Overview

  • Regular exercise is essential for all dogs – it helps keep them in shape and is really important for their mental health.
  • Fit, active dogs are much less likely to suffer from problems such as arthritis, obesity and behavioural issues.
  • Before getting a dog, it’s important to make sure you have the time and ability to give them the exercise they need to keep them happy.
  • If you’re unsure how much exercise your dog needs, or if you have any concerns about their weight and fitness, speak to your vet for advice.

How much exercise does your dog need?

The amount of daily exercise your dog needs depends on their breed, age, health, fitness and personality. When deciding how to exercise your dog, ask yourself these questions:

  • What breed are they? Your dog’s breed plays a large part in their natural energy levels. Some need 1-2 hours of exercise per day, others need more than 2 hours, and some – mostly working breeds – need significantly more, plus mental stimulation throughout the day. Flat-faced breeds such as Pugs, Bulldogs, and Shih Tzu’s need just as much exercise as any other dog, but often struggle to breathe due to the shape of their face – for more information read our advice on breathing problems in flat-faced breeds.
    You can get an idea of how much exercise your breed needs by taking a look at our breed pages.
  • How old are they? While your dog is growing, it’s important to protect their joints by introducing them to exercise slowly. Read our advice on exercising your puppy. As an adult, it’s important to make sure they stay fit and active. Read our advice below on the different ways to exercise your dog. As your dog gets older, you may notice that they need a little less exercise than usual. Read our advice on exercising your senior dog.
  • Do they have any health problems? If your dog is unwell or injured, they won’t need as much exercise as usual – resting is an important part of recovery. Rest them as much as your vet advises, and find other ways to keep them entertained so they don’t get bored and frustrated.
  • How fit are they? If you want your dog to start doing more, or join you in a new hobby such as running or cycling, you’ll need to increase their fitness gradually to help avoid any injury or illness.
  • What do they enjoy doing? Just like us, every dog has their own personality and preferences! It’s important to make sure your dog enjoys the exercise you are asking them to do, and that you change their regime if they don’t.
An illustration showing the energy level of different dog breeds

Different ways to exercise your dog

A photo of a collie running outdoors

Varying your dog’s routine is an excellent way to keep their mind and body healthy. If you’re looking for inspiration, try some of the following:

  • Walking: Walking should be part of every dog’s daily routine to keep them physically and mentally healthy. Most dogs need at least 1-2 walks per day (unless otherwise specified by your vet). A brisk walk is a great opportunity for your dog to burn off extra energy, and a slow, meandering walk – where you let your dog sniff and explore for as long as they want – is great for their mental health.
  • Swimming: Swimming is a great option if your dog likes the water, and as an added benefit, it’s very easy on their joints. Whether it’s in a pool, the sea, a river, or a lake, make sure you follow water safety advice to keep your pooch safe.
  • Running: Running is a great way to stay healthy with your four-legged friend – just make sure you introduce them to it slowly. To begin with, try short bursts of gentle jogging throughout your normal walk, then gradually build up to longer stretches. For more helpful tips, take a look at our advice on how to get running with your dog.
  • Play: Play should be part of every dog’s daily routine. While it doesn't replace a good walk, playing a game is a simple but effective way to keep your dog happy and active. The type of games your dog enjoys will depend on their breed and personality – they might want to chase and retrieve a toy, play tug of war, hide and seek, or sniff out their favourite toy in a scent game. Remember to avoid throwing sticks, as they can cause stick injuries, and opt for pet-safe toys instead. Take a look at our PDSA store for our range of vet approved dog toys.
  • Agility: Agility is a fun way to exercise your dog, especially if they have an active mind and love a challenge. It involves training your dog to complete an obstacle course containing hurdles, tunnels and even seesaws. It’s also a great way to bond with your dog and socialise them with other dogs. For more information, take a look at our advice on agility in dogs.
  • Hiking: Hiking is a wonderful way to spend time with your dog, but before you set off it’s important to make sure the route is suitable for your dog and that they are fit enough and able to do the route. Always check how long the hike will take, avoid any overly steep sections and difficult scrambling. Remember to keep an eye on the weather before you go, take lots of water and snacks, and have regular breaks.
  • Flyball: involves your dog running through an obstacle course and releasing a ball, which they then need to catch – it’s great sport for dogs with a lot of energy and/or an active brain. Flyball isn’t a good sport for very heavy dogs, or dogs with joint problems, so it’s important to speak to your vet before starting your dog at a class.
  • Cycling: Cycling is a great way to exercise high energy dogs such as Huskies, Collies, Pointers, and Dalmatians. However, due to the speed and stamina needed to keep up with a bike it’s important to build your dog’s fitness up slowly, take regular breaks, and make sure you don’t push them too hard. Your dog will try to keep up with you no matter how tired they are, so keep an eye on them throughout the ride and stop if they show signs of needing to slow down. Remember to carry plenty of water and check the route is manageable before you go. It’s also really important that your dog is trained to stay a safe distance from your bike (not too close or far), and has excellent recall so they stay under your control.
  • Training: Training should be a part of every dog’s daily routine. It helps keep your dog’s mind active, reinforces commands, prevents boredom, and is a great way to bond. Take a look at our advice on reward-based training.
  • Yoga: Yes, you can do yoga with dogs! Similar to training, it’s a great way to keep your dog’s mind active, prevent boredom, and bond with your dog. You can either try yoga at home or look to see if there are any local classes.

