I’ll be first to admit that I’m not the most outdoorsy or energetic of people. My ideal day is one spent in front of my TV or computer screen. But one should never ignore the fact that getting some exercise is important.
Especially so when it comes to our dogs.
Taking your dog out for a walk or run not only has many health benefits but also helps with behavioral problems. As beneficial as exercising can be, too much of it can be harmful to your dog.
How many miles is too much for a dog? The number of miles that your dog can walk or run safely largely depends on many factors such as its age, breed, current health, body weight, etc. Too much rigorous activity for a dog that isn’t used to it can cause bodily harm over the long term.
In this article, we will be discussing the appropriate mileage that your dog can handle and what are the downsides of over-exercising your dog.
Why Do Dogs Need To Exercise?
If you are someone that needs to spend most of your waking time indoors and only moves a muscle to change the channel, a dog isn’t the best pet for you.
Maybe a hamster or a terrapin.
Dogs need to exercise because that is what they love to do and it boils down to how they evolved and got domesticated. Does not walking a dog for years make one a bad dog owner? Maybe and maybe not, depending on your dog.
That goofy-looking dog that you have at home is a direct descendant of the wolf. Wolves are amazing hunters not due to their high kill rate but rather their ‘dog-eared’ persistence.
They can spend days tracking and hunting down a prey until their target is completely exhausted and gives up.
When humans started to domesticate dogs, they were put to work as hunting dogs, farm herders and sled pullers.
A dog loves and wants to work…well most dogs.
Exercising your dogs gives them benefits such as:
- Stronger bones
- Better muscle mass
- Strengthen your dog’s abs
- Mental stimulation
- Prevents destructive behavior
- Keeps them happy
It is important to exercise your dog every day for at least an hour to keep them fit and healthy.
How Many Miles Should Your Dog Walk Or Run?
The majority of dog owners exercise their dogs by taking them out for a walk once or twice a day. Each exercise session ranges between thirty minutes to an hour which is more than enough exercise for many dogs.
Most dogs that are healthy can handle such a frequency and are happy to do so. The problem arises when some dog owners start to push the boundaries and take their dogs out for very long and strenuous exercise sessions.
Too much too soon can do more harm than good to your dog.
Don’t get me wrong, many dogs are a lot fitter than we give them credit for but there are other dogs that might not be able to handle too much impact on their bodies.
Even though our dogs have evolved from wolves, they no longer have to hunt or migrate large distances like before.
The majority of dogs should be able to handle a distance of 3 miles (5km) without much of an issue or needing extra training.
Giant, large and small dog breeds might a couple of breaks to complete such a distance.
If you plan to go for a longer distance (5 miles and more) or even teach your dog how to run with you while you jog or cycle, you definitely need to build up your dog’s endurance as running places a lot more stress on your dog’s body.
Besides the number of miles, there are other factors that you need to consider as well.
- time of the day
- type of terrain
If you are looking to take your dog for a 10-mile hike at 12 noon on rocky terrain, that is going to put a lot of stress on your dog’s joints and paws.
Even though your dog’s paws are tough, having to continuously walk on surfaces like gravel, asphalt, rocks can cause cuts and blisters over time.
Allowing your dog to do most of its walking or running on a forest trail or grass is gently gentle on its body.
Furthermore, if you walk your dog when it is really hot or cold, that can also affect your dog’s stamina. It can cause your dog to get a heatstroke or even hypothermia. I would strongly advise against going out with your dog when the weather is bad.
Factors That Determine The Fitness Level Of Your Dog
Our dogs are all different in personalities and fitness levels, even if they are of the same breed. I have a friend with two border collies from the same litter and they can’t be more different than night and day.
One dog has more energy than 100 marathon runners combined while the other day is happy to chill in front of the TV.
Here are some factors that can determine how much exercise your dog needs.
Your Dog’s Breed
Personally, I feel that the dog’s breed is the main deciding factor that determines a dog’s fitness level. Not all dog breeds are made equal. Some breeds are bred to carry out certain functions that others can.
