inside out over your hand and tie it in a knot. Find a trash can to deposit your package in, or throw it out when you get home. Your neighbors will appreciate your thoughtfulness and you will feel good knowing that you’re doing your part to keep the neighborhood dog friendly. In many locales, this is not just a good idea — it’s the law.


Try a waist leash, a belt to which you can attach your dog’s leash. Walking or running with your dog when your hands are free to swing at your sides is much easier than having to hang on to a leash the whole way.

Jogging and running

Jogging or running is probably the best way to ensure that both you and your dog are getting enough exercise. Most runners are consistent — they go on their daily runs regardless of weather or schedule. This consistency is best for your dog.
Running with your dog offers many benefits:

– It’s excellent exercise.

– Your dog learns to stay at your side, regardless of distractions.

– If you run on a hard surface, your dog’s nails don’t have to be trimmed often (or at all) because the pavement will naturally file them for you.

– It’s a great way of bonding with your dog.

Though you may run 3 miles or more when you exercise, don’t start your dog at this rate. She needs to gradually build up tolerance to this distance. Start her at 1 mile and, over a period of two weeks, gradually increase her exercise tolerance to match yours.


Don’t feed your dog within an hour before or after strenuous exercise. Some dogs are prone to bloat (a twisting of the stomach due to gaseous intake).


Skijoring — in which your dog pulls you over the snow on skis — is a great winter variation on taking a walk. If your dog gets a bit carried away or you are a cautious skier, you can also cross-country ski with your dog running beside you.


Running in deep snow is very strenuous, so reserve skijoring for dogs older than 2 years of age.


Some dogs get snowballs between the pads of their feet when they play in the snow. You can reduce this problem by trimming excess hair from the bottom of your dog’s feet and between his toes. You also can apply petroleum jelly or cooking spray liberally to the skin between his toes before going outside. Another excellent fix is to have your dog wear booties, which are available at pet supply stores and through companies that sell products for mushing dogs. If your dog runs mainly on packed snow, get booties made of polar fleece. If he runs on mixed snow and gravel or pavement, get booties made of a tougher fabric, such as canvas or Cordura nylon. Booties can also be an excellent aid for the city dog who feels the sting of salt spread on the streets and sidewalks in the winter. 


Fetch is a favorite game of many dogs. Most people are fond of this game because they can play it while standing still. You can use many different fetch objects, from a simple stick to a ball or a disc. Some balls glow in the dark or have an internal flashing light, so you can even use them for a quick game of fetch when you get home from work on a dark winter night.
Bumpers (plastic cylinders that float and have a rope attached to one end) are a favorite fetch toy for many Retrievers, especially for retrieving on water. The rope makes them easier to throw, too. Many dogs like to chase flying discs as well. The way the disc floats in the air and changes directions is very exciting to the canine hunter.


Be careful when playing fetch with a flying disc. Throw the disc just above the ground so your dog doesn’t have to leap up to catch it. Dogs can suffer severe injuries by twisting their backs or by landing on their rear legs when trying to catch a disc. Try to find a floppy one, made of rubber, to reduce the risk of hurting your dog’s teeth.

If your dog isn’t much of a retriever, she may enjoy playing soccer. Use a ball that is too large and too firm for her to pick up in her teeth. Kick it around the yard, encouraging her to chase it. She will eventually get the idea and learn to push the ball around the yard herself. Dogs can have a lot of fun playing with a large ball in the water, too. They use their noses to push the ball back and forth and try to capture it.


If you can’t throw a ball very far and your dog is looking at you as if she wished she were owned by a baseball star, try using an aid to throw the ball farther. That way your dog will run farther for each fetch, making it more fun for her. Use a tennis racket or a bat to whack the ball as far as possible. Another great invention is the Chuckit, a plastic stick that cups a tennis ball at one end while you hold the other end and swing it. When you let it go, the ball flies up to 250 feet — much farther than if you used your arm. The Foxtail is another type of ball that is easy to throw long distances. This ball has a colorful nylon tail that flaps in the breeze as it trails the ball. If you use the tail to swing it before letting go, you can sling the Foxtail farther than you can throw it.

If your dog is a keen retriever, why not add a few twists to the old game of fetch? First throw the ball as far as you can. Then throw a short one. Then throw your dog a grounder; then toss the ball high into the air for your dog to catch. Praise her just for trying, and give her verbal praise and treats for extra-fast or talented retrieves. You also can make the game tougher by having your dog retrieve an object while running uphill. This increases the amount of weight she has to bear on her rear legs, thus increasing the amount of work the rear legs perform. This strengthens the rear leg muscles, which is especially important as the dog gets older.