Exercise safety

A photo of a dog chasing a frisbee outdoors

Here are some things to consider when your dog is exercising:

  • Always consider your dog’s fitness: Not all dogs can cope with lots of exercise in one go. Always build their fitness slowly and don’t push them too hard. Give your dog regular breaks, offer them water and keep an eye on how they’re feeling.
  • Weather: Always consider the weather when you’re out exercising. To avoid heatstroke during the hot summer months, remember to exercise your dog during the cooler hours at the beginning and end of the day, and always take water with you. During the winter, consider how cold your dog might be getting, and when it’s dark, make sure they wear a high visibility jacket, collar, or harness so  they can be seen.
  • Walking on the lead: Letting your dog off the lead in a safe space is a great way to get them exercising, however it’s important to only let them off when you are certain it’s safe to do so. Remember to keep your dog on the lead in built up areas, roads, and around livestock when on countryside walks. We don't recommend extendable leads – they can be dangerous for both you and your dog, especially around busy roads.
  • Avoid unsafe toys: Sticks can splinter and injure your dog’s mouth and throat, so it’s best to throw other toys for your dog to chase. If you’re throwing a ball, just make sure it’s not small enough for your dog to swallow or choke on.

FAQs

My dog doesn't like walks – what can I do?

If your dog isn’t enjoying their walks it’s important that you try to work out why, and adjust their routine so they enjoy them again. We’ve listed some of the most common reasons below:

  • Fear: If your dog is scared of other dogs, people, or going outside, walks are likely to be scary and not fun. If you believe this is the case, seek the advice of an accredited behaviourist and in the meanwhile, try to think of other ways to keep your dog busy in the house and garden.
  • Fitness: It’s important that your dog stays fit enough to enjoy their walks. If you think your dog is struggling, speak to your vet about how you can improve their diet and exercise regime.
  • Boredom: It’s important that your dog is able to spend time sniffing, having fun, running and playing on their walks, otherwise they are likely to get bored. If you find yourself rushing dog walks, try to find a better time of the day to walk them, or consider hiring a dog walker.

How should I walk my reactive dog?

If your dog is aggressive towards other dogs, the best thing to do is avoid other dogs as much as possible while you work on their behaviour with an accredited dog behaviourist. Walk them at times and places you know they won’t meet others, or consider hiring an enclosed dog walking paddock. If you do meet another dog, walk away calmly and quickly, whilst distracting your dog with something they really like, such as a treat or toy. It can help to try to get a physical barrier between the two dogs, for example a gate, fence or car. For more information on dog aggression take a look at our advice.

How much should I walk my arthritic dog?

Arthritis is a painful condition of the joints, which can make moving around difficult and uncomfortable. If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis, it’s important to keep them moving regularly throughout the day to prevent their joints seizing up, however, the exercise they do should be low impact. Walking and gentle running is fine, but it’s best to avoid chasing, jumping, and skidding. Try to walk them on comfortable surfaces such as pavements and grass, and avoid rough ground such as gravel and sand. It’s also sensible to avoid steep slopes, as they put extra pressure on the joints. For more information on caring for an arthritic dog, take a look at our advice. 

How can I teach my dog to come when I call?

Before letting your dog off the lead, it’s important that they understand to come back when you call! It’s best to start training when they are a puppy but it’s never too late to begin teaching an older dog. For more advice on this, take a look at our page on reward based training for dogs.

Can I just let my dog run in the garden?

No, even if you have a big garden it’s important to take your dog out for regular walks. Walks give your dog a chance to sniff new smells, explore new places and meet new people and dogs – all of which are really important for their mental wellbeing and confidence.

Will exercise stop my dog behaving badly?

Exercise is an important factor in dog behaviour, as dogs with excess energy often become frustrated, stressed and difficult to manage. Having a good exercise routine may help to improve any unwanted behaviours, but is unlikely to fix the problem completely. If done in the wrong way, it could even make things worse, as exercising a stressed dog in a busy environment can make them feel more stressed! If you are worried about your dog’s behaviour it’s best to seek advice from an accredited dog behaviourist. For more information on behaviour, take a look at our advice.