How Much Exercise does a Dog Need?

Share Button

One of the most common questions I hear is “how much exercise does a dog need?” My first reaction to this is normally “more than you are providing them”! Although I am kidding (sort of), the fact is that most people don’t have any idea how much exercise their dog really does need. One way to determine the proper amount of exercise is to rely on the Waltham Center research on canine metabolism.


The Waltham Center for Pet Nutrition is a companion animal research facility that according to their website is “a leading scientific authority in pet nutrition and well being and has been advancing the frontiers of scientific research into nutrition and health of pets for over 50 years.” The Waltham Center is owned by Mars Pet Care, manufacturer of many pet food Brands including Nutro and Royal Canin, to name a few. Although I am not always thrilled by the Mars line of foods, I am extremely impressed by the research that comes out of the Waltham Center. One of the more useful sets of research from Waltham is the work they have done on pet energy requirements. Specifically, Waltham has published a (rather simple) model on daily canine calorie requirements based on a pet’s activity levels. It is this research that can provide us with a guide to determining how much exercise a normal dog needs each day.

Exercise for your dogy.

Exercise for your dogy.

Waltham Center Activity Classifications for Dogs

Before we begin, take a moment to think about how active your dog is. Which of the 4 classifications below, which are the standard Waltham classifications, would you use to describe your dog’s activity level?

  • Inactive
  • Normal
  • Active
  • Highly Active


Now let’s look at how Waltham defines each of these.


Waltham Center Canine Activity Classifications
Classification Avg. Daily Activity Time Avg. Activity Intensity
Inactive/Senior < 3 hours Low
Normal < 3 hours Mainly low
Active 1-3 hours per day Mainly high
Highly Active 3-6 hours per day Mainly high


The table provides an interesting perspective on how much exercise a dog needs each day, as well as a wakeup call to many pet owners who think their dog is very active. Let me explain. A pet that walks up to 3 hours per day is considered “only” normal (not active!), while an active dog would get 1-3 hours of mostly intense exercise, like running.


How Much Exercise does a Dog Need Each Day?

To answer this question, we can use the midpoint the normal classification as the baseline, which turns out to be a minimum of 1 ½ hours of low intensity exercise per day. While I don’t know the reasoning behind the Waltham classifications, I would assume that their definitions are based on years of observations and can be used as reliable guides for most normally healthy dogs. Indeed, dogs are meant to be active and are well suited for endurance activities. This is contrary to many pet owners belief’s that their dog is lazy or a couch potato.


So, how does your dog rate using the Waltham definitions? Are you really providing them with enough exercise?


Share Button
FitDog Friday Please enjoy our FitDog Friday Blog Hop brought to you by SlimDoggy and our co-hosts To Dog with Love and My GBGV Life.   Join the Hop or just enjoy the links below - lots of fun fitness tips and advice!  


  1. The girls and I do between 2-3 hours of intense exercise at the thousand acre park at least 4 times a week. We also hike pretty frequently, too. The other days that we are not at the park we go for leashed walks or do some other sort of exercise inside. I don’t take them out in the rain because they don’t enjoy it but when they are at home they are good house dogs and don’t cause any problems.

    This month we are going on 60+ miles of walking and hiking. 🙂
    Lauren Miller (ZoePhee) recently posted…Trying to Focus on the GoodMy Profile

  2. hmmm according to this my dogs even know I do train them are inactive and normal. I would even classify Gambler as normal.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…Set Up And Test Dog~FitDog FridayMy Profile

  3. Hi Y’all!

    Great info! Thanks.

    Y’all come on by,
    Hawk aka BrownDog
    Hawk aka BrownDog recently posted…Work AroundMy Profile

  4. That is an interesting table. I guess we would be considered active then, except for when we are at BlogPaws when we mainly eat snacks and don’t get much exercise, but every dog needs a break too.
    Emma recently posted…Road Trip Fitness For Dogs And Their HumansMy Profile

  5. I’ve found 45 – 60 minutes of off-leash time to be the sweet spot for my two. Around an hour it becomes much more of a hang out than a work out. The exception is if we’re hiking, the pups are happy to truck along for a couple hours, but that’s much more of a moderate exertion than a romp.

  6. Great info! I’m sure the vast majority of dogs are so-called couch potatoes because their owners let them be CPs. Even as seniors (egad!), both Sam and I are at our best when we’re moving. Twice a day brisk walks and active play time in the evenings does wonders for our physical and mental health. 🙂
    Monika recently posted…Deaf or Dumb?My Profile

  7. Harley? “definitely!” Jax? “not even close!” #workingonit

  8. Love this post. My huskies are at the top of the list!!! Exercise is huge for them as an active breed.
    ღ husky hugz ღ frum our pack at Love is being owned by a husky!
    Jenna,Mark “HuskyCrazed” Drady recently posted…10 Things About Vet Techs You May Not KnowMy Profile

  9. Great post – so very interesting.
    Earl Lover recently posted…Have FUN and Keep FITMy Profile

  10. Based on this (and thanks to hot/humid weather) my dogs are Inactive. That’s sad. Wilson has an excuse at 12 but not Jimmy. They just refuse to move when it’s hot.
    Taryn recently posted…Jumpin’ Jiminy Cricket!My Profile

  11. Hmm… Mr. N is “normal” with a “highly active” day once (occasionally twice) a week. He’d like it if we went hiking every day but someone needs to pay for his food and vet bills!

