Dog Doc Question 23: How far should you walk your dog?
Yesterday I talked about gardens and how much outdoor space your dog needs. Today I am talking more specifically about walking and exercise. I do provide a comprehensive guide to exercising your puppy in my puppy packs. All KC Assured Breeders must do this as part of the requirements of the scheme.
Let’s start by talking about puppies and exercise. How much exercise would you give this person?
Would you take her for a two hour hike? Would you go for a run with her? Would you take her out with a load of friends and other, older children and let her run around with them? She’s raring to go and full of life, so that sounds about right, doesn’t it? A puppy is like a toddler. Just because they look like a dog and dogs need to be walked, doesn’t mean they can go wherever you want. Be sensible, please?
Growth plates in dogs
There is another, important reason why puppies should not be over-exercised. They have things called ‘growth plates’ which have to close.Growth plates are soft areas that sit at the ends of the long bones in puppies and young dogs. They contain rapidly dividing cells that allow bones to become longer until the end of puberty. If you allow a puppy to do too much exercise, they will damage their bones and often suffer fractures. More information about appropriate exercise can be found in this article.
How much is too much?
Puppies are self-regulating. This means that when they’ve had enough exercise, they will stop. So if you took a puppy out for a walk and they lay down, that means they’ve had enough. It doesn’t take much. You might think that they run around all day at home, but if you actually sit and watch them, you find that they run around like crazy for a few minutes, then stop and rest. Then start again. Stopping and starting is their self-management. If you watch Ounce and her sister at play, you will see that it’s actually quite laid back.
As a general rule of thumb, 5 minutes per month until around 6 months works well.
This means that a 3-4 month old puppy needs just 15 minutes of exercise per day. That’s hard to do – it’s not much!
Adult dog walking requirements
What does an adult dog need? I said yesterday that some people walk their dog several times daily in order for it to go to the toilet. That’s not really any use in terms of exercise, and even less use for mental stimulation.
A fit dog needs at least 30-60 minutes walking per day. The duration and frequency of exercise should remain consistent and any increases should be gradual. For the majority of dogs, exercise is an important part of their life and so they will take as much as you can give.
Dependant on breed and temperament and mobility, a dog will normally be capable of walking to the same capability as its owner, however as a dog becomes older, exercise should be reduced and your dog should be allowed to walk at its own pace.
Walking is really all that is needed to keep you and your dog fit and healthy, maintaining a good weight. Of course it is easier to manage your dog’s diet than your own! But if you provide good quality exercise, you should both be fit.
Factors to consider when walking your dog
- How much on-lead vs off-lead walking they have – preferably 90-100% off lead. the more time they are on lead, the further they need to go.
- How often they do the same walk – ideally they should have several completely different areas to walk in each week and completely new areas every month or two.
- How often they meet other dogs – it’s great for dogs to have some interaction with others, but this needs to be manageable and stress free for the dog. Meeting the same dogs on a regular basis allows the dog to get to know others and say hello without fear of attack.
- What other issues or challenges are there on the walk – are there lots of cyclists and runners? Can you manage your dog around these? Do you go near roads? Is your dog likely to run off after squirrels or other wildlife?
- What breed and size is your dog? It is true (and obvious) that some dogs do need more exercise than others. But it is NOT true that big dogs needs more than small dogs. The big, heavy breeds of dog cannot go for mammoth hikes in the mountains. Small terriers can keep going for miles, but toy dogs don’t need as much. Which isn’t to say they won’t enjoy a nice walk every day.
Training and routine are the key
Before you even start walking your dog, you should practise recall training, which I have already talked about that at great length.
Dogs (like humans) really love a routine. It is important to be consistent. Just as you wouldn’t run a marathon without training, you can’t expect your dog to suddenly go for a long trek. Whatever you are fit enough for, that is what your dog can do too.
Ask for help?
You are very welcome to contact me to ask for my advice. I can help you with a variety of issues and problems around getting a dog and suggestions for tackling training issues. Go to the What Dog? page for more information on my new service.
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