Swimming is one of the best forms of exercise for any dog. Because it’s a non-weight-bearing activity, it strengthens the cardiovascular and muscular systems without stressing bones and joints. This is especially good for dogs with arthritis.


Many dogs, like the one in Figure 5-1, naturally enjoy swimming, and most can learn if they’re given encouragement when they’re young. The best way to teach a pup to swim is to start by putting on your boots and walking with him in a creek. Creeks have deeper and shallower parts, and eventually your pup will find himself swimming a short distance without even realizing it. If your adult dog is reluctant, get wet yourself and encourage him to join you in the fun. If he is hesitant to swim over his head, use the Hansel-and-Gretel principle: Walk slowly out to deeper waters, depositing dog treats as you go (Cheerios float very well) and offering encouragement. Often a dog’s stomach will overcome his fears.


If your water-loving canine is going to swim in a pond, scout the area for broken glass, fishing lines, and other hazards first. If you find broken glass, seek out another place for your dog to swim, because there’s likely to be more where that came from. If he bounds into the water and steps on broken glass, it can cut the tendons that run across the wrist just under the skin of his legs. Tendons are notoriously difficult to repair, and those particular tendons are critical for a dog to be able to walk and run without discomfort — you definitely don’t want to risk it.

If you or a friend has a swimming pool and don’t mind a little dog hair in the filter, letting your dog swim there is just fine. In fact, if you want your flabby dog to build a little muscle, you can put him on a leash and walk around the outside of the pool for 5 to 10 minutes while he swims beside you. Throw a few treats in the water every now and then to keep up his interest.
Figure 5-1: The smile on Tally’s face is all the proof you need to know that swimming is one of her favorite activities.


Never let your dog swim in a pool without supervision. Every year, dogs drown in pools after becoming exhausted trying to find their way out, even when stairs are available. Plus, some breeds, such as Bulldogs, aren’t built for swimming and can drown in shallow water. Be sure that you know your dog’s limitations.


Having your dog run by your side as you bike is another great way for your dog to burn off excess energy.


If you decide to give biking a try, take several precautions, because you, and your dog, can easily be injured. First, acclimate your dog to your bicycle. Some dogs would rather chase bikes than run alongside them. Check out Chapter Basic Training and Beyond to teach your dog to heel, and then do the following:

1. Have your dog heel with you as you push your bicycle.
2. When she’s working well, get on your bike, but keep your feet on the ground to move it.
3. When your dog is walking nicely at your side, get on the bike and pedal slowly.

4. Gradually increase the speed as your dog performs well, moving with you.
Make sure that your dog stays on the side of you that is away from the road. This will keep her from being hit by a car if she suddenly lunges outward. Try a device such as the Springer or K-9 Cruiser to attach your dog’s leash to the bicycle, leaving your hands free (see Figure 5-2). It’s a metal bar that attaches to the bike, with a hook on the other end to affix your dog’s leash. This keeps your dog with you, while also keeping her a safe enough distance from the wheels. One incident with a squirrel running across your path should convince you of the benefits of these attachments.


No product available will keep your dog watching you instead of wanting to socialize with the neighbors’ dogs as you go by. You might want to begin with walking and running before moving up to bike riding, to train your dog to remain with you regardless of your pace.


While you ride your bike or run on a hard surface, your dog is running on that surface barefoot! Without the benefit of booties, your dog might injure her pads. Try a pad conditioner (a cream you rub on your dog’s pads) along with booties.

Figure 5-2: Attach a device to your bike so that you don’t have to hold on to a leash and try to maneuver the bike at the same time. (Photo courtesy of Todd Jackson.)


Bicycling with an unleashed dog is dangerous. Even on country paths, a loose dog can chase wild animals such as rabbits or deer and become lost or injured. Use an attachment that connects your dog to your bicycle.


Hiking is similar to walking, except you and your dog head out into the countryside, woods, or mountains. You may not be able to count on hiking every day, depending on where you live and what your schedule is like, but it can be a great addition to your dog’s exercise routine.


Before you leave for your hike, make sure that you’re familiar with the canine-related rules for the area. Most state parks require dogs to be leashed. Regardless of where you go, always have a leash with you in case your dog becomes unruly or more interested in chasing squirrels than in listening to you.

Pack a collapsible water bowl and a bottle of fresh water. When dogs exercise, they need to drink lots of water. Many lakes, streams, and rivers are contaminated with bacteria, so you want to make certain that your dog isn’t drinking from them. If you give him a fresh water supply before, during, and after your hike, you shouldn’t have to worry about him looking for water elsewhere. Carry a few treats with you so that every time your dog looks and/or returns to you of his own accord, he gets a reward for doing so. This will tend to keep him closer to you and less likely to run after other hikers.
If you’ve been hiking for some time and your dog is just starting to go with you, you’ll need to gradually increase his tolerance to the exercise. Dogs will keep going until they drop, so be aware of these signs that he’s getting tired:
Be sure to check his pads when you take a break. He doesn’t have the benefit of hiking boots like you do, and you may be crossing rocky terrain that can easily slice his pads. Have a small first-aid pack handy (see Chapter Canine First Aid), just in case.

