A walk a day keeps the vet away

Dog ownership is more popular than ever with a huge surge seen in puppies bought during lockdown back in spring. Many have become dog owners for the first time and are still finding their feet with a demanding schedule and all the attention a dog needs. Sometimes it can feel a bit like having a part time job - one where you don't actually get paid but comes with great benefits if you get the right dog at the right time for the right reasons.

Having a full-time job and owning a dog can be challenging, but with the support of family, friends or a pet care professional it is not impossible to achieve. So many devoted dog owners make it work by using pet care services, and they come with really flexible and affordable options too.

Dog ownership involves more than just cuddles on the sofa and to do it responsibly means time being taken away that perhaps you cannot spend doing other things. In reality you need to be able to find an additional 15-20hrs a week and be happy with the commitment.

New puppy owners should do lots of research into the amount of exercise their puppy will need as it grows into an adult before they make that purchase. Different breeds require different levels of exercise and it is not a one type fits all scenario. If exercise requirements aren't met, you could end up with a miserable, overweight dog and one that is hard to manage.

How much exercise does a dog need?

The amount of exercise a dog needs will depend on a number of factors such as age, breed, general health, temperament and behaviour. The dog also needs to be on the right food and calorie density for its age and exercise levels. Working breeds for example need the most exercise and time off the lead.

An hour a day is the minimum most dogs need to be walked to be happy. but for more than half of breeds, an hour a day is nowhere near enough. Straight away an hour a day is seven hours you need to find and allocate to your dog in the week. Just a half hour when splitting this into a morning and evening walk can take a chunk out of your down time and there are few dogs where half an hour would be long enough anyway. This can sometimes come as a shock for first time dog owners!

If your time keeping and organisation skills are to be desired, you will need to work on this to be a dog owner. A dog needs routine. While help from friends and family is great, they may become tired of continually stepping in, not to mention the burden of responsibility it places on them. What if something happened to your dog while they were in their care? Would they know what to do? If you want to live a full life with lots of comings and goings and be a responsible dog owner, the good news is that you absolutely can with the help of a professional dog walker who will help your dog have stability and routine.

As a dog owner you have to be willing to take part in that exercise too, which means walking all year round in all weathers, in the dark, rain, wind and early or late at night sometimes. Simply turning the dog out into the garden while you work from home is not enough exercise or stimulation for your dog. Walks need to be built into the daily schedule as making up for missed walks in the working week with a longer walk at the weekend is not the right way to correct the imbalance.

Researching the breed and what it was bred for is essential to gauge the level of exercise that a particular dog will need. Any working breed like a gun dog (Springer Spaniel) or herding dog (Border Collie) will need a lot of exercise to keep them happy in adulthood. Border Collies have one of the highest levels of exercise requirements, often several hours a day.

The Siberian Husky was bred to run and stay on the move for long periods of time, so this breed is unlikely to fit into a busy family home. This breed was recently popularised by the TV show, 'Game Of Thrones'. Its wolf-like appearance appealed to a lot of people but many of these huskies went into domestic homes where they are getting nowhere near enough exercise.

Sedentary breeds like the English Bulldog and Mastiff can manage on two half hour walks although two one-hour walks would be preferable. Sight hound breeds, however, like the Whippet, Saluki and Lurcher need more in the way of being able to have short bursts of fast, physical exercise. They need one hour, twice a day as a minimum, but they need the freedom of being able to go off lead if safe to do so to fulfil 'the chase' instinct. The Greyhound is also a sighthound but surprisingly does not need the higher level of exercise as some of its counterparts.

Smaller breeds like the Chihuahua, Pug, Papillon and Pekingese benefit from shorter, more regular walks, much in the same way as a dog in its senior years of any breed to help keep them mobile and offer mental stimulation. A Terrier may be an exception to this as they tend to be full of beans and need to burn off energy!

Giant breeds such as the St Bernard and Newfoundland can still be growing until they are two years old. Exercise therefore in these breeds needs to be steady and structured so not to put pressure on still developing joints, bones, muscles and ligaments. If a dog does not get enough exercise, muscles and ligaments can deteriorate providing less support for the joints risking injury.

For dog owners who like to jog with their dog, try not to overdo it. Dogs enjoy being able to sniff and explore so having to constantly keep up with a runner is not always as much fun for them. Perhaps choose a breed more suited to being on the move e.g. Border Collie, Siberian Husky or a Dalmatian which was actually bred initially to run behind a horse drawn carriage!

If you have an obese dog, start with 15 minutes a day which you can gradually increase over time as your dog gets fitter. By the end of a two week period you should hopefully be able to increase this to at least 30 mins a day and so on. Take it at your dog's pace though and with input from your veterinary professional.

Dogs living in the 'wild' never have an overweight member of the pack. Hunting for food burns quite a lot of calories in itself. Domestic dogs are less likely to get as much exercise and they have set meal times. They don't need to worry about running out of food like their wild counterparts. For this reason, obesity in modern domestic dogs is common.

If you can work to improve your dog's fitness by matching food intake to exercise providing them with an appropriate amount they will lead a happier, healthy life. A dog getting sufficient exercise will be lean and fit. They will be able to keep up with you on walks and be able to play on an even footing if they were to meet other dogs on their walk. If they don't want to come back to you at the end of the walk to go back on lead, this might be a sign they are not getting enough exercise and feel they are 'not done'. A well exercised dog will also be less likely to be over excitable or destructive in the home. When they get home after their walk they will most likely settle and head for their bed.

Now then, did I hear someone say ''WALKIES?!"

If you need support meeting your dog's exercise needs, find out more about our dog walking service.

Written by Sophie Baldwin

My area of expertise is veterinary nursing, so health and care of companion animals. I was in veterinary practice for 14 years and trained in Wiltshire, Suffolk and Berkshire. Now I’m a We Love Pets branch owner at Stroud and Tetbury after deciding I wanted to keep working with animals but also be my own boss. My horse Bertie has been keeping me busy for 21 years now along with Kizzy the cat who I got through Cats Protection. I get my dog fix from dog walking other people’s dogs every day! What I love most about having a pet is the companionship they bring along with their non-judgemental affection, no matter who you are. They love you for just being you!

Topics: Dog walking, pet health

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