Not all dogs can herd like a border collie and not all dogs are great hunters like a hound.
Here are some dog breeds that are known to be very active:
- Border C0llies
- Siberian Huskies
- German Shepherds
- Golden Retrievers
- Belgian Malinois
On the other end of the spectrum, you have dog breeds that don’t require a ton of exercise
- St Bernard
- Great Dane
- Basset Hound
- Chow Chow
- Chinese Crested Dog
This isn’t a fixed rule but generally speaking, giant breeds aren’t suited for long-distance running or walking due to the amount of weight that they carry around. The same goes if you have a large dog.
It doesn’t take long to tire a small breed dog out as their short little legs have to move a lot more strides to cover the same distance as a human or a larger dog.
Your Dog’s Age
The next most important factor would be the age of your dog. The amount of walking or running that older dogs can handle would be lesser than a younger healthy dog.
These senior dogs might be suffering from joint and hip issues that can prevent them from engaging in long walks or intense sessions.
Most older dogs that I know of prefer to spend their time sleeping or going for a little short walk around the neighborhood.
Even if you have a senior dog that is still raring to go, you should moderate the number of miles it exercises or risk orthopedic injury.
Your Dog’s Current Fitness Level
Before you decide to take your dog on a full-day hike, make a good assessment of your dog’s current fitness level.
If your dog is only used to 30-minute walks once a day, asking your dog to walk for a whole day might be too strenuous.
Even if you have a Border Collie but have not been putting your dog through the paces, slowly work up your dog’s stamina over short distances before covering long distances.
Your Dog’s Health
If your dog has an existing health condition that has affected its fitness level, you need to be sure to not over-exert your dog.
Health problems such as cardiovascular diseases, crushing disease, hip dysplasia, etc, can put a dampener on how much exercise your dog can handle.
Please do not physically strain your dog and cause it more pain.
Make sure to consult your vet before increasing the intensity of your dog’s exercise sessions.
How Much Excercise To Give A Puppy?
When it comes to exercising your puppy, you need to be a bit more careful. Even though puppies are young, active and playful, their bodies are yet to be fully developed.
Most puppies reach adulthood by 12-15 months. Larger and giant dog breeds can continue to grow for up to 24 months.
If you subject your developing dog to a lot of intense and long exercise sessions, it can cause injury to its joints which can be a problem in its adult years.
A veteran dog owner once told me about the ‘5-minute rule’ for puppies. For every month that the puppy ages, you can add 5. minutes of playtime a day.
So a month-old puppy gets 5 minutes, a 2-month-old puppy gets 10 minutes until it reaches adulthood.
There isn’t much scientific evidence to support this reasoning but it gives dog owners a good benchmark to work with and not overwork their puppies.
Make sure to not let your puppy jump or run too much. Activities that cause the dog to change direction swiftly and forcefully are also bad for the joints.
How Do I Know If My Dog Is Tired?
Even if you have the fittest dog in the world that can put a professional marathoner to shame, you still need to be aware of when your dog is tired.
Some dogs are so in the zone when exercising that they can push past any pain and discomfort. Or your dog could be behaving out of sorts at home.
Here are some symptoms:
- unable to move well
- yelping and moving at the same time
- excessive drooling
- sleeping more than usual
- lack of an appetite
If your dog is showing any above symptoms, you need to let your dog have a break or end its exercise sessions. Pushing your dog further can only aggravate any pain or injury that it might be having.
Don’t Turn Your Dog Into A Fitness Monster
It might seem like a great idea for dog owners who are fitness buffs to start training their dogs to be one as well.
That might not be a great idea as your might turn your dog into one that doesn’t know how to relax. Its need for exercise can cause it to be hyperactive which results in aggression and destructive behavior.
There are times when it is good for your dog to just learn how to chill out and relax with you without the need to run 10 miles before dinner.
If your dog is starting to require more exercise than you, here’s a good training video on teaching your dog how to be more zen.