There isn’t a valid one-size-fits-all recommendation for the distance or amount of time that you should walk your dog. There are many relevant factors, specific to each individual’s health and needs, that should determine how often you should walk your dog, including:
- Age: Young puppies and senior dogs generally don’t need as much exercise as adolescent and middle-aged dogs; in fact, you can easily cause them physical harm if you try to do too much, either walking them too far or too many times in a day.
- Fitness: A lean, fit dog can go for several long, energetic walks a day. An overweight, out-of-shape dog needs to take it very easy, with slow strolls – and not too far.
- Elimination Habits. Some dogs poop just once a day; some poop three times on every walk. And some dogs won’t (or can’t seem to) poop until they’ve walked for a mile or more. When you’ve determined what works best for your dog, it will keep his physical discomfort at a minimum if you maintain a consistent schedule for his opportunities to eliminate.
- Health Walking should always be reduced in duration and frequency for short-term conditions like a scraped or lacerated paw pad, heartworm treatment, or temporary recovery from surgery. Longer-term health challenges such as chronic breathing problems or painful conditions like arthritis call for slower, shorter walks.
- Breed or Type: In general, dogs bred for high activity – sporting, herding, and working breeds, for example – can (and should) get a lot longer walks than the short-legged brachycephalic breeds like the English Bulldog, French Bulldog, and similar short-nosed dogs, or giant breeds like the St. Bernard or Mastiff.
- Environment: Your dog can suffer from extreme heat or cold, and your walks should be shortened considerably at these times. Again, it can be breed-specific to some degree; your Siberian Husky, bred to pull sleds in cold and snow, can stay out a lot longer in sub-freezing weather than your Chihuahua can, while your Pomeranian (whose ancestors were also originally bred to pull sleds!) is likely to suffer heat stress a lot sooner than the Greyhound, bred centuries ago to chase wildlife in the Egyptian desert.
- Desire: While we tend to assume that every dog loves to hike for miles, we are increasingly paying attention to our dogs telling us what they want to do! Dogs need mental and physical exercise and enrichment to thrive – but this doesn’t always have to be delivered by a walk! A “sniffari” (a slow exploration of a field or park on a long leash, completely at the dog’s pace, allowing him to sniff everything for as long as he’d like) can be as tiring – and more enjoyable for the dog – as a five-mile walk. In contrast, chasing a ball or flying disc in the backyard can be more fun and more tiring than a boring human-pace walk. Think about what your dog likes to do best, and, at times, deliver up exactly what she’d most enjoy.
A couple caveats: If your dog is an exercise addict, always wanting to go farther and faster, longer and faster walks may not be in her best interest – and may lead to her over-eager anticipation of a half-marathon or footrace every time you attach her leash. To develop a more balanced approach to her walks, alternate the long walks with shorter ones, encouraging her to sniff and look around.
If, in contrast, your dog sometimes balks on your walks, laying down or pulling for home, you are likely overdoing it – and she maybe experiencing some physical discomfort you can’t appreciate; a consultation with your veterinarian is in order. There is no valid reason to force your dog into an activity she doesn’t enjoy.
There may be medical considerations that go beyond the ones we mentioned above. Your dog’s vet is the expert when it comes to physical concerns about too much – or not enough – exercise for your dog.