April 22, 2006

Exercise – Why Dogs Need It

A dog whose exercise needs are met may rest more calmly at homeand be less fretful when left alone. The modern dog-managementmantra of “A good dog is a tired dog” is gospel to many people.Exercise can improve bone and joint health. Heart and lungfunction can improve. Sport and working dogs need the rightexercise to be able to perform well. Exercise makes show dogslook better and feel better to a judge’s exploring hands.

Some exercise is better than other exercise. The best exercisechannels the activity of both mind and body. The best exerciseis purposeful, with a purpose that increases the dog’s abilityto live happily in human society. The best exercise is balancedby teaching the dog how to be calm and physically composedthrough regular practice of this skill.

Excessive or inappropriate exercise can damage a dog’s body andmind. Jumping high in the air to chase a toy and landingawkwardly has crippled many dogs. The epidemic of dog kneeinjuries testifies to the results of human thinking that “ifsome is good, more is better” when it comes to wild canineexercise.

You don’t need to take up marathon running in order toadequately exercise your dog, and in fact you could harm yourdog that way. Walks with your dog can be great for both of you,but even these don’t have to be long distance.

Go to training classes with your dog to learn how to givepurpose to your outings together-several months of classes forlarge and working-type breeds. Practice and use the skills youlearn in class when you’re out with your dog. Choose places foryour outings that help you form the right belief system in yourdog’s mind for the temperament your dog needs to live safelywith humans. A dog that tries to “guard” against all strangersis neither happy nor likely to live out a full lifespan. Helpyour dog learn to enjoy human society and to enjoy meetingfriendly people.

Teach your dog to retrieve, using one of the many positiveteaching methods available now. Some dogs may require months tolearn, but that’s okay-it’s all good mental exercise and bondingtime between you and your dog! A dog who retrieves is easy toexercise by throwing a favorite toy. If you don’t have a fencedarea, keep the dog on a long line during this game, and ofcourse don’t throw the object farther than the length of theline.

Dogs enjoy catching tennis balls, and lightweight toys likethese are okay for catching. Don’t throw a heavy object for adog to catch, because it could damage the teeth, neck, or otherpart of the body. Don’t throw sticks for a dog to catch orfetch. Too many dogs have suffered serious injury from sticksjammed into the back of the mouth or throat.

Whatever you throw, keep the throws low so the dog doesn’t jumpup and land on just the hind legs. Injuries can result fromthese landings. Since flying discs often rise on the wind higherthan you intended, you may choose to completely avoid them forretrieving games outdoors.


As in most other things, moderation works admirably for dogswhen it comes to exercise. Dog use body language to communicate,and many dogs will get enough exercise just from spendinginteresting days with people and other animals they enjoy.Exercise that is healthy for both mind and body is the very bestkind of exercise.


Dogs can experience heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Unlikehumans, dogs do not have an efficient body-cooling system. Youngdogs and old dogs have poorer temperature regulating abilitiesthan dogs in the prime of life and the peak of physicalcondition. Dogs with shortened muzzles are at an enormousdisadvantage in heat tolerance. Black dogs in the sun are atgreatly increased risk of overheating, as are long-haired dogswhether in sun or not.

Under ideal conditions, consider the top temperature for workinga dog (or allowing a dog to play hard) to be about 85 F(29.4C). If the dog is young, old, black, long-haired,short-muzzled, not in perfect health, not acclimated to theoutdoors, etc., 85 F would be too high. That would also be toohigh when humidity is also high. Note that this situation caneasily exist inside a house that is not air-conditioned. Somedogs are dependent upon air conditioning for their very survivalin summer.


If your dog is going to be jumping, doing a lot of running,pulling a sled, or other physically intense exercise, make surethe dog receives the correct regular exercise that our human”weekend athlete” forgets to do! Don’t just take the dog to adog park to run crazy and call that adequate.

In the House

Teach your dog how to rest calmly. It may be fine for your dogto scamper around your house-depending on the size of the dog,the size of the house, and the dog’s individual tendency tocrash into furniture. Some dogs are quite agile in close spaces,and others not at all.

Avoid the routine of crating your dog all day, and then havingthe dog “explode” out of the crate for a wild-eyed exercisesession. This can lead to future behavior problems. Delayexercise until a few minutes after letting the dog out of thecrate. Also give a dog time to unwind after exciting exercisebefore you crate the dog and leave for work.

The crate is a safe place for the dog to rest, but interruptingpotential bad habits doesn’t teach the dog good habits-teachinghappens when you have your dog out of the crate and interactwith each other. Use a crate wisely, but don’t overuse it.

The above is general veterinary information. Do not beginany course of treatment without consulting your regularveterinarian. All animals should be examined at least once every12 months.

About the author:

Copyright 2002 – 2006 by the Veterinary Information Network,Inc. All rights reserved.

Linda Mar Veterinary Hospital and its cat-only affiliate,Coastal Cat Clinic, are small animal practices located inPacifica, California. To find a veterinarian or to learn moreabout the vet clinic and our staff,visit:[http://lindamarvet.com/]

Kathy Diamond Davis

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