By Alli Wittbold
Anyone who has a large breed dog, whether it’s been a few days with your new puppy or years with your furry friend, knows how important exercise is. A well-exercised dog can handle time away from you easily and is bound to have far fewer behavior problems.
Sometimes it’s easy to get into a rut with just how to exercise your dog. You know it’s important, and if they’re not getting enough it, they’re definitely letting you know. Maybe in the form of destructive chewing, separation anxiety, or just general craziness.
Here’s a list of ideas to help you exercise your large breed dog. This list includes indoor activities and outdoor activities. Forms of exercise that are high intensity for Fido and minimal work for you, and other exercises that are going to get you both moving.
So without further ado, let’s tire that doggy out!
1. On-leash walks
Maybe the most obvious, but a super accessible and easy option for exercising your dog is with a leash walk. This is especially true if you live in a place where walking out the door is an option. Proper gear makes this a year-round option no matter where you live. Invest in a great raincoat and boots for yourself and cold weather gear so you’re ready to go no matter what.
Doing things like positioning towels by the door before you leave, and having a hook where leash/collar/poop bags always live will streamline getting out the door in the morning and cleaning your dog up when you arrive back home.
To keep leash walking more interesting and engaging for your dog you can try:
- Switching up your route regularly
- Incorporating behavior training into your walk (working on things like stop, heel, wait, and greeting other dogs)
- Walking to an off-leash destination like a field for fetch or a dog park
While it’s important for your dog to learn good leash etiquette and not pull you (which you can read more about here), you should also keep your pace in mind. Your large dog is on 4 legs after all. If the goal of the walk is exercise, the brisker you can keep your pace, the more effective the walk will be for your dog.
2. Off-leash walks or hikes
Incorporating off-leash exercise into your dog’s routine is really effective in “getting the wiggles out” as I like to say. I realize this might not be possible daily for every dog owner, but even a few times a week/month can make a big difference in your dog’s overall demeanor after some consistency.
Being off leash allows your dog to cover so much more ground than on a leash. We’ve actually tracked our dog’s mileage vs. ours using a GPS collar. On the same length hike she walked nearly double what we did! Not only that, but if you’re walking off leash you’re typically in a natural environment with lots of great stimulation for your pup.
Not sure where to take your dog off leash? Look up local state and town parks with hiking trails. Websites usually contain information about if dogs are allowed to be off leash. Ask around to dog owner friends and at the dog park for ideas, too. I’m lucky to live in an area with a variety of state parks and local conservations, and even some local farms allow visitors with friendly dogs.
Remember that walking off leash with your dog does require a sense of confidence in your dog’s behavior and strong voice control over your dog. Always have a leash handy just in case.
3. Running with your dog
If you are someone who exercises regularly, kill two birds with one stone by getting your large breed dog in on the action. Think of your dog’s exercise time as yours, too. With a little bit of training, many large breed dogs can make excellent running/jogging companions!
Keep your dog’s current exercise level and ability in mind. You may need to work your dog up to your speed or distance. A friend of mine who does marathon training plans her route so that she can drop her dog off at the house after a certain distance before she continues on her longer runs.
Interested in this form of exercise? Don't miss: Tips for Running with Your Dog
4. A trip to the dog park
Finding a local dog park is a great way to give your dog exercise and stimulation with little effort on your part. You will likely get to know when your local dog park is busier and you can plan trips when other dogs will be there to play.
If your schedule always has you at the dog park alone, bring along a fetch toy and use the enclosed space to get some running in for your dog. Be sure to learn more about dog park safety before your first visit.
Sometimes I don’t know where we’d be without our Chuckit. A good game of fetch does wonders for my dogs on days when I don’t have the energy to do a big walk or hike.
Fetch can be played with a frisbee, tennis ball, rope or really any toy your dog enjoys. It’s also a great game because there are so many variations to keep it engaging for your dog.
While playing fetch you can keep it mindless or switch it up by working on:
- Catching on the fly
- Sitting and staying until released to fetch the object
- Heeling and dropping the object without being asked
- Turn taking between dogs (if you have more than one)
Fetch is a great game with many working breeds and retrievers, but I know that not all dogs can learn the game no matter how hard you try. Keep away and chase are often the preferred games of these dogs.
6. Nose work
Nose work is really any game that involves hiding an object for your dog to go find. It’s great because you can play it indoors or outdoors. You can do variations where you hide many objects or one desired object. Some people even hide themselves for their dog to find.
Nose work is both physically and mentally stimulating for your dog. It helps them learn to focus and boost confidence.
Our black lab, while first and foremost a family dog, is also my husband’s bird dog. He goes crazy for the scent of bird feathers! Ask at a local sportsmen shop for pheasant wings or duck feathers to use in a game of hide and seek. Even if you don’t hunt with your dog, their instincts will love this version of the game.
If you have a large breed dog that enjoys swimming and/or retrieving, this is an awesome way to exercise your dog with little effort on your part. It’s also great for those really hot summer days. Get online and look for local ponds or lakes with trail access. As long as it’s not a drinking water reservoir you’re likely good to go.
8. Indoor dog parks
Indoor dog parks are a great option to exercise your dog on days you just don’t want to be outside. Many of these places have agility courses, various obstacles, and platforms for your dog to play on.
Some dog parks offer monthly memberships which can be a good option if you think you will use this resource regularly. Others offer doggy daycares where you can leave your dog for extended periods of time. For very busy families, doggy daycare is an excellent way to ensure your dog is getting the exercise and stimulation they need.
9. Doggy playdates
Getting together with other dogs is a great way to let your dog romp around with another dog. It’s usually low effort on your part and highly entertaining for your pup. If you or a dog owner friend has a yard it makes it especially easy. If not, consider coordinating a trip to the dog park, finding a big open field to meet in, or even using a fenced in baseball field at a park.
Just be sure to clean up after your dog wherever you wind up.
10. Training sessions
Most of the suggestions on this list focused on physical exercise, but engaging mental effort can be just as exhausting and stimulating for many dogs. Regular training sessions to reinforce basic commands and introduce new and fun tricks will keep your dog’s mind active and engaged.
You can take it a step further by signing up for a weekly training class with your dog. Going to training classes helps you commit to ongoing obedience or agility training and puts both you and your dog in a social environment. Many dog training facilities offer fun classes well beyond the basics, your dog just might surprise you with how much he can learn!
Doggy exercise comes in all shapes and sizes
This list gives you lots of ideas on how to exercise your large breed dog. From a big hike, social trips to the dog park, a training class, or even in your own yard, there are lots of ways to fit your dog’s exercise into your schedule.
What’s your favorite way to tire out your large breed dog? Let’s keep the list going!