Horse and hound

Horse and hound is great exercise for a dog. The species have been hunting together for millennia, so there’s no reason why your dog can’t learn how to respect the horse, watch the horse’s leg movements, and listen to your requests at the same time. Dogs are great at multitasking, especially when it means a long run through fields and woods.


Before taking off in a run, acclimate your dog to horses. Horses are prey animals and dogs are predators, so you have to teach your dog to control her natural instincts and to listen to you from a distance. The guidelines in Chapter Basic Training and Beyond will help you train your dog so that horse and hound is fun and safe for both hound and horse.

Scheduling Time for Your New Dog

You got a dog to enrich your life. Your dog gives you joy and is something you look forward to each day — and you need to be the same for him. You have to make time for him — time for exercise, for specific feeding and relief schedules, and for an education.


When you make a schedule, stick to it. Dogs are creatures of habit. Knowing what’s going to occur, and when, helps your dog adjust to his new life quickly.


Walking along on a leash is great exercise, especially for an older dog, but younger dogs need more than this. And although training exercises do stimulate your dog’s mind and make her tired, they don’t totally exercise her body. Dogs need free play — off leash, preferably with other dogs, provided they haven’t ever displayed any aggression to other canines.
A small dog often gets plenty of exercise racing around the house, but that isn’t the preferred situation for a medium-sized or large dog. Having an 80-pound dog racing around an apartment or even a good-sized house can be quite disruptive — more so as she jumps over the couch, runs through the kitchen, and barrels over a trash can or two. Having any dog larger than 10 pounds means lots of exercise — outside, in all types of weather. A fenced yard helps, but your dog prefers to spend much of her exercise time interacting with you, such as going for long walks and playing fetch and chase games. Make time for this. Exercise is covered in more detail earlier in this chapter.

Feeding time

Dogs need to know when they’re going to eat. Feed your dog in the same location every time so he knows where he’ll be eating. This helps keep him from feeling that he can eat anywhere in your home. The feed dish should be in the kitchen, but not in a direct path with your cooking area. Under a desk, at one end of a kitchen island, and at the edge of the room are generally good places. Place the water dish near the feed dish.


Don’t place the dog’s dish near a trash can. He might think the can is part of his meals.

Stick to a feeding schedule to help your dog know that he’ll be taken care of at a specific time. Feeding times depend greatly on your own work schedule, as well as the age of your dog. Let’s say you work a regular 9-to-5 job. To give your dog time to exercise and relieve himself before and after work, try the following scheduling:

6 a.m.: Take him to his relief zone.

6:15 a.m.: Feed him.

6:30 to 7:00 a.m.: Take him to his relief zone and exercise him a bit before leaving for work.

5:30 to 6:00 p.m.: Take him to his relief zone.

6:15 p.m.: Feed him.

7 p.m.: Take him to his relief zone and exercise him a lot.

What if you work irregular hours? Try to still stick to some semblance of a schedule. You may not be able to offer consistent exercise times, but you do need to offer similar feeding times.


With their faster metabolism, puppies need to be fed more often than older dogs. Consider this sample feeding schedule for a dog younger than 5 months of age for someone who works the regular 9-to-5 job, keeping in mind that there will be an opportunity for the youngster to eat and exercise midday — whether you can come home at that time or have someone do it for you, it’s a must.

6 a.m.                   Take him to his relief zone.
6:15 a.m.              Feed him.
6:30 a.m.              Take him to his relief zone and exercise him a lot.
12 p.m.                 Feed him.
12:15 p.m.           Take him to his relief zone and exercise him a lot.
6 p.m.                   Feed him.
6:15 p.m.             Take him to his relief zone and exercise him a lot.
Dogs older than 5 months can safely be fed twice a day, as long as they don’t have a medical condition that requires them to be fed smaller meals more often.

Potty time

Potty time goes hand in hand with feeding time, because when your dog eats has the most bearing on when your dog needs to go out (see the preceding section). If you want a housetrained dog, you have to adhere to a schedule. Make certain you either schedule her potty breaks into your day or arrange to have someone do it for you.


The younger the dog, the more often she has to potty. Keep this in mind when you choose a dog. Do you have the time to take her to her relief zone every couple hours or so? To housetrain a puppy (see Chapter Housetraining 101), you have to do so.

