When Should Your Dog Exercise?

By: Orvis Staff

Your dog should exercise every day—whenever it fits best in your daily schedule and your dog is able. That’s because the most effective exercise routine for dogs (and people, for that matter) is the one that happens day after day. Morning, noon, or night. Rain or shine. If it’s time for your dog’s workout, you put on his collar and leash and get moving.

There are times, however, when you may wonder if your dog should skip the exercise—following surgery, for example, or when it’s freezing outside. Read on to learn when an exercise break is in order, when your dog’s workout needs modifying, and when he’s good to go.

Dog Exercise After Eating

Your dog shouldn’t exercise within an hour before or after eating. Vigorous activity too close to eating is a risk factor for bloat, known clinically as gastric dilatation-volvulus (GDV). Bloat is an emergency condition in which a dog’s stomach twists and fills with gas. The gas causes the dog’s stomach to distend dangerously, which can impede breathing, blood flow to the heart and spleen, and can cause a stomach rupture.

Symptoms of bloat include a swollen stomach, whining, drooling, an inability to lie down, and vomiting motions with no vomit production. GDV does not go away without emergency surgery to untwist the stomach. The procedure will also involve removing any damaged tissue, and stitching the stomach to the abdominal wall to prevent future twisting, which is common among dogs with a history of bloat.

It is unknown exactly why bloat occurs, but it is linked to eating large amounts of food fast, and then rigorous activity right afterward. Large breed dogs, such as Great Danes and St. Bernards, and deep-chested dogs, such as Irish Setters, Boxers, and German Shepherds, are at the highest risk, but any dog breed or mix can get bloat.

To lower the risk of bloat, organize your dog’s daily exercise schedule so his mealtimes are low-key and peaceful. Slow sniffs around the back yard and leisurely walks are no problem—it’s okay for your dog to move. But avoid playtime in the yard, agility class, or visits to the dog park for more than an hour on either side of a meal.

Dog Exercise in Winter

Dogs need exercise year round, even when it’s frosty outside. If you have a winter-ready breed—such as the American Eskimo Dog, the Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, or the Siberian Husky—your dog may well love frolicking in the yard when it’s cold and there’s snow on the ground. Lean and short-coated breeds (e.g., Boxers, Chihuahuas, and Italian Greyhounds) are often more sensitive to the cold and may resist going outdoors. In this case, bundling him in a warm dog jacket and maintaining walks as a part of his daily routine should minimize the balking. Make sure his jacket is fully dry each time you go out, by putting it on the heater between walks, or keeping a spare on hand. Wet dog jackets and wet dog fur in the cold cause steeper drops in body heat than occur from the cold alone.

Winter walks and exercise come with unique considerations and hazards to keep in mind, including:

  • Paw injuries. Ice and ice melt salt can cause painful cracking and cuts on your dog’s paw pads. Do your best to avoid areas very icy areas, as well as pavement where you can see ice melt on the ground. Consider getting dog boots for your dog to protect his paws.
  • Frostbite. In extremely cold weather, all dogs are at risk of frostbite on their extremities (ears, tails, paws). When the temperature is well below freezing, keep your dog’s outside time to brief bathroom breaks.
  • Hypothermia. In very cold conditions, all dogs can suffer from hypothermia, which is a condition characterized by dangerously low body temperature. Dogs at greater risk include older dogs, sick dogs, lean dogs, and dogs with short coats. Warm dog jackets can help, but it’s safest to keep outdoor time brief when it’s frigid.
  • Low light. With fewer hours of daylight, you are more likely to exercise your dog in the low light or darkness in the winter. Take safety precautions for low-light dog walks, including using reflective dog jackets and LED collars.

Some winter days are so cold, icy, and snowy, that your dog should go out only to relieve himself. A day of missed exercise is not a big deal, but if you have a high-energy breed, or you’re housebound due to the weather for more than a day or so, you can exercise your dog indoors. Here are some activities to try:

  • Hide and seek – Hide your dog’s favorite dog treats and toys around the house and have him ‘hunt’ them down.
  • Indoor agility course – Depending on the dogs and furniture rules in your house, your couch and chairs work well in a pinch.
  • Stair fetch – Tossing a ball or toy to the top of the stairs so your dog has to run up and down is excellent cardiovascular exercise.

Dog Exercise When It’s Raining

You and your dog can sally forth on your regular walks during a spring shower or summer drizzle. Dog breeds with oily, water-resistant coats—often the breeds with a natural affinity for water, such as Labrador Retrievers, Portuguese Water Dogs, and Newfoundlands—can manage rainy outings with ease. Dogs with short coats or lean bodies could use the protection of an all-weather dog jacket or raincoat so they don’t get soaked to the skin and cold.

