How Often Should I Walk My Dog?
Your dog may need more exercise than you think, according to two vets and a behaviorist. Walk this way...
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When a vet or trainer is trying to diagnose the reason for a dog’s bad behavior, it often comes back to one thing: exercise. Their needs are not so different from the mental and physical health needs of humans in that way. (Did I get my steps in the week that Bridgerton aired? I did not.) So we all know that exercise is important for our pets, but what’s the best way to get it? And when? That’s not always so obvious.
Walks vs. Potty Breaks
First, let’s be clear: There’s a difference between letting your dog out to pee and going for a walk. When it comes to pee breaks, “adult dogs need to be let out for bathroom breaks a minimum of three times a day,” says Dr. Ashley Rossman, DVM, a veterinarian at Glen Oak Dog and Cat Hospital. “Puppies need even more than that, especially when they’re not yet housebroken.” Beyond that, how much time your dog needs to burn off energy will depend on their age and breed.
“Younger dogs have more energy than older dogs, obviously, and will need more time to walk or run around. Older dogs, especially ones dealing with issues like arthritis, may need shorter walks to avoid causing additional pain. Working dogs — think Retrievers and Sheepdogs — need at least 30 minutes of significant exercise,” she says. (Those of you with working-group puppies: hope you’ve got good running shoes.)
Plan an Hour-Long Walk
How often you walk your dog will also depend on whether or not you have a yard, according to Lauren Novack, a certified dog behavior consultant at Behavior Vets in NYC. If a dog has free rein to run around a yard, they’re not going to need as formal an exercise routine as a pet whose idea of open space is the hallway from the bedroom to the front door. Still, Novack says people tend to under-exercise their dogs — especially small ones.
“An hour-long walk every day is generally a good recommendation — preferably all in one session,” she says. “A long walk benefits a dog’s physical body as well as their mental health. The problem with a 15-minute walk is that you’re not going anywhere new.” If you can’t time block your calendar for an hour-long walk a day, consider hiring a dog walker to ensure your dog gets the exercise they need — even if you’re working from home.
Boredom Equals Bad Behavior
Dogs thrive on variety just like we do, so if they’re stuck in the same loop, they’ll eventually find it uninspiring. And dogs who aren’t getting enough exercise become something worse than couch potatoes. “If you’re not walking your dog enough or providing them with enough playtime, they can become anxious or destructive,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM, a veterinarian at Whitehouse Veterinary Hospital. “They might tear up the house or start licking their paws obsessively.” That energy has to go somewhere, and sometimes it’s going to go into chewing all the wires behind the TV.
Physical Activity Should Be Fun
That said, not all dogs like walking. It makes sense — you may prefer a bike over a treadmill, right? Novack suggests finding a form of activity that excites your dog, like playing fetch or swimming. Your dog may even master an agility course. Researching what your dog’s breed traditionally enjoys can help, too. Or maybe it’s you who doesn’t like walks because your dog pulls on their leash or is aggressive toward other animals. “In that case, try training techniques and walking gear to help your dog heel, or walk them when you’re less likely to see other dogs, like late at night,” Dr. Ochoa says. (Peak dog-walking hours tend to be right after rush hour, when people get home from work.)
Mind the Weather
On top of age and breed, there’s another factor that can affect the length and quality of your dog’s walk: heat. “Walks in the summer are tricky,” admits Dr. Rossman. While you can bundle a dog up in the winter, there’s less you can do to manage the temperature on a warm day. So if it’s hot and sunny (temps above 80 degrees), don’t keep your dog out for too long.” During the summer, early morning or evening walks are your safest options to keep your pet from burning their paw pads or overheating.
“Heat exhaustion is very real, and the emergency rooms see many cases,” Dr. Rossman adds. Some breeds are more prone to overheating, like Malamutes or Huskies, because they’re bred for colder weather. Older dogs and sick pets can struggle in the heat, too, as can brachycephalic breeds like Pugs, Bulldogs, and Boxers. “Always remember to bring drinking water for your pet,” she says. “And don’t go hiking midday — if you do, make sure you’re seeking out trails that have plenty of shade so your dog has a way to stay cool.” But a hot day isn’t an excuse to veg out: keep your dog moving indoors with an old-school tug-of-war session or interactive dog puzzle toys.
Colleen Stinchcombe lives near Seattle, WA, where she works as a writer, editor, and content strategist. Her two rescue pups wish she were a professional ball-thrower.