Exercising is a vital part of any dog's life. There is no dog in the world that would choose to lay down all day. If the dog does so, there are several reasons for such behavior, such as pain, sickness, old age (and even so dogs usually like to have some sort of activities) or the most sad of all – apathy. Apathy is something that happens to a dog when it learns there is no activities and it is expected to just be. Apathy is never chosen by the dog, but an apathetic dog may find it hard to get rid of such state of mind if it's offered things to do in future.
Let's first talk about what happens if the dog is not exercised properly and later adress how you can ”properly exercise” your dog.
Apathy is a state where a dog does not ask or demand exercise or mental stimulation and is often just sleeping or otherwise resting the whole day. In many cases of apathy the dog is labelled lazy and resting is seen as something the dog decides itself, however usually this is not the case. In cases like this the dog adapts to it's life of continuous boredom and rests, while some dogs react to lack of exercise by developing behavioral issues. It is more common for a dog to act over excited and problematic when it's bored, hence apathetic dogs are many times, sadly, mistaken as happy and lazy. Sometimes, if the dog has been bored for a long time, it may actually lack enthusiasm and even refuse activities, which unfortunately increases the possibility of mistaking apathy as being lazy. Continuous mental stimulation often helps the dog to open up eventually.
When talking about behavioral issues one must understand for a dog it's behavior is NOT an issue. It's acting like any energetic curious thing would act. Because it's not offered things to do, tasks that would stimulate it's mind and make it think or physical exercise to drain it's energy, it is continuously anxious. It starts figuring out stuff to do, because doing stuff is fun and it's something that comes naturally to any dog. It is acting like a dog. It's behavior is an issue only to the human.
Luckily, in many cases, problematic behavior is often ”fixed” by simply offering the dog something to do and exercising it properly. Sometimes it has learned some bad habits during it's boredom and it may take time and training to teach it out of those activities, but in most cases boredom is fairly easily fixed. That is if the owner is ready to exercise the dog like it needs to be exercised. One hour walk in a park doesn't make a young malinois happy, while it may be enough for a shih tzu.
Some most known behavioral issues caused by boredom are breaking things, chewing on things and territorial/dominant behavior. This is why, when working with a territorial or overly dominant dog, one must always see the big picture. Scolding never fixes the main problem. Territorial behavior will continue as long as the dog is bored as guarding things gives the dog something to do. Therefore I am strongly against trainers who just give tips to fix the behavior rather than figure out the main problem behind that behavior.
Dogs need things to do. If they don't have that, they will figure out something themselves.
Obesity is a serious health issue that may cause various different issues such as joint problems, heart problems and even diabetes. It is often estimated that severily obese dogs live far less than their athletic, fit friends due to obesity causing such severe stress over the whole body.
Though obesity is often connected with retired people and their small lapdogs, it's actually a much larger problem. During my time in shows I have seen many cases where the required ”mass” for the showring is gotten by feeding the dog until it's plump rather than exercising it until it's muscly. Unfortunately this gets prized in shows more often than not, and for some breeds like labradors being obese is almost required for a decent evaluation.
Poor physical condition
It is unfortunately very common to assume dogs are able to pull through very rough physical exercises just because they are dogs. In reality dogs need training and good physical condition as much as an athlete needs to be fit to perform in sports. How many of us would attend in high jump trial or sign up for 100 meter hurdless without any practice or being physically fit? How many of us would be surprised if/when we'd get injured? And yet we send dogs to perform tasks like lure coursing and protection training when they are in poor physical condition.
Taking a dog for a walk is not conditioning it. No matter if the dog is at good weight, it still needs proper training and proper conditioning before attending to more demanding physical activities. Otherwise it's unfortunately prone to many trauma. If one is not willing to exercise the dog and build up it's muscle mass, it's usually totally OK. The dog doesn't need to be Usain Bolt of the dog world. Being a Regular Joe is good too! As long as the dog gets it's walks and occasional free runs and mental stimulation it should live a totally happy life. Just don't make it run through a police dog course.
Up and out
Firstly, one should always think about the type of dog one has. What kind of exercise can it do? Is there some special need or some special trait one must take into account when thinking about exercising? For example, dogs with short muzzles (the so called brachycephalic breeds) and dogs with short legs have physical restrictions to what they can and can not do. I do not go to those restrictions here, but encourage everyone to educate themselves especially if one owns a dog like this.
Moving off leash and free is always the best possible solution for any dog, but as there are limited possibilities to that, specially when living in town, one can always find other ways of giving the dog as relaxed walk as possible. By relaxed I mean the dogs natural trot, of course, not what we call a relaxed walk.
When a human being walks, he often walks too slow for the dog. If the dog is small it is possible it's able to maintain what I call ”a normal trot” here. It's the pace the dog chooses itself, the speed during which it is trotting calm, relaxed and the leash does not tighten up around it's neck causing pulling. This is a balanced way of moving and the most natural for the dog too. It's the speed it would choose when it ”travels” around it's territory. When I'm walking with my dogs I usually prefer them ”travelling” rather than just following me. If they try to adjust themselves to my speed, they often either walk or pace, and neither is as natural for them as the natural, calm, relaxed trot.
How does one get to that, then? Well, running is an option. Another option is bicycling, but as it easily gets a little too fast and sometimes a little too dangerous with some breeds, I myself have learned to appreciate the wonders of a kickbike. It's a good way to adjust oneself to the speed of the dog and you are able to stop the thing rapidly if/when the dog decides here is a good place to sniff.
I can see what you are saying there! ”Why do you let it sniff? It must follow you!”. Well, dear reader, I do agree with you to some extent; when I am conditioning my dogs, when I am trying to increase their endurance and physical abilities and building up muscle I do expect them to follow me and not the scent of the neighbor's dog. However, I am not always out there conditioning them. I want them to be able to travel too, sniff things and experience the world as a dog experiences it. Walks that allow the dog to sniff and explore answer to it's insticts and offer mental stimulation as well as physical exercise. It's walks like these that ”tire the dog up” and make it sleep comfortably at home afterwards.
No matter how often you offer exercise on a leash, and even if you offer it adapting yourself to the dogs natural travelling speed, it's always a good thing to let the dog be free, too. I do not mean letting it free in an unfenced area and bidding farewell or letting it cause terror and hammock amongst neighbors, but secluded forests and fields, sand pits, beaches and just fenced yards offer the dog a tremendous amount of things to sniff, follow, see and hear. This is the most natural possible exercise for the dog as well as the most natural mental stimulation. Is it enough for the most active breeds that require lots of tasks to perform? Most certainly not. It's just beneficial for them as it is beneficial for any dog that might be ”OK” with less.
To sum it up, moving is what dogs were born to do. It's not what they are bred to do, it's in them no matter what's the breed. There is not a single breed in the world that would choose to sit around all day and not do anything. If that is the case, there are usually physical restrictions that unfortunately make it either hard or uncomfortable for the dog to move. It's a sad thing we have breeds that are not able to perform things a normal dog should be able to perform. Luckily most individuals of those breeds as well can do some exercise and they also like it.
I am not saying there is no lazy dogs. There are, I have one at home. Most of the times it is just very alright with staying indoors and sleep, but that is only when it's basic needs are met. One of those basic needs is the need to get a decent amount of exercise to keep fit.