What You May Not Know About Exercising Your Dog

“What kind of exercise is your dog getting?” The answer is frequently, “he exercises in the back lawn.”

©Scott Sheaffer, CDBC, CPDT-KA, USA Dog Behavior, LLC

Exercising your dog is important. Increased exercise for a client’s dog is one of my most frequent recommendations as part of a treatment plan for problem behaviors.

There are many misconceptions about how to properly exercise a dog. Below I’ve provided some things to consider when exercising your four-legged friend.

Your dog wakes up every morning with a bucket of mental and physical energy. He will use that energy during the day in ways that are good or ways that are not so good. However, know one thing - your dog will burn this daily bucket of energy one way or another. There are essentially four ways that dogs do this.

o   Physical exercise – it’s a staple of dog health. This includes owner directed walking, fetch, tug-of-war, etc.

o   Mental exercise - includes obedience training, games, etc. Dogs get mentally tired after mental exercises just as we do after a challenging video game. This is a good type of fatigue for your dog.

o   Food - when a dog is significantly overweight or obese, his energy levels can decline. An obese dog also uses a lot of energy just to walk and move. This, of course, is definitely not a healthy way for a dog to burn off energy. Unfortunately, this is the default way many dogs are “exercised.” Obesity in dogs is a big problem and on the rise.

o   Many owners report annoying behaviors their dogs have developed such as barking, destroying the house, digging, etc. In reality, many of these are a result of insufficient mental and physical exercise. These fall under the behavior categories of unruly, hyperactive, impulse control, etc. and represent the best examples of dogs finding not-so-great ways to keep themselves physically and mentally stimulated.

Most dogs are just not that into running – as in mile after mile alongside their marathon running or bike-riding humans. Truth is, the vast majority of dogs are built for short bursts of running (e.g., chasing prey) but otherwise prefer covering long distances by walking or slowly trotting. I’ve included a short video below that shows what a dog trot looks like along with walk, amble and pace.


I hear it almost every day when I ask the question, “What kind of exercise is your dog getting?” The answer is frequently, “he exercises in the back lawn.” I’ve been working with dogs for years and have never seen a dog lifting weights or running timed laps in someone’s back lawn. The reality is that most dogs just lie in the shade after a few minutes of initially exploring the back lawn. Further, there is absolutely no relationship building going on between a dog and his human family when he is sequestered in the back lawn.

Keep the following in mind when exercising your dog:

1) 30 minutes per day of any combination of physical and mental exercise is a good starting point for most dogs. Breed and age can affect the types and levels of exercise your dog may need. Please work with your veterinarian to determine the optimum amount and type of exercise for your specific dog.

2) Work with your veterinarian to determine the best kind of food and amount to feed him in order to get your dog to an ideal weight – and then maintain it.

3) Select exercises that your dog enjoys and vary the exercises to keep his interest level up.

4) It’s important for relationship building to exercise with your dog – and you get to exercise too! Just putting your dog in the back lawn for exercise doesn’t work very well in the long run for a number of reasons.

I have a short article that lists 14 ways to exercise your dog – many can be done indoors. If you would like a copy of it, please just go to the contact page on this website and send me your email address. I’ll be happy to send it to you.