Will a Dog Lose Fitness if they Stop Exercising?

Share Button

Most dogs are natural athletes and it is easy to assume that they are ready and able to handle virtually any type of exercise load.  Let’s face it, part of the reason this is true is because most dogs, especially the younger ones, will act as if they have an unlimited supply of energy and are enthusiastic whenever they are asked to get up and go.


The fact of the matter is that dogs, like humans, need to build up their fitness over time and it is not safe to just ‘go for it’ without proper training.  Similarly, when a dog is forced to stop exercising for a period of time, their bodies will become deconditioned and the pet parent needs to be aware of this when planning the dog’s return to exercise.
Losing fitness

Effects of Detraining on a Dog’s Body

There aren’t many scientific studies that have examined detraining effects on a dog’s fitness.  One such study, “Physiological and blood biochemical responses to submaximal treadmill exercise in Canaan dogs before, during and after training”, published in 1989 by Sneddon et al., showed that fit dogs would lose most of their fitness in 3-5 weeks.  This timeframe feels about right to me and is consistent with my own personal experience with assorted sports injuries that I have encountered myself.


Detraining research on humans is more extensive.  Numerous studies show that the human body will noticeably lose fitness and the associated physiological benefits with as little as two weeks of inactivity.


Some of the factors that can influence the time it takes for an athlete to lose fitness include:


  • The athlete’s prior level of fitness.  The more fit the athletes, the more gradual was the detraining effect.
  • The type of training done (e.g. low intensity vs. high intensity). More intense training is associated with less of a detraining effect from inactivity.
  • Whether or not the athlete is totally inactive or if they try and mix in some form of movement while they are on the sidelines.  Maintaining some level of activity during an injury or a rest cycle seems to forestall the detraining effect.  As an example, a runner with a lower limb injury can maintain some level of fitness by lifting weights or performing other types of exercises while they are recovering.


Berkley Wellness has a good summary of some of these studies here.


It seems logical that a dog’s body would react similarly to inactivity. Thus, if a dog is temporarily shut down from exercising, return to sport should be measured and gradual, depending on the length of time the dog is inactive and their overall level of fitness.  Because the fact is, a dog will lose fitness if they stop (or cut back) on their 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. We have some friends with agility injuries and they do other activities to stay fit while their injuries heal but they will have to take it slow getting back into their sport when they are ready. Good advice.
    Emma recently posted…Why Is Tracking In The Winter A ChallengeMy Profile

  2. I remember when Callie had her ACL surgeries, I had to keep her on the leash in the yard for several weeks (12-16) before the surgeon said it was okay to let her run and play again with Shadow and Ducky. I always felt so bad for her because I knew she missed their games of chase. Now at times I find myself in tears during play time with Shadow (while Ducky’s at daycare).
    Callie, Shadow, and Ducky\’s Mom recently posted…Play With Me!My Profile

  3. think we have something in common with our dogs… and it’s good to know that humans&dogs should stay active before we all get “rusty”
    easy rider recently posted…easyblog BLAST FROM THE PASTMy Profile

  4. This is such an important point to remember, especially after an injury and period of rest. When Haley was supposed to be resting after she stretched her CCL, is was so hard to keep her from jumping up to bark at something outside or wanting to chase after a rabbit in the yard. She definitely would have overdone it if we suddenly went for a hike once she was able to resume normal activity.

    She gets so excited about hiking or playing and she has a high pain tolerance so we need to be aware of that and sometimes rein her in a little.
    Elaine recently posted…Do You Hate Walking Your Dog in the Winter?My Profile

  5. Great post, I can definitely see it in Gambler if he takes time off from hunting and training. Like now he doesn’t have the defined muscles he usually has in the hind legs. He also doesn’t have the energy he used to have.
    Sand Spring Chesapeakes recently posted…One On OneMy Profile

  6. A great slimdoggy way to mitigate any injury/detraining issues is to also make sure to cut back on food. When Eko was younger, he gained weight because I fed him his normal amount of food while he was recovering from a foot injury and couldn’t run.

  7. This is another brilliantly informative read!
    Earl Lover recently posted…Multi-TalentMy Profile

  8. We have slowly built up our walking distance together. We started walking around the block and are now walking a little over a mile. That is good for us! ☺
    M. K. Clinton recently posted…The Fifth Paw Receives High FivesMy Profile

  9. Very interesting topic. I have noticed that when I would go to shows for a week-end and Cash missed his 4-5 runs daily, at least a mile each time, after the three days he was more tired when I would take him out for a run. So even a 3 day loss of his schedule would constitute me having to decrease his intensity and length of runs when we got back. He did regain his stamina after a few days, but I did notice the difference. TY for confirming what I believed to be true!

  10. That picture, so funny. This is good to remember even when we do less in the winter and then when spring comes all of a sudden it’s like, let’s be outside all the time and run all the miles!!
    Julie recently posted…Trail runningMy Profile

  11. It’s aggravating that months of physical training can be undone in just 5 weeks, but them the breaks I guess. Fortunately the body remembers what it was like to be fit and does recover faster if you have to get them back in shape a second time.
    Scott Jenkins recently posted…Here’s Proof Dog Owners Are Better In The Sack Than Cat OwnersMy Profile

  12. I remember omitting Missy’s backpack throughout her cancer treatment. Our vet was definitely in favor of keeping up our daily walks as long as she’d be up for it (and she was!), but suggested to take it easy as far as the weight carrying was concerned. Once she had completed her treatment, we slowly reintroduced the pack and it’s a joy of seeing her walk with it again as if she had never stopped!
    Barbara Rivers recently posted…How to combine house- and crate training your puppy!My Profile

  13. It’s what makes me keep going when I don’t want to. I would hate to “undo” everything we’ve done to keep Harley so fit and trim 🙂

  14. This is another good reason not to get lazy in the winter!
    Jan K recently posted…The Three Faces of Beagle – Sunday SelfiesMy Profile

  15. It makes perfect sense that dogs as well as their human counterparts are parallel in the exercise and fitness arena. Even if I’m under the weather, I still makes sure Sam gets his daily exercise even if it is reduced in scale. I think it’s good for both of us. 😉

Comments are now closed on this post.