Much of what we say about ourselves applies to dogs, e.g. use it or lose it! Compare a nursing home resident of 75 years, spending most of her days in a chair, to a 75 year old who swims every day; compare a fit, elderly dog enjoying a daily walk with his owner, to a senior canine neglected in his backyard because he is ‘too old and slow’.

Exercise for dogs has so many benefits apart from the obvious, such as…

  • Staying fit, keeping weight off, maintaining strength, flexibility and agility; the social benefits of being with their owners, and socialising with other dogs, other animals… (interspecies relationships are very common eg dog/cat, dog/horse/dog/magpie… endless…..)
  • Better general health, living and moving well into old age.

It has been said that exercise is the fountain of youth, for people.

I believe it is that as well for animals… not forgetting of course diet, companionship, socialisation… all essential for happiness and longevity. Finding the right combination of exercise, rest, socialisation is a recipe for a great life.

An interesting fact is that moving with pain and stiffness uses up a lot of energy, it’s very tiring. Get the pain treated, then move appropriately… results can be amazing.

Current ‘live well into old age guides’ for people emphasise lots of appropriate exercise. The latest I read was to get up from sitting every hour. Perhaps that seems like a lot, I used to think stretching and moving every few hours was adequate; but changing position every hour makes sense, we have wonderful bodies that are meant to move, be graceful, efficient, be enjoyed, meant to be a pleasure to look at… whatever the species.

Appropriate exercise is key…

And what is that?

Back to dogs, it depends on their age, job, breed, and their owners. Books have been written on these subjects, so very briefly…

Dog’s Age and Exercise

Don’t overdo exercise with puppies, their bones/joints are still forming till about one year of age. Middle aged to older dogs generally do better with several short walks per day rather than one long walk/run that they could easily do when younger.

Oldies still need to move. Short, gentle walks, wading, swimming, even just following their owner from room to room is good.Also putting them into the car, driving to a park and letting them doddle around and sniff is great.

A note here, most dogs don’t exercise themselves in the backyard, they wait for attention and time with you.They want to walk, sniff everything, and generally socialise and sniff with other dogs…

Sniffing, as well as being social, is excellent stimulation for a dog’s brain. There is more to a walk than just the physical steps.It’s sad to see owners not allowing time for their dog to engage in this amazing activity…

Different Dogs Need Different Exercise:

  • Athletes eg, agility dogs, sporting dogs, border collies, kelpies, cattle dogs… need lots of exercise and mental stimulation… they will be bored, overweight and destructive if left alone in backyards.
  • Couch potato… e.g. retired greyhounds, large breeds, pekinese… don’t need nearly as much exercise as people might think.
  • Safe to say, all dogs need some kind of exercise. In a few European countries it’s illegal to not walk your dog a few times weekly, I wish that rule was worldwide!

Post Surgery and Rehab

Definitely need exercise but specific and graded, depending on what’s happened. Best to see an animal physiotherapist, rehab vet etc for advice on when and how far to walk, wade, swim, specific strengthening etc. Remember, people are hoisted out of bed the day after surgery, because supervised weight bearing movement is so important right from the start… likewise with dogs, only rest and medication can lead to muscle wasting, scar tissue and poor results post surgery.

Generally, mix up exercise for variety, fitness and injury prevention e.g. walk for 2 days, then perhaps moderate ball work on the third, maybe a swim or wade on the 4th day, back to walking on the 5th, next day maybe doggie daycare for play and socialisation. You can also make the walks interesting by going to different streets and parks, all of the different scents are very stimulating for your buddy. Walk in circles, walk backwards, up and down hills… there is an endless variety of ways to keep moving, stay fit and enjoy it together.