The more your pup exercises, the more often she needs to be taken to her relief zone.
Dogs older than the age of 4 months can hold themselves longer, but they still require relief more often than a dog older than 9 months of age. Take your 4- to 9-month-old dog out every three to four hours, to be on the safe side. After the age of 9 months, you can wait as long as six hours (or longer, if you have to), but that isn’t kind to her on a daily basis.


Male dogs require more time to relieve themselves because they tend to urinate several times instead of letting their bladders empty all at once. They also have to relieve themselves more often throughout the day than most female dogs.

Knowing How Much Exercise Your Dog Needs

A dog’s exercise requirements depend on many factors, including age, breed combination, and size. For example, dogs who have Herding blood need to run and exercise a lot every day because they were designed to help farmers, whereas dogs with Sporting blood generally don’t need more than a couple good long games of fetch because their jobs traditionally involved aiding hunters in locating and returning game.



Your puppy will go through several stages of development that affect his level of energy. Some studies suggest that a dog matures the equivalent of 21 human years within his first year of life and 5 years each year thereafter. If you consider the behavioral stages of people (and puppies), this is a good assumption. Imagine taking a child all the way from infancy to the legal drinking age in one year — that’s what you do when you bring home a puppy.

Physically, the puppy grows from a little, short-legged, roly-poly, round-faced cutie into a dog with a sleek, more angular physique. After the first year, a dog doesn’t change much physically.


Consider this overview of the kind of energy levels (and exercise requirements) you can expect from your pup in the first year of his life:

4 weeks to 3 months: Between the ages of 4 weeks and 3 months, pups tend to sleep most of the time. They have short bursts of energy but they quickly tire out. A few minutes outside, and they’re beat.

3 to 4 months: When a pup is about 3 to 4 months old, his energy level changes a bit. He’ll play more and for longer periods of time. This is when your pup begins testing his position in the pack — he’ll display dominance when he plays with you or other dogs. He’ll get into tug-of-war games in earnest. Fetch becomes a fantastic idea. Chasing butterflies is also very exciting. On average, a dog this age requires a half hour of exercise at least five times a day.

5 to 7 months: At the age of 5 to 7 months, your puppy is at the peak of adolescence. This is the period when he needs more exercise than he will at any other time in his life. Not only will he be testing his pack position, but he’ll be very easily distracted and want to do a zillion things at once (just like the typical teenager). An adolescent dog requires at least several hours of exercise each day, especially Herding, Sporting, or Terrier breeds. Your dog needs the freedom to run in a safely fenced area. Play with other dogs is the best means of blowing off steam. Though your pup will quickly tire during training sessions, these aren’t enough to rid him of the zoomies.

8 to 10 months: Between 8 and 10 months, your young dog will still be full of energy, but he’s able to channel it a bit better. If you offer regular activities, he’ll be happy to participate. He’ll also begin showing signs of maturity, with a better understanding of house rules. He’ll have more moments of lying at your feet than in the previous three months. An older adolescent dog still needs lots of exercise time — two to three hours each day. His exercise can be a combination of play with other dogs and a regulated activity such as a training session.

– 10 months to 1 year: Between 10 and 12 months, your dog has become an adult. Don’t worry — he’ll still be playful and energetic. In fact, many dogs are energetic well into old age. If you give appropriate exercise outlets, you’ll have a happy, healthy, easy-to-manage companion. Your dog will require a regular exercise regimen, but his activity can be more concentrated, such as training time, hiking, biking, or jogging. The zoomies are gone.


Growing dogs need lots of exercise. Confining them daily for extended periods of time is detrimental to their physical and mental development. Young dogs need to stretch their legs and minds as they mature. You need to discover the proper balance to train your dog in the house rules and allow him to “be a dog.” Though you should confine him in a safe area when you can’t be with him, be sure to observe him closely at play when you’re home. Follow an exercise regimen with your dog. If you exercise with him, it can be great for bonding — and for your own health as well as his.


An exercise program for a puppy should not include strenuous exercises or long play periods. The growth plates (soft areas at each end of the bones) do not harden until a puppy is 10 to 14 months of age. These soft areas are susceptible to fractures, and even though the bone will heal, it is likely to grow unevenly, resulting in a deformity of the bone. Puppies also are more likely to injure themselves because of their lack of coordination and muscle strength. In addition, puppies are more susceptible to the stresses of heat and cold than are adult dogs.


Activities for puppies should mix moderate exercise and lots of play. Provide abundant variety and opportunities to visit new environments and meet new people and other dogs. When a puppy is younger than 12 weeks of age (like the one shown in Figure 5-3), play lots of fun games, letting him climb over and crawl under your lap and chase a toy on a string. Give your puppy cardboard boxes, bricks, and other safe objects to step on and explore. At that age, you also can go for a five-minute walk or play in a shallow creek.

