Age-Appropriate Exercise for Dogs: Guidelines and Recommendations for Optimal Health


This article provides a comprehensive guide to age-appropriate exercise for dogs, including recommendations and cautions for each life stage, as well as common examples of activities and estimated caloric burn per minute. The stages of ontogeny covered include puppies, adolescents, adults, and seniors. In addition, this article includes a list of farm dog activities that can be incorporated into a dog’s exercise routine. By following these guidelines, dog owners can ensure that their furry companions receive appropriate exercise to maintain their physical and mental health throughout their lifespan.


Exercise is an essential component of a dog’s overall health and well-being. Different life stages of dogs require different types, amounts, and intensity of exercise to maintain their physical health, mental stimulation, and prevent behavior problems. In this article, we will discuss age-appropriate exercises for dogs, ranging from puppies to elderly dogs, along with the factors, recommendations, and cautions for each age category.

Beware of Overexertion

Signs of overexertion in a dog can vary depending on the individual dog, the intensity and duration of the exercise, and environmental factors such as temperature and humidity. Here are some common signs of overexertion in dogs:

  1. Heavy panting: This is a normal way for dogs to regulate their body temperature, but excessive panting can be a sign that they are working too hard and need a break.
  2. Slowing down: If a dog starts to slow down or lag behind during an exercise session, it may be a sign that they are becoming tired or fatigued.
  3. Difficulty breathing: If a dog is struggling to catch their breath, wheezing, or coughing, it may be a sign of respiratory distress due to overexertion.
  4. Stumbling or wobbling: Overexertion can cause a dog to lose their balance or coordination, which can result in stumbling or wobbling.
  5. Excessive drooling: If a dog is drooling excessively, it may be a sign of nausea, dehydration, or exhaustion.
  6. Lethargy or collapse: In severe cases, a dog may become lethargic, weak, or collapse due to overexertion. This is a medical emergency and requires immediate veterinary attention.

It’s important to be aware of these signs and to stop the exercise session if a dog shows any of them. Providing frequent rest breaks, monitoring the dog’s behavior and breathing, and avoiding high-intensity exercise in hot weather can help prevent overexertion and ensure a safe and enjoyable exercise session for both the dog and the handler.

If a dog overexerts itself, it is important to take immediate action to prevent further complications. Here are some steps to follow if a dog shows signs of overexertion:

  1. Stop the exercise: If a dog is showing signs of overexertion, stop the exercise immediately and provide a cool and shaded area for the dog to rest.
  2. Provide water: Offer the dog water to drink, but do not force it to drink. It is important to avoid giving ice-cold water as it can cause stomach upset.
  3. Monitor the dog: Keep an eye on the dog’s breathing, heart rate, and overall behavior. If the dog’s condition does not improve or worsens, seek veterinary attention immediately.
  4. Cool the dog down: If the dog is overheated, you can cool them down by spraying them with cool (not cold) water, placing a cool wet towel over them, or using a fan to circulate air around them.
  5. Seek veterinary attention: If the dog’s condition does not improve, or if they show signs of severe distress such as collapse, seizures, or vomiting, seek veterinary attention immediately.

Preventing overexertion in dogs is key, and it is important to be mindful of their individual physical abilities and limitations. Gradually increase the duration and intensity of exercise over time, provide plenty of water and rest breaks, and avoid exercise during the hottest part of the day. By taking these precautions, you can help keep your dog safe and healthy during exercise.

Young Ligaments and Open Growth Plates

During a dog’s early life stages, their bones and joints are still developing, and their growth plates and ligaments are more susceptible to injury. Growth plates are areas of developing cartilage that allow bones to grow and develop until they are fully formed, and they are present in puppies until they reach maturity. Similarly, ligaments are connective tissues that connect bones and provide stability to joints, but in puppies, they are not yet fully developed.

Overexertion and strenuous exercise during the puppy stage can lead to damage to growth plates and ligaments, resulting in serious long-term problems such as joint pain, arthritis, and even permanent lameness. Therefore, it is important to be cautious and provide age-appropriate exercise during this stage of development.

Young ligaments and open growth plates can be particularly vulnerable to injuries from high-impact activities, such as jumping or sudden stops, that put excessive strain on joints. Additionally, excessive exercise can cause inflammation and damage to growth plates and ligaments, leading to long-term damage.

To prevent injury during the puppy stage, it is important to provide plenty of rest breaks during exercise sessions and avoid activities that put excessive strain on joints, such as running on hard surfaces or jumping. Walking on a leash, gentle play, and controlled exercise that doesn’t involve sudden stops or jumping can be beneficial for puppies.

