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By Dr. Wailani Sung
How often should you walk your dog? Determining how often to walk a dog depends on several factors, including your dog’s breed, age and energy level. And of course, it also depends on the amount of time you have to walk your dog. Here’s how each of these factors weigh in when determining how often to walk a dog.
First, let’s take a look at the breed of dog you have. Sporting or working breeds, such as Pointers, Collies and Shepherds, may have higher exercise requirements than dogs bred to be lapdogs, such as Yorkshire Terriers and Papillons.
Some dogs are natural athletes, whereas other dogs are mostly couch potatoes. Of course, this can be due to a dog’s breed, or it could just be the individual preference of the dog. Most people would not think of the Bassett Hound as the perfect jogging companion, but I have met several Bassett Hounds that lead very active lives with their owners.
Younger dogs have more energy, and in general, will need more exercise than dogs who are middle-aged (5-8 years of age) and seniors dogs (9 years of age and over). Younger dogs also spend more time playing than older dogs.
But again, there are always exceptions to this rule. Keep in mind that middle-aged to older dogs may have arthritis, muscle atrophy or other diseases, such as hypothyroidism or diabetes, that lowers their stamina. Mentally, they may be eager to go, but physically, they might not be able to keep up.
Your Dog’s Exercise Tolerance
How much exercise does your dog need? Most dogs can tolerate 20-30 minute dog walks on a daily basis if they have a relatively good body condition. Some dogs in great physical health can tolerate walks up to 2 hours or go hiking for hours at a time. But it may be difficult for overweight or obese dogs to walk 10 minutes without taking multiple breaks or panting heavily due to the exertion.
To figure the appropriate amount of time to walk your dog based on your dog’s current health state, take your dog out for a walk and monitor her energy level. If your dog starts off at an energetic pace and takes you for a walk, invest in a good dog harness, like the Halti dog harness, and sturdy dog leash, like the Halti training dog lead. If she starts to slow down about 25-30 minutes into the walk, she may be getting tired. Instead of eagerly striding forward, she may start to pant more and take more interest in her surroundings, such as looking and sniffing around more.
Start to head on back home and monitor her pace going back. Does it slow down even more, or can she keep up the slower pace? If she slows down even further, then it means she has walked too far. Next time, your walk needs to be shorter because you have to account for the time it takes to walk back home.
Not only should you monitor how long it takes for your dog to slow down, but you also need to watch her behavior after the walk once you have reached home. If your dog drinks water and immediately crashes on one of her dog beds and does not move for hours, she may have over-exerted herself. If your dog starts limping during the walk or after she has rested from a long walk, then she received too much exercise. Next time, you need to go on a shorter walk or hike.
A dog’s tolerance for exercise can be increased as long as they are healthy. Just like you would not join a marathon if you have not run in years, you should not expect your dog to walk, run or hike for hours if she has been sedentary for months or years. Take it easy and gradually increase the amount of exercise you give your dog week by week. By slowly building up her stamina and appropriately conditioning your dog’s body, you can avoid injury and pain.
If your older dog needs more support, you can invest in a dog lifting harness that allows you to support some of her weight if she becomes too tired—such as the GingerLead dog lifting harness. You need to be careful not to apply too much pressure or you will wind up hurting her back or abdomen.
If you determine that your dog can walk 30 minutes without being in pain, how often should you take her on a walk?
The recommendation for people is at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, according to the CDC. If you strive to exercise your pet this much on weekly basis, that would be great. But, we live busy lives and sometimes have really long work days. For those who can afford to hire dog walkers, then their dog exercise needs can be easily met. If you cannot afford to hire a dog walker, aim for a 10-15 minute walk a day, or at minimum, 2-3 times a week. You can also supplement exercise for dogs by playing in a yard if you have one.
If you don’t have enough time for leash walking a dog, don’t have a yard, or your dog is in poor physical condition, concentrate on lower impact activities through the use of dog puzzle toys. Your dog can spend time rolling a Kong Wobbler all over the house and walk at a slower pace.
Try to have your dog engage in at least 10-15 minutes of continuous activity in your house. If you provide both physical and mental outlets for your dog, she will overall be a healthier and mentally more well-balanced dog.