Puppies younger than 6 months of age need only moderate exercise. After 6 months of age, provide strengthening exercises such as games of fetch and chase, but don’t add endurance exercises until those bones are fully mature (18 months for tiny dogs, 24 to 30 months for big dogs).
As your pup grows older, he’ll be able to trot for greater distances and play for longer periods of time without needing a rest. Throughout adolescence, your puppy will have lots of energy and will want to be busy all the time. When his body reaches adult size, you may be fooled into thinking he has adult stamina. The trick at this stage is to give him abundant exercise, play lots of games, and give him many intellectual challenges — without overdoing it.
Figure 5-3: This young puppy plays with her dad every day. (Photograph courtesy of Marcia Halliday.)

Adult dogs

How much exercise an adult dog needs depends largely on her breed. Even if you don’t know exactly which breed(s) make up your dog’s family tree, you can probably venture a good guess about which general breed groups she’s a part of. For example, you can usually tell a Hound from a Terrier. If you’re just not sure about your dog, your vet will probably be able to steer you in the right direction.
Table 5-1 shows recommendations for the amount of exercise different dogs need based on their breed group. If you know your dog has the genetics of one of these breed groups, you’ll have a fairly good idea of how much exercise your dog needs.

Table 5-1                              Breed Group Exercise Requirements

Breed Group
Energy Level
Minimum Hours of Exercise Per Day
Medium to low
Varies greatly
Very high


Table 5-1 lists the minimum amount of exercise a dog needs every day. If you have a Hound and you want to exercise her more than one hour a day, your dog won’t have any problems as long as you increase the amount of exercise gradually, just as you’d do for yourself. But if you have a Herding dog and you give her only an hour of exercise a day, the results could be disastrous. If you’re not giving your dog enough exercise, she’ll find all kinds of creative ways to burn calories on her own — by chewing and digging holes and doing all sorts of things that’ll drive you crazy.

If you have a high-energy dog who needs three to four hours of exercise each day, don’t panic. You can work this into your lifestyle in different ways. You don’t have to take your dog on one long three- or four-hour run. In fact, it’s healthier for your dog if you break up the exercise throughout the day. You can take her out for a long walk first thing in the morning, play tag or fetch with her in the afternoon, and take her for another long walk or training session in the evening. Let her blow off steam playing with other dogs.
Although allowing your dog to run in a large fenced area is nice, it isn’t as fulfilling to your dog as taking her for a walk around the neighborhood or hiking in the woods. Your dog wants to exercise with you. If you can’t do this on a regular basis, try having more than one dog — dogs will play with each other if you can’t be there to participate. However, they still prefer to involve you in the games.


Dogs are athletes. They need to use their energy in a positive manner. Participating in activities with your dog fills this need while improving the bond you have.

Older dogs

As your dog gets older, his energy level won’t be what it was when he was a pup. But he still needs exercise — not as much as when he was younger, but definitely a good hour per day.


The trick to exercising your older dog is to break up that hour throughout the day instead of trying to do it all at once. Most older dogs receive plenty of exercise through two to three 20-minute walks each day.

So how do you know if your dog is old? The concept of age is relative to the dog’s breed mixture and size. Smaller dogs tend to live longer — they don’t age as quickly as larger dogs. The giant breeds, such as Great Danes and Mastiffs, rarely live more than 9 years, on average. The Retriever and Setter breeds average 10 to 12 years. Large Hounds 10 years, smaller Hounds 12 to 14 years. Spaniel breeds often live 13 to 14 years, and Terrier breeds can live 14 to 16 years.
So the age of your dog depends largely on his size, not necessarily the breeds that constitute his genetics, although this generalization has many exceptions. For example, English Bulldogs, a mid-sized breed, don’t live much beyond 10 years, while other mid-sized breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, have a lifespan of more than 14 years.


Whether your dog just entered middle age or has become geriatric, he still needs exercise to remain healthy. As dogs age, arthritis and other physical ailments begin to degenerate their skeletal structure. Regular walks help maintain the muscle tone around their joints, improving their overall ability to move.

Trying Your Paws at Canine Sports

If training and competing with your dog appeals to you, you can get involved in one of many organized performance events in which dogs and handlers compete as a team through novice, intermediate, and advanced levels. You can even obtain championships in many of the performance events. Most canine performance sports are open to all breeds of dogs as well as mixed breeds. Several chapters in Book Training-Agility and Shows cover this fun part of dog ownership, but here we just provide an overview.
Agility is a very popular canine sport in which the handler must direct the dog over a course of jumps and obstacles within a certain amount of time (see Figure 5-4). Fast thinking and excellent teamwork are the keys to this sport.


