How Much Exercise is Too Much?
Most dog owners these days know that in order to keep their pup happy and well-behaved, physical exercise is crucial. This is especially true for working breeds. Dogs such as Huskies, German Shepherds, Border Collies and even the goofy-looking Doodles were once bred to work for their owners all day long without getting tired.
As with everything in life however, we need to find the right balance. Unlimited physical exercise is not healthy either. In fact, it can lead to behavioral and medical issues down the line.
Today we will discuss the effects of exercising your dog too much as well as how to find the perfect balance for your pup.

Exercise addiction in dogs

If you have a highly energetic dog, you will find that he is a lot more fun to be around after a good round of running. Maybe you take your dog on bike rides, play fetch for an hour in the backyard or let him run around at the dog park. Afterwards you have a calm and exhausted pup! One big danger with this approach however is that the dog easily gets to the point at which he needs physical exhaustion in order to be well-behaved.

This is a problem - our dogs should be able to relax even without extreme exertion. Additionally, your dog will train over time just like an athlete. In the beginning he needs 20 minutes of fetch to be tired - then 40 minutes - then one hour - and so on …

In my work as a dog trainer, I come across plenty of high-energy breeds who have “trained” their owners to take them for intense workouts every day of their life. If these dogs do not get their extensive exercise needs met, they are destructive, bark incessantly or pace around the house.

This can be described as an exercise addiction just like we find it in humans. And like any addition - it is never good. Once your dog is in the cycle of needing more and more exercise to be well-behaved, it will be difficult to get out of it again.

Physical effects of too much exercise

If your dog is on the path of becoming a canine super athlete by needing more and more exercise every week, he will also suffer the physical ramifications of this. Repetitive exercise, especially on hard surfaces, is damaging to dogs’ joints. Of course, romping on soft grass is no problem. If your dog however requires you to take him jogging on asphalt daily, he will suffer from muscle strains, overuse injuries and eventually early-onset arthritis.

Too much exercise is especially dangerous for puppies who have not yet finished growing. They should never do any kind of “forced” high-impact activities. This includes running on leash, jumping over high obstacles or fetching for more than 10 minutes. If your puppy was to get injured during his growth phase he could retain a lifelong limp.

How much exercise is too much?

At which point exercise becomes too much will always depend on your dog and his breed. Of course a German Shorthair Pointer will need more exercise than a Basset Hound. What is too much exercise for a senior Pug is not enough for an adolescent Poodle.

If you find that your dog requires physical exhaustion in order to be well-behaved, you are past the point of enough exercise. If your dog shows destructive, anxious or reactive behavior unless he has had extensive physical activities, you are exercising him too much.

What you are probably missing in this case is mental stimulation.

Mental stimulation for dogs

The good news is that while high-energy dogs can do a lot of physical activity without ever getting tired, they usually tire very quickly through mental stimulation. Our working dogs that love to go-go-go are actually really challenged by paying attention to a brain game for just a couple minutes.

All dogs that require extensive amounts of physical exercise should have thinking games and activities added to their daily schedule. These can come in a variety of forms, such as:

  •   Learning a new trick with the owner    
  •   Eating their breakfast out of a food puzzle
  •   Playing a nosework game - such as finding hidden treats
  •   Practicing Stays (this can be very challenging and tiring for our active dogs!)
  •   Going to a park or city center and just standing in one spot and observing the world around them
  •   Joining a training class
  •   Eating their dinner from a snuffle mat

Focusing on these activities for even a few minutes can have the same tiring effect as running for half an hour. And: These thinking activities are gentle on your dog’s body.

The Bottom Line

Exercise addiction is a serious concern in working dogs. If your dog requires increasing amounts of exertion in order to not be destructive and poorly behaved, you need to change his exercise schedule.

Too much exercise can lead to several physical conditions over time, especially if done on hard ground. It is especially dangerous for growing puppies as they can sustain overuse injuries that will affect them their entire life.

If your dog is requiring a lot of physical activities to be calm at home, try to replace some of those with mental stimulation instead. Focusing on a puzzle or trick and working with concentration to solve it is more tiring for dogs than running around wildly. 

Strive for a healthy balance between mental and physical activities. This way your dog will stay healthier and your life will be easier as well.

Guest Blog by: Steffi Trott, the owner and founder of SpiritDog Training. Originally training dogs in-person, she added online training in 2018 to her business. Steffi strives to provide game-based, positive training solutions for owners and their dogs.

When she is not training other owners' dogs she competes in dog agility or hikes in the New Mexico and Colorado wilderness with her own 4 dogs.

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