If it’s teeming outside or raining for a few days straight, your outdoor exercise routine may be hampered. In these instances, you can exercise your dog indoors with the games suggested above. Indoor days are also good opportunities to give your dog important mental stimulation through obedience training, puzzle dog toys, or learning a new dog trick.

Dog Exercise After Neutering and Spaying

When you bring your dog home after neutering or spaying surgery, the post-surgical instructions will tell you to keep your dog from exercise and rambunctious play. The veterinarian will probably recommend two weeks or more of gentle activity, depending on your dog and any complications.

Your dog shouldn’t exercise after neutering and spaying—or almost any surgery—because vigorous activities, such as running and jumping, can cause pulling at the sutures and possible tearing and reopening of the incision site. It’s a good bet your dog will take it easy during the first day or so of his convalescence, but some excitable, energetic puppies and dogs need help keeping it mellow after that. Dog treats placed in puzzle toys can keep your dog focused on a low-key activity for a while. Frequent short, laid-back walks through the day can also help tire out high-energy dogs. If your dog is excitable and sociable in the presence of other dogs, avoid routes and parks frequented by his four-legged besties.

How Much Should Your Dog Exercise Per Day?

The recommended amount of daily exercise for dogs is between 30 minutes and two hours. The time range is so wide because of major differences in exercise needs for individual dogs, which vary significantly based on breed, size, age, health problems, and overall fitness level.

Some dog breeds are naturally athletic and energetic, a combination that requires an abundance of exercise to stay fit and to help keep them calmer between activities. Dogs in this category include many sporting and herding dogs, such as Labrador Retrievers, Irish Setters, and Border Collies. Other dog breeds are more inclined to kick back and relax, and require only moderate exercise to remain healthy. Examples include Pugs, Great Danes, and Newfoundlands. Keep in mind, there are always outliers who don’t align exactly with their breed and may require more or less exercise.

With the caveat that all dogs require some exercise, let your dog be your guide. Older dogs will require less exercise as they age, and their activities may need modifying if they have osteoarthritis or other joint ailments. Puppies, meanwhile, don’t require pushing to get enough exercise. They typically get enough activity during their daily explorations, and over-exercising can actually damage their fast-growing joints and bones, especially in large and giant breeds.

Dog Exercise Schedule

The timing and content of your dog’s exercise routine will vary, of course, based on your schedule, as well as on his age and health, as explained above. But here are sample exercise schedules for inspiration, and to adapt to your dog’s needs and abilities:

Healthy Adult Dog Exercise Schedule

  • Morning – walk, run, or training session followed by playtime and a food puzzle dog toy
  • Midday – walk, playtime, and mental exercises (e.g., hide and seek, dog treat hunt, learning a new trick)
  • Evening – walk or run followed by play, a training session, and mental exercises (Tip: Make the evening exercise session slightly longer than the morning session so your dog is ready to hit his dog bed at night.)

Playtime options include classic fetch, running around the yard, tug of war (for dogs who follow the ‘leave it’ command dependably), and swimming, among others.

Training session options include field training, obedience training, agility training, dog sports training (dock jumping, flyball, herding, carting, Treibball, etc.), and training to do tricks.

Also, keep in mind some dog breeds prefer walking to running. If you want to run with your dog, explore athletic dog breeds.

Puppy Exercise Schedule

Abundant opportunities to move, explore, interact with you, and socialize with other dogs and people are more important than a set exercise schedule for puppies. So is following their lead. If your puppy appears ready for a nap, don’t force him to take a walk. A puppy’s daily activity will look something like this:

  • All day – walk, play, obedience training, socialization, scampering, cavorting, hopping, rollicking. And in between all of these activities—lots of napping.

Older Dog Exercise Schedule

Senior dogs may have mobility issues and ailments, such as osteoarthritis, that will affect their exercise routine and require modifications to the activities and dog sports they loved as younger dogs. But regular movement is important to support your older dog’s mental and physical fitness, even when he’d prefer the comfort of his cushy dog bed.

  • Morning – walk, training or mental exercises, and playtime
  • Afternoon – walk and mental exercises
  • Evening – walk, training or mental exercises, and playtime

Whatever your dog’s age and breed, always consult with his veterinarian to create an optimal exercise schedule. When you establish an exercise routine, with some flexibility factored in, you’ll stick with it—and you and your best friend will be healthier for it.

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