Even if you never plan to compete, consider enrolling your dog in agility classes sponsored by a local dog club. The classes will give her some exercise, boost her confidence, and stimulate her mind while conveniently training her at the same time. (See Chapter The Ins and Outs of Agility Training for a lot more on agility training.)

Obedience trials test the ability of a dog to walk at heel on and off leash, to stand while being examined, and to come when called. At the higher levels, a dog must be able to differentiate between a dumbbell scented by the handler and eight others scented by a stranger. She also must be able to jump and retrieve, among performing other tests. In addition to being a fun sport, obedience training makes your dog easier to live with.
Figure 5-4: This dog is obviously having fun participating in agility. (Photograph courtesy of Elinor Lerner.)
Flyball is a popular sport in which a dog runs down a 50-foot mat, jumping over 4 jumps on the way, presses a pedal that releases a ball, catches the ball, and runs back over the jumps. Four dogs on a team race as a relay against another team of four dogs.
Dogs of specific breeds can also show off their particular instincts at events such as hunting tests for the Sporting breeds, herding tests for the Herding breeds, lure coursing trials for the sighthounds, and go-to-ground tests for the Terriers.


For more information about canine sports, go to This Web site lists every type of canine sport you can imagine and has links to organizations that offer those sports. It is a veritable smorgasbord of canine-play Web sites.

Exercising Indoors

When the weather is bad or the days are short, you and your dog can still exercise together in the comfort of your home. Indoor exercises can strengthen your dog’s muscles, improve coordination, and relieve some of the stress of being confined. Crawling strengthens the spinal and rear leg muscles, rolling over improves coordination, and waving one front leg strengthens the shoulder muscles. You can teach your dog exercises by using food to lure him into position and then encouraging him to try it on him own. Praise the dog every time he gets closer to doing what you want. You can also devise other exercises (see Figure 5-5). Check out Dog Tricks For Dummies, by Sarah Hodgson (Wiley), for more.


Doggie play groups in parks are a great way to let dogs exercise each other while the owners watch and chat. Just make sure that you monitor the dogs to be sure there isn’t a canine bully in the group.

Try taping a long piece of Velcro (the side with the hooks) to the goal post at one end of a school’s football field, and then stick 12 tennis balls to it. Take your dog to the other end of the field. Unfold your lawn chair and relax while your dog runs to get each tennis ball and brings it back. The possibilities are limited only by your imagination.


Always watch for signs that your dog is becoming fatigued. Don’t depend on your dog to restrict his own activity when he is tired. Many dogs will literally exercise until they drop because they enjoy it so much. Signs of fatigue include stumbling, an anxious look, excessive panting, and widening of the end of the tongue.

Figure 5-5: This Australian Shepherd has been taught to spin for exercise and stress relief.

Exercise for dogs with physical problems

Even if your dog has a physical condition such as hip dysplasia or arthritis, she still needs exercise. It’s important to keep her muscles toned so they take over some of the work of the weakened joints. Moderation is the key here: a little bit of exercise every day. Don’t let her be a weekend warrior by overdoing it on the weekend and spending the week on the couch.
As your dog gets older, be extra sensitive to signs that she is tiring when she’s out playing. Continue to exercise her daily, but reduce the length and intensity of her exercise enough to
prevent her from becoming fatigued.
Dogs with disabilities can play, too. Deaf dogs and blind dogs can play in familiar, safe areas. Deaf dogs enjoy toys that blink with lights, and blind dogs can retrieve toys that make continuous noise. Dogs who have had a leg amputated can get around almost as well as a dog with all four legs, and they will enjoy exercise just as much as other dogs.

Paying Attention to the Heat When You Exercise Your Dog

The ideal air temperature for a sedentary dog is 65 to 75 degrees with low humidity. At this temperature, a resting dog’s body neither gains nor loses heat. The dog doesn’t have to expend any energy to maintain his body temperature. (The normal body temperature for dogs is 100.5 to 102.8 degrees.)

Technical Stuff

Dogs have limited mechanisms for coping with overheating. Panting is their main mechanism for losing heat. Muscles in the tongue allow it to expand to approximately twice its normal size, increasing the surface area for heat exchange. In addition, blood vessels in the tongue dilate to bring more blood to the surface of the tongue to be cooled. Humidity inhibits the evaporation of moisture on your dog’s tongue and in his mouth and lungs, contributing to potential heatstroke.

Although dogs don’t have sweat glands like we humans do, they do perspire on the pads of their feet. If you walk your dog over a shiny floor on a warm day, you can see the imprint of each foot as he leaves a sweaty paw print on the smooth surface. Dogs also try to lower their body temperature by seeking cool places, by not eating (therefore producing less internal heat), and by reducing their activity level.


