Exercise to Reduce Stress in Dogs. Part 1

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Like humans, dogs can feel stress and it can lead to changes in their behavior (e.g. undesirable behaviors like barking or biting) as well as changes in their body chemistry. For many people, the solution to stress is often found in a prescription and although not as common, the same can be said for dogs. I have always believed that one of the best ways to reduce stress is to exercise. It has worked for me for over 30 years, and it has certainly worked for Jack, the inspiration behind SlimDoggy. Now, there is some research to support the idea that exercise can reduce a dog’s stress.

stressed dog

In a 2014 study published in Physiology and Behavior, Italian researchers were studying the welfare of dogs in a shelters in Italy. The study was conducted to analyze the impact of Italy’s no-kill policy for dogs, a law that was enacted in 1991, which although has saved many lives, has also led to a growing shelter population. Using blood samples to test for the stress hormone cortisol, oxidative damage, and the amount of antioxidants in the blood, as well as observing behaviors associated with high stress levels (displacing activities like barking or digging), the scientists were able to compare and contrast the overall level of stress in dogs that were in shelters for extended periods of time. One of the main conclusions that the researchers drew from the study is profound. In their own words:


“The results showed that the most important variable that improved the level of welfare of dogs consisted in having the opportunity to regularly go out of the cage for a walk, whereas other variables like gender, size of the cage (small, medium, large), being alone in the cage, and being neutered/entire, had no significant effect on the physiological indicators of welfare. Dogs that enjoyed the regular walk had a higher total antioxidant capacity, and performed a lower frequency of displacing activities and stereotyped behavior”.


This is a pretty incredible result, and certainly consistent with my own anecdotal observations from our dog Jack as well as the many shelter dogs that I have exercised over the years. With proper exercise, the stress levels of a dog, as well as its overall behavior, can improve. Among other things, the implication is that exercise can increase the odds that a shelter dog will be adopted. Said another way, a well exercised dog is a well behaved dog and a well behaved dog is likely to be an adopted dog.


In the U.S. there are somewhere near 5,000- 6,000 animal shelters and the cost to round up, care, and ultimately euthanize un-placed pets is somewhere around $100 per animal (Source: Oxford Lafayette Humane Society compilation).   In Part 2 of this article, I will provide some ideas on how an animal shelter might leverage this research as well as calculate the cost benefits that could result from implementing an exercise program for shelter animals.


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  1. I actually have to be careful how much exercise we do with Phoenix because it actually amps her up and she gets over excited. For most dogs, though it can be a stress reliever but not always.
    Lauren Miller (ZoePhee) recently posted…Happy Birthday to the Dog Dad!My Profile

  2. Whenever we are stressed or Mom has stress, we always get out and exercise. Last month at my nose work trial, Mom was stressed out after the first day, so we go up super early on the second day and she took Bailie for a long run followed by a nice walk with Katie and I. She was much more relaxed the entire day. It truly works!
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  3. I agree 100%. Barley and I often go for nice long walks by the lake when I’m stressed and she’s always able to relax at home more easily after exercise. Love that picture of Jack–he does look happy!
    Beth recently posted…Rediscovering Girdled Road ReservationMy Profile

  4. I would have to agree with you also that exercise decreases stress. Boy if I was locked in a cage all the time I would be stressed out too. It’s so good that some humane societies have volunteer dog walkers that come in and take the dogs for a walk for that reason and people that come in and play with the cats.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Girl Exercising~FitDog FridayMy Profile

  5. I think going for nice walks is a great way to de stress!
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
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  6. For anyone thinking about spending some time walking shelter dogs, this would be great motivation to get started. It could make the difference on whether a particular dog finds his forever home.
    Elaine recently posted…12 Simple Ways to Help Your Dog Lose WeightMy Profile

  7. Well I know how it works for me, so I would imagine it would be the same or similar for my dogs as well.

    I imagine even more so for a shelter dog as they would have limited stimulation from other sources, unlike our pets which interact regularly with other household members and various activities.
    Jodi recently posted…Follow-Up Friday – June 5, 2015My Profile

  8. Exercise is a fun way to reduce stress in everyone!
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  9. Hug your dog and bring it to outside for walking together around 1 hour. This can make the dog be happy.

  10. Tis true. It’s rained all freaking week here 🙁 The distance of our walks have literally been cut in half because it’s also been unusually cold and damp. Jax is pinging off the walls, Harley is lethargic and I feel bloated (TMI) – this weekend it’s supposed to resemble more of our June pre-summer weather and I can’t wait.

  11. Interesting study… and I agree. Exercise can reduce stress in all of us and it’s great for the well being of dogs and humans.
    Diane recently posted…Healthy Pet Simply Feed Automatic Pet Feeder #GiveawayMy Profile

  12. My dogs are definitely more relaxed once they have been exercised. My dogs get a lot of exercise, with agility and all.

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  13. The humane society here has a program where they match up high energy dogs with runners and they’ll take them out for a run.

  14. I think exercise definitely reduces stress in dogs. Those study results makes perfect sense to me.
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  15. We agree! Walking decreases ALL of our stress furry and hooman alike! We LOVE our walks!
    Denise Gruzensky recently posted…Shasta’s Swag & Dog Deals-BarkBoxes for Feb-April 2015My Profile

  16. I love your idea of an exercise program for shelter dogs and am looking forward to reading more about it! Amen to the benefits of exercise ~ I’ve walked many different dogs in the past 4 years, and you could always tell which ones had been exercised in the mornings and which ones hadn’t when I came in around lunch time for their midday walk.
    The exercised pups were mellow & enjoyed a relaxed walk with me, while the non-exercised ones were hyper & pulled on the leash.
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  17. This is definitely another very important benefit to exercise. Since Luke gets stressed when strangers come to the house, we are always sure to give him extra exercise whenever possible before someone comes. I really think it helps.
    Jan K recently posted…Getting Much Needed Help with House Cleaning & Grooming (& Giveaway!) #MultiPetManiaMy Profile

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