If you’re like me, you may have wondered why your dog is NEVER interested in playing fetch (yet all of the other dogs at the dog park LOVES it). On the other hand, you may have a dog that seems to only be interested in snoozing all day. Or, perhaps, you are dealing with an overzealous dog with TOO much energy for your lifestyle.
Basically, it comes down to what your dog was originally bred for.
Reflecting back on our growth into an agricultural society over 10,000 years ago; we, humans, also needed dogs to change significantly in order to help us with everyday jobs. As a result, further division between dogs and wolves occurred, and we now have hundreds of dog breeds that are can be separated into various groups based on the breed’s original purpose: Sporting Dogs, Hounds, Working Dogs, Terriers, Toys, Herders, Non-Sporting Dogs.
A greyhound, for example, is bred for hunting by sight. Greyhounds are sprint runners developed to exert a lot of energy in short bursts in order to quickly chase and catch prey. Therefore, they would be excellent speed running dogs; but not for slow(er) long distance runners.
Likewise, a Pug is short, stocky, and has compromised breathing. They are not built for running; however would enjoy taking short walks. Though, they will likely be tired after a few blocks.
With this in mind, working dogs that are bred to have jobs requiring endurance and stamina simply need more exercise. Bird dogs, for example, were developed to work alongside a hunter in the field for extended hours and will typically require a high level of exercise. Similarly, high-energy herders such as the Border Collie were bred to constantly keep their eyes on the herd all day long. These type of dogs need a ‘job’ to complete or activities to mentally and physically drain them each day.
How much exercise is enough for a dog?
Like us, good dog health and wellness consists of two components: mental exercise and physical exercise. Just as we are often worn out after a hard day at work that required a high level of mental thinking and concentration, dogs can also be exhausted through mental exercises. In fact, mental stimulation can often tire them out quicker than physical exercise! But for the best effect, it is best to balance both mental and physical exercises for our furry companions.
1. Physical Exercise: This involves physical activity with your dog. This is the most common and well-known choice for exercising your dog. As such, there are limitless options depending on what you can think of.
- Walking: The most common form of physical exercise that works best for most people. For variation and increased difficulty, try brisk walking, trail exploring, and climbing up hilly areas (incline).
- Jogging: For people with a more active lifestyle, jogging can be a fantastic option with your canine companion. However, remember that it is best to wait until a dog is at least one year old (preferably 1 ½ years old) before allowing your growing puppy to engage in strenuous activities. This is because their growth plates have not fully developed and unnecessary weight-bearing activities can result in premature injuries that could harm them for the rest of his/her life.
- Swimming: This is probably one of the best low-impact exercise options—allowing it to be enjoyed by both puppies and geriatric dogs. If you have access to a pool or lake, see how your dog enjoy swimming and playing in the water! In larger bodies of water, always use a life vest for safety.
- Physical Games: Fetch is probably the most popular game you can try. Games of fetch and tug of war are physically challenging games that you do to exercise your wet-nosed companion (and sometimes yourself!).
- Dog Sports: For more intensive activities, look into exciting dog sports that your dog may excel at such as Flyball, Agility, and Earthdog trials. The training and focus necessary for these sports will also require a good deal of mental fortitude for your dog as well. These events can be a great way to bond with your dog and allow you both to work together for a common goal.
2. Mental Exercise: This involves mentally stimulating your dog and making him/her use their brains. Whether it is through interactive toys, dog sports, or behavioral training; how you choose to mentally exercise your dog is limited only by your imagination.
- Food stuffed toys: For a food-motivated dog, a food stuffed toy such as a KONG (with peanut butter inside) is a great way to keep him/her engaged awhile. In fact, some people even feed their dogs their entire meal through a food toy such as KONGs and Busy Buddy Squirrel Dudes. Based on my experience, depending on food type and application, a filled KONG have typically kept my dogs occupied anywhere from 20-60 minutes each session.
- Food dispensing toys: Besides food stuffed toys, these are an alternative solution to keep your puppy busy working and occupied. These can include a dispenser toys that releases food as it is moved around or puzzle pieces that needs to be moved in order to access the treats. Some examples includes the Buster Food Cube Interactive Dog Toy and Outward Hound Kyjen Interactive Dog Toys.
- Hide N’ Treat: This is a common game that I recommend for hounds and hunting dog owners. It can also be a great way to introduce your dog into scent tracking. In its simplest form, you scatter kibble in the grass outside of your dog’s view (and nose!). When ready, you bring him/her to the ‘field’ with a sample kibble and allow him/her to sniff out the rest. An indoor version would involve hiding kibble in various cardboard boxes (leaving some completely empty) and allowing your curious canine to ‘hunt’ through the boxes for their treats. In time, as their tracking skill improve, you’ll find that your dog will begin to know which boxes are empty and which are filled with treats!
- Hide N’ Toy: A variation that involves having your dog seek their toys out. This is especially effective for toy-motivated dogs. Start simple by teaching him/her to find a large object such as a ball. Once he/she gets the hang over it, begin to hide the object in more difficult locations and/or use smaller toys. A simple, all-in-one, solution is the Outward Hound Kyjen Hide-A-Squirrel Squeak Dog Toys.
- Hide N’ Seek: A variation of Hide N’ Toy but using yourself or someone else your dog loves as the hidden object!
- Scent Discrimination: This is advanced training involving nose work and scent tracking. Similar to dog sports, there are several organizations dedicated to competition in this field or require scent discrimination as a part of tests such as Schutzhund—a popular dog sport developed in Germany that is effectively the triathlon of dog sports.
Don’t limit yourself to just these suggestions, be creative! You will find that there are a ton of options available to you and your dog. Consider your lifestyle and develop an exercise plan that works best for your situation and what is available to you. As always, feel free with share any ideas and don’t hesitate to contact us if you have any questions.