Be sensitive to the possibility of your dog becoming overheated. Human mechanisms for coping with heat are far superior to those of our dogs. So if you’re uncomfortable, you can figure that your dog must be very uncomfortable. Your dog can’t communicate verbally and tell you how warm he feels. Provide him with access to drinking water at all times, let him wallow in a pond or wading pool, or cool him by applying ice packs to his groin. If the temperature outside is hot, forget exercise and let your dog stay cool.


Signs of heatstroke include rapid, noisy breathing; a red, enlarged tongue; thick saliva; a body temperature above 106 degrees; staggering; and weakness. A dog with heatstroke should be wrapped in towels that have been soaked in cold water and transported to a veterinarian or emergency clinic as soon as possible. There he will be given further treatment, such as intravenous fluids and perhaps cool-water enemas, as well as treatment for shock, if necessary.

Giving Your Dog Things to Do While You’re Away

Exercise is an important part of your dog’s day, but if you’re like most people, you’re probably home for only a few hours every day. Providing activities for your dog while you’re gone is a great way to help her get the exercise she needs.

Occupying busy paws

Always give your dog the opportunity to play with or chew a safe toy while he is alone. Several products on the market are designed to keep your pooch’s paws busy while you’re away (Chapter All the Right Stuff offers lots of ideas).


Don’t stay away too long. As a rule, dogs should never be left alone for more than ten hours at a time. Try to keep your absence from home to five or six hours, when possible. Puppies and some older dogs may need potty breaks every two to four hours.

One of the best objects to keep an active dog occupied is the Buster Cube, which is a tough plastic cube into which you pour a little dry dog food. Using a dial, you regulate the speed at which the pieces of food drop out of a hole in the cube. Your dog pushes the cube with his nose or turns it over with his feet. When the cube is positioned just right — voilà! — out drops a piece of food. When your dog realizes that this toy really is a food dispenser and that he is in control, he will keep working away at the cube until every last morsel is gone.
Note: The Buster Cube has two small disadvantages. First, some dogs move the cube around so aggressively that it bangs into the walls and the legs of nearby furniture. So it’s best not to play this game in the room with Aunt Martha’s valuable antiques. Second, this game involves food, and some dogs don’t appreciate the assistance of other dogs in their quest. So the Buster Cube is best played alone or among (the rare) dogs who play cooperatively when food is involved.
Another way to keep your dog occupied during the day is to stuff the center cavity of a real bone with soft cheese or peanut butter (but not if your dog is a very strong chewer — he could bite off and swallow pieces of bone). You can even hide some broken cookies or pieces of kibble in the core of the bone. You can stuff other toys such as Kong toys with food and seal them with peanut butter or cream cheese. Getting to the good stuff can occupy your dog for many hours.


If your dog’s personal area has a window looking out over a quiet place such as your backyard, place a couch or a safe table in front of it so he can watch the birds and other wildlife while you’re away. It’s usually better if your dog isn’t able to see the activities on the street in front of your house, however, because if he sees the mail carrier bringing the mail to the house, for example, he may bark and carry on, sensing that he should guard the house in your absence. When the carrier leaves after delivering the mail, your dog becomes convinced that his barking has driven him away. If this scenario is repeated day after day, your dog may become quite aggressive toward the mail carrier — and others who come on the property, which is why tens of thousands of mail carriers and delivery people are bitten by dogs every year. Your dog doesn’t need this kind of experience, and the mail carrier certainly doesn’t, either.


A dog door can be a real boon for a dog who is home alone all day. Whenever he likes, he can go outside into his fenced-in yard, eliminate, catch some rays, chase a squirrel or two, and then go back in to sleep some more. Dog doors are especially helpful for older dogs who may have trouble holding their urine for a full day. If you use this convenience, however, your yard must be completely safe for your dog. He shouldn’t be able to escape by climbing the fence or by digging under it. It’s also best if your dog can’t see the comings and goings of children and delivery people. A dog door works best if it is used in a quiet neighborhood and it opens to an enclosed kennel or to a secluded yard with a secure fence.

Doggie daycare

Doggie daycare is a booming industry because more people are away at work during the day, sometimes leaving their canine companions at home for long periods of time. If you want to give your furry friend an outlet for her energy during the day, consider doggie daycare facilities, which offer a variety of services, including boarding, play groups, dog walking, obedience training, and even hiking or swimming.


The best way to find a reputable doggie daycare establishment is to ask dog-owning friends and neighbors if they know of any. If you come up empty, call a local dog club, a dog-training facility, or your veterinarian for a recommendation (assistants often moonlight as dogsitters).