  12. Our pups are normal to active; when Missy gets the opportunity to go swimming, she can do it for quite some time; if she doesn’t, her activity level would fit into the “normal” category. Her brother Buzz is the same way whenever ball time is involved 😉

    I personally only know ONE dog who is truly very active, and that is my friend Kristina’s Australian Shepherd Shade. She does agility with him, takes him for backpack walks/hikes/jogs/inline skating, swimming…you name it, that boy is hard to tire out!!! I watched him for a weekend once a few years ago when he was still a puppy, and boy oh boy, did he tire ME out!!!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…Aging gracefully with daily K9 exercise!My Profile

  13. That is an interesting chart. Even on training days I am not sure that our dogs get an hour of intense exercise. If they only run a couple of set-ups it may only really be a 1/2 hour of intense running/swimming…tops. When we upland hunt, their time in the field is only about an hour. I do not consider our dogs inactive.
    2 Brown Dawgs recently posted…Training To Control WeightMy Profile

  14. The chart is a good starting point, but I think things are getting little complicated when it trying to work out the needs of the senior dog, or dog with joint problems. Obviously most dogs like to exercise, yet when they’re older is it good to give them a lot of exercise to keep them healthy or could it do more harm than good? I think that’s where most people have different opinions on this topic.
    Sam Ivy recently posted…5 Recipes Your Dog will Love You For – #2 Homemade Chicken DinnerMy Profile

  15. Those are some strict standards! Our dogs fall in the “active” category, yet some of our friends chastise us, saying that we exercise them too much (but our vets never say that). I bet that table is a huge wake-up call for some owners! (I would have said that ours are “very active” before seeing the table but they run only 1-3 hrs per day, and they walk another 30 min each day).
    KB recently posted…A Canyon for SunsetsMy Profile

  16. I am a horrible dog mommy. Due to circumstances too complicated to explain my dogs (former and present) get no exercise whatsoever. My former dog who was taken by cancer 3 years ago at age 14 was a husky mix. Being a typical husky-type she was very energetic. However, she was strictly an indoor dog who was only allowed out for 1/2 hour or so potty breaks (not including trips to the vet, car rides, etc.). She was given to me by a friend whose dog had puppies when she was about 7 weeks old. Except for a seizure disorder that began at about age 3 she was exceptionally healthy. Once she outgrew the puppy chewing stages she was never destructive. All of her exercise was derived from her constant activity and play in the house. She was hyper, yes, but was funny and happy, a real joy. She was never overweight and her check-ups were always good, good muscle tone, etc. I’m sure she would have appreciated more opportunities for exercise, running, etc. but she didn’t suffer from the lack.

    The 2 dogs I have now are both rescues who were 5 and 6 when I adopted them. Now they are 9 and 10 and in good health despite the lack of exercise.

    I used to worry about their lack of proper exercise and even considered getting a pet treadmill for them. But I honestly don’t feel they would benefit much from more exercise. Maybe dogs, or some dogs, do need a certain amount of intense exercise but because of my experience I do not see a real need as long as the dog is happy and healthy.

  17. Does jumping up and down barking at birds in the trees count? Zack & Zoe & I walk daily, but now that they have slowed way down in age and even flop down to rest, the distances (and hills) have been cut way back. Now I’m considering taking two shorter walks instead of one to get more overall walking in.
    Leah recently posted…What’s the Best Dog Vehicle for Long Trips?My Profile

  18. I don’t think many dogs really choose to be couch potatoes, whatever their bipeds like to think.

    My activity is a mixture of intensity. I have long walks and my day is broken up with short periods of intense playtime.
    Clowie recently posted…The WinnerMy Profile

  19. This is very interesting and the chart seems pretty accurate to me. Ace is inactive/senior as far as that goes. In his prime, he was “active” running at least an hour a day and sometimes several hours. I like how you said some people think they have an “active” dog when really they have an average/normal dog. I like the suggestion of 1.5 hours of low-intensity exercise per day for the average dog as a basepoint. Obviously some need a lot more!
    Lindsay recently posted…Florida Police K9s Die After Being Left in Car – I Can Only ImagineMy Profile

  20. This is a great article! I can tell my dog clients now about this info. I have a 7 year old labradoodle and we take her to the park or out to walk a minimum of 3 times a day. She loves it!

    If you need a dog walker or pet sitter in the San Gabriel Valley check out our website:

Comments are now closed on this post.