Telltale Signs You’ve Been Ignoring Your Dog for Too Long

signs dog needs more exercise

Story at-a-glance -

  • Many dogs today don’t get the exercise they need to be physically fit and emotionally balanced
  • Dogs should get a minimum of 20 minutes of sustained aerobic exercise three times a week; the longer the exercise sessions and the more often they occur, the better
  • Signs that your dog may be under-exercised include a weight problem, hyperactivity, destructive tendencies, mobility issues and attention-seeking behavior
  • One great way to help your dog get the physical activity she needs is through a variety of different types of walks, including power walks and training walks

By Dr. Karen Shaw Becker

Most dogs need much more physical activity than their owners realize. The good news is there are a few very clear clues dog parents can rely on to signal that their pooch may not be getting the exercise he needs to be a physically healthy, men­tally balanced, well-conditioned canine companion.

Your dog should be getting an absolute minimum of 20 minutes of sustained heart-thumping exercise three times a week. Thirty minutes is better than 20, and six or seven days a week is better than three.

Minimum exercise requirements prevent muscle atrophy, but don't necessarily build muscle mass, strengthen tendons and ligaments, hone balance and proprioception, or enhance cardiovascular fitness, which is why more is always better. If you can provide your dog daily walks as well as additional daily training sessions to meet your other exercise goals, even better!

6 Signs Your Dog Needs More Exercise

Buddy is beefy

One of the problems pet obesity experts have uncovered is that unfortunately, overweight dogs have become the new normal and as a result, many people can't tell the difference between a fat dog and a normal-sized dog. If you're not sure about your own pet, look down at him from above. You should be able to see a tapered-in waist. If he's oval-shaped, he's probably too heavy.

You should also be able to feel (but not see) his ribs as well as the bones near the base of his tail. If he's obese, you'll see noticeable amounts of excess fat on his abdo­men, hips and neck. Also take a look at this body condition chart provided by the Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP):

pet body condition scoring

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Your goal for your dog should be a body condition score of 3.

Honey is hyper

Most symptoms of hyperactivity as perceived by dog parents are actually either breed-specific behaviors, conditioned behaviors or behaviors resulting from a lack of appropriate physical or mental stimulation. That's why it's important to recognize the difference between canine behavior that is abnormal, and behavior that may be undesirable, but is actually normal given the dog's circumstances.

If you notice your canine family member is much easier to be around after she's been to the dog park or has run around the backyard with your kids for an hour, you can reasonably conclude that burning off physical and mental energy has a positive effect on her behavior.

Dogs who don't get their daily needs met for activity, social interaction, mental stimulation and environmental enrichment, may appear to be hyperactive as they attempt to fulfill those needs within the constraints of their environment.

Duke is a one-dog demolition crew

Many dogs who don't get enough heart-thumping exercise find other frequently destructive ways to burn off that energy, from chewing shoes to full-scale excavation projects in your house or yard. Others may dumpster-dive in the kitchen trash, relieve themselves indoors or even develop aggressive behavior toward other pets or people.

If you're seeing undesirable behavior in your dog and you suspect he needs more exercise, try that first to see if the problem goes away. If it doesn't, the next step is to make an appointment with your veterinarian to make sure there isn't an underlying medical issue that is contributing to the behavior.

naughty dog

Winnie seems withdrawn

Sadly, some dogs, instead of drawing attention to themselves, become socially inhibited when they aren't getting enough exercise and playtime. This can take the form of a decrease in interaction with other family members, or choosing to isolate themselves in their crate or another room.

If your normally social dog suddenly isn't, consider the possibility that she needs more physical activity. In addition, it's a good idea to make an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out a painful condition or some other physical cause for the change in her behavior.

Rocky is reluctant to run or play

Dogs who don't get daily opportunities to move their bodies can get stiff and creaky just like we do, and lack the stamina for aerobic exercise or long play sessions. If your dog is out of shape, don't jump into a strenuous exercise program right away. Take it slow, allowing his muscles, joints and tendons to gradually return to good condition.

If the situation doesn't seem to be improving after a couple of weeks or you notice he's having trouble doing things he should be able to do, like climb stairs or jump into your car, make an appointment with your veterinarian, as your dog could be dealing with a painful condition that won't improve with exercise alone.

Angel is an attention hound

Some more persistent dogs will do whatever it takes to get their owner's attention in the hopes they'll get to go for a walk or to the dog park. These attention-seeking behaviors include barking, whining, pacing, spinning in circles, tail-chasing, carrying the leash in their mouth, and running or standing at the door.

Why You and Your Dog Should Exercise Together

Physical exercise helps keep your canine companion's heart, lungs, joints, and digestive and circulatory systems in good working order. It also helps him stay trim and burn off energy.

It's really no joke that "a tired dog is a good dog." Under-exercised, bored dogs are prime candidates for developing undesirable habits and behaviors, as well as anxiety. One way to help your four-legged family member get moving is to take her on a variety of different types of walks:

  • There are purposeful walks that are typically short, for example, when you take your dog out to her potty spot.
  • There are mentally stimulating walks during which you allow your dog to stop, sniff, investigate, mark a spot and so forth. Dogs accumulate knowledge about the world through their noses. Most leashed dogs don't get to spend as much time sniffing and investigating as they would like, so allowing your pet some time to explore is good mental stimulation for him.
  • There are power walks that keep your dog's frame strong, his weight in check, and help alleviate arthritis and other degenerative joint diseases. Exercise consistency is key. Your dog needs to exercise every three days at a minimum to maintain muscle tone and prevent muscle wasting. It's also important to elevate her heart rate for 20 minutes during exercise. If your dog is out of shape, you'll need to start slow and build gradually to 20 minutes per session.
  • There are training walks that can be about improving leash manners, learning basic or advanced obedience commands, ongoing socialization, or anything else you can think of that can be done on a leashed walk. Ongoing training throughout your dog's life is a great way to keep his faculties sharp and boredom at bay. It's also a wonderful way to strengthen the bond between you and your pet.
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