When you’ve found a doggie daycare, inquire about the interview process. Good daycare facilities interview prospective clients and their dogs just as a children’s daycare would. They want to know whether your dog is properly immunized against communicable diseases so she won’t catch or spread any infections while she’s there. They will also be interested in what activities your dog enjoys and whether she plays well with other dogs so she can participate in doggie play groups.


During your interview, find out what activities are available and how your dog’s day will be structured. These important questions are worth asking:

Where will my dog stay when she is resting? The kennel area should be clean and should have bedding and safe toys available for the dogs.

What does the owner do if dogs have tiffs over playthings?

How does the owner handle a dog who is aggressive or dominating around others?

How long do the dogs play each day, how much rest time do they have, and how much one-on-one interaction do they get with daycare personnel?

What veterinary facilities does the facility use if one of the dogs has an accident or becomes ill? Make sure that the owner has insurance to cover the facility.

As of this writing, no organizations oversee or accredit doggie daycare facilities. Be a good consumer and make sure that you get all your questions answered and lay to rest all your concerns before you enroll your canine family member.
Doggie daycare costs a little more than boarding a dog overnight in a kennel. It can be quite expensive if your dog attends every day, but it is an excellent solution for single people and busy families.

Dog walkers

Dog walking is a great way for your dog to get some activity while you’re away. Dog walking also provides a great opportunity for neighborhood kids who have a love for animals and a desire to make a few bucks the old-fashioned way.
Depending on the size of your dog (which dictates how much he pulls when he sees a squirrel) and his level of obedience, a responsible child as young as 11 or 12 years old can be a good dog walker. Just make it clear to the young entrepreneur how he is to walk your dog — including which leash and collar to use, where he can go, how long he should walk him, and so on. Always post the phone number where you can be contacted, along with other emergency numbers such as another contact person and the telephone number of your regular and emergency veterinarians.


If you hire a child to walk your dog, always meet with the child’s parents first. They generally are involved in scheduling your dog’s walk around the child’s other after-school events. Their concern for the child’s safety means they’re keeping an eye on your dog, too.


Adult or professional dog walkers are an excellent option, particularly if you have multiple dogs who may be too much for a child to handle. Many professional dog walkers are bonded and insured, giving you a little more security than you have with a neighborhood kid. Again, try to get a personal recommendation and have a thorough interview before you trust your dogs to a stranger.


Don’t hire a dog walker who walks several strange dogs together. This experience can be tremendously stressful to the dogs.

Pet sitters

Pet sitters can make a huge difference in your dog’s life. They let your dog stay in her familiar environment when you have to be away for extended periods of time, making your absence much less stressful for your canine companion than a kennel full of strangers.


The best way to find a dog sitter is to obtain a referral from someone who has used the dog sitter extensively and has been pleased with his work. You can also try the Web site for Pet Sitters International ( to find a reliable and responsible pet sitter in your area. Or try your vet for a recommendation.


Always interview a new dog sitter before hiring him. Introduce your dog to him and make sure that they connect with each other. The dog sitter should not appear hesitant to handle your pooch, and your dog should accept his touch. He should appear genuinely interested in your dog and her welfare while you are away. He should ask specific questions about how you want your dog cared for. If you see any red flags, such as hesitance to interact with your dog or evidence of a short temper, the applicant probably isn’t a good match for your dog.

Some dog sitters stay at your home while you’re away; others visit three to four times a day for a predetermined amount of time to let your dog out, feed her, and walk or play with her. Either option can work well. Just be sure that you are comfortable with your decision.


Before your new pet sitter starts her first assignment, make an appointment for her to spend some time with you learning your dog’s obedience commands and other house rules. If your dog always barges out of the door unless commanded to wait, have the pet sitter also make the dog wait, which will strengthen obedient behavior while you’re away.

Be sure to leave complete written instructions for your dog sitter. They should include the following information:

– The address and telephone number where you can be reached

– The address and telephone number of an emergency contact near where you live

– Your veterinarian’s name, address, and telephone number

– The name, address, and telephone number of an emergency veterinarian who is available after hours

– Complete feeding instructions (including the type of food, the amount, when and where your dog should be fed, and whether she needs to go out right away after she eats)

– Instructions for exercising your dog (including what activities she likes, for how long, and how often)

– Instructions for picking up the yard, if necessary

– Notes about any medication your dog needs

– Any other habits or needs specific to your dog

– Whether the dog sitter should answer the telephone or let it ring

by Eve Adamson, Richard G. Beauchamp, Margaret H. Bonham, Stanley Coren, Miriam Fields-Babineau, Sarah Hodgson, Connie Isbell, Susan McCullough, Gina Spadafori, Jack and Wendy Volhard, Chris Walkowicz, M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD

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