It’s also important to note that different breeds can develop at different rates, and some breeds may have longer growth periods than others. It is important to consult with a veterinarian to determine the appropriate amount and type of exercise for your puppy based on their breed, age, and individual physical condition.

Exercise Guidelines


(birth to 6 months)

Factors: Puppies have high energy levels and are in the process of developing their musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems. Recommendations: Puppies require frequent short bouts of exercise that allow for free play, exploration, and socialization. Walking on a leash and playing fetch are excellent options. Puppies should have several exercise sessions spread throughout the day and should not be over-exercised as they are still developing their bones and joints. A general rule of thumb is 5 minutes of unforced exercise per month of age, twice a day. Cautions: Puppies should avoid jumping or any strenuous exercises until their bones and joints are fully developed.


(6 to 12 months)

Factors: Adolescent dogs are still growing and developing, but their bones and joints are more stable than puppies. Recommendations: Adolescents can engage in more strenuous activities such as running, hiking, and swimming. They should have at least one hour of exercise daily and can increase the duration as they age. A general rule of thumb is 10 minutes of unforced exercise per month of age, twice a day. Cautions: Adolescents should avoid high-impact activities such as jumping or twisting, which can cause injuries.


(1 to 7 years)

Factors: Adult dogs are fully developed and in their prime. Recommendations: Adults should have at least 30 minutes to one hour of exercise daily, depending on their breed and energy level. Activities can include running, hiking, swimming, and agility training. A general rule of thumb is 15 minutes of unforced exercise per 10 pounds of body weight, twice a day. Cautions: Adults should avoid over-exercising, especially during hot weather, to prevent heatstroke.


(7+ years)

Factors: Senior dogs may have reduced mobility, arthritis, and other health conditions that affect their exercise capacity. Recommendations: Seniors should have at least 20 to 30 minutes of exercise daily, depending on their health condition. Walking on a leash, slow jogging, and swimming are excellent low-impact activities. A general rule of thumb is 10 minutes of unforced exercise per 10 pounds of body weight, twice a day. Cautions: Seniors should avoid high-impact activities that may cause joint pain or exacerbate any underlying health conditions.

Estimated Caloric Burn per Minute

Farm Dog Activities


Herding dogs can participate in activities such as sheepdog trials or working on a farm to move livestock. The caloric burn for herding activities can vary widely depending on the intensity and duration of the activity, but it can be estimated to range between 15-25 calories per minute.


Hunting dogs can participate in activities such as bird hunting or tracking game. The caloric burn for hunting activities can also vary widely depending on the type of hunting and the intensity and duration of the activity, but it can be estimated to range between 10-20 calories per minute.

Other Common Activities

  • Walking: 4-5 calories per minute
  • Running: 10-15 calories per minute
  • Swimming: 8-10 calories per minute
  • Fetch: 10-15 calories per minute
  • Agility training: 15-20 calories per minute


Age-appropriate exercise is crucial for a dog’s physical and mental well-being. Puppies require frequent, short bouts of exercise, adolescents can engage in more strenuous activities, adults need regular exercise, and seniors require low-impact activities that are suitable for their health condition. It is essential to consult with a veterinarian to determine a dog’s specific exercise needs and limitations. By providing age-appropriate exercise, owners can ensure their furry friends remain healthy, happy, and active throughout their life.

Further Reading

  1. Borer, K. E., & Koltunow, A. M. (2019). Exercise for puppies: Essential information for health and behavior. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 49(5), 783-796. doi: 10.1016/j.cvsm.2019.04.003
  2. Burkholder, W. J. (2017). Exercise physiology of the aging dog. Veterinary Clinics of North America: Small Animal Practice, 47(5), 989-1004. doi: 10.1016/j.cvsm.2017.04.002
  3. Cook, R. (2017). Understanding canine sports medicine and rehabilitation. John Wiley & Sons.
  4. Eken Asp, H., Fikse, W. F., Strandberg, E., & Bonnett, B. N. (2015). Body measurements and exercise patterns of Swedish farm dogs. Journal of Veterinary Behavior, 10(3), 227-234. doi: 10.1016/j.jveb.2015.01.004
  5. Rooney, N. J., & Cowan, S. (2011). Training methods and owner–dog interactions: Links with dog behaviour and learning ability. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 132(3-4), 169-177. doi: 10.1016/j.applanim.2011.03.007
  6. Smith, A. N., & Zambriski, J. A. (2020). Exercise and aging in dogs. In Canine Sports Medicine and Rehabilitation (pp. 345-355). John Wiley & Sons.
  7. Swanson, K. S., & Kelly, S. P. (2011). Companion animal metabolism: A review. Canadian Journal of Animal Science, 91(4), 495-501. doi: 10.4141/cjas2011-042
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