By: Dr. Tiffany Durzi, DVM, CVA, CCRT, CVPP 

       Ontario Veterinary College, Fitness and Rehabilitation Service
       University of Guelph, Guelph, ON


January 10, 2017

Exercising a dog is an important commitment to consider before you get a pet, yet exercising with your dog can also be an enjoyable activity with health benefits for both you and your pet!  There is no doubt that a lack of physical activity is a major public health problem recognized in humans.  Statistics show that a large proportion of dog owners do not walk their dog. In fact, it is estimated that only 60% of dog owners walk their dogs regularly.  Although, exercise guidelines for dogs are not well established.  As health professionals, we often support similar guidelines for dogs that the Centre for Disease Control has set out for humans - 30-60 minutes of exercise, 5 times weekly

Dog’s confined to a yard, but not walked regularly, are more likely to be obese.  Obesity has been shown to contribute to a lot of health problems in dogs including diabetes and arthritis. In addition, exercise can help improve the behaviour of many pets, by allowing the dog to wear off excess energy! The good news, is that dog ownership has been also shown to be positively associated with health-related factors among people, including increased physical activity, weight control and positive mental health.  Exercising with your dog can also increase the human-animal bond! 

So, what are we waiting for?  Let’s get exercising!

To start an exercise program for you and your dog, first consider the health status, age and breed of your dog. 

Generally, it is suggested to start a new exercise program with your dog slowly - walking 15 minutes, 5 times weekly is a great start.  Then try increasing your walks by 5 minutes per week, until you reach 30-60 minutes, 5 times weekly.  Next gradually increase the intensity of your walks in 10 minute intervals, making sure you allow for “sniffing time” in between. Many dogs enjoy a leisurely stroll, so they can stop and enjoy all the excellent smells in the neighbourhood!  It is also important to remember that to meet the physical activity needs of a Canadian adult you will need at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-to vigorous-intensity activity, in bouts of 10 minutes or more. Although it is important to ensure you are not over exerting your dog and you are letting them stop to sniff the roses, working toward 10 minute intervals of walking at a brisk pace is important to your health. 

Other activities, such as joining a dog walking club can also be an enjoyable activity for you and your dog to share.  Also ask around to find out about new, fun (and safe) places to walk your dog.  When you get a new puppy, they also should be active, however the activity may be less structured and may revolve more around positive play. It can take time for puppies to get used to walking on a leash. Make sure you go slow and at their pace.  

Some very active people may be interested in jogging with their dog.  This can be a great activity to enjoy together, but please consider that it takes time to work your dog up to a 5 or 10km run.  Excessive running, especially in puppies, should be avoided until their growth plates close at 12-18 months of age (breed dependent).  Many dogs won’t tell you if they are tired, so it is important to set out your goals and stick to the program. If you have any questions about your dog’s exercise needs or exercise tolerance please be sure to consult your veterinarian to discuss specific exercise goals for your pet.

Exercise is fun!  Let your dog help you to achieve your own exercise requirements by getting out there and walking together!

For more information on dog walking and the health benefits for you and your dog, you are invited to review the pamphlet below developed by researchers at the University of Guelph.