Owning a German shepherd dog requires a huge commitment on your part in terms of time, money, and energy to ensure their well-being. And an important part of that commitment is making sure your German shepherd gets enough exercise. So here’s the question that every German shepherd owner has got to ask themselves: How much exercise does my German shepherd need?”
According to the Kennel Club, German shepherd dogs need at least 2 hours of exercise a day. However, the actual amount of daily exercise that your shepherd needs can be different for each dog depending on their age, level of fitness, and condition as there are no fixed rules about it.
Be aware, however, not to exercise your dog too much. You need to find a fine balance between exercise and over-exercise, notably since the latter can cause an irreversible strain on the dog’s skeletal structure.
How Much Exercise Do German Shepherd Puppies Need?
Avoiding excessive exercise is even more crucial for German shepherd puppies because of the possibility of life-long consequences like bowed legs or even early development of dysplasia. Therefore, until your German shepherd puppy is fully grown (around 18 months old), it is recommended that you only give him moderate exercise.
This is why up until my puppies were about six months of age, I always avoided doing lead walks and preferred to do off-lead exercise, particularly a long line. Off-line is a much better exercise for your pup because when they are tired, they can simply just stop and take a rest.
How much exercise does your German shepherd puppy need? As a general guideline, most dog trainers recommend a ratio of 5 minutes of exercise per month of age up to twice a day. For example, a 4-month-old German shepherd puppy can get 20 minutes of activity in the morning, followed by another 20 minutes of exercise after lunch. 25 minutes when 5 months old, 30 minutes when 6 months old, and so on.
Ultimately, you are the best judge as to how much exercise is too much for your puppy. When in doubt, look for the following signs of over-exercise:
- Breathing hard and fast during and after exertion
- Excessive thirst
- Reluctant to exercise or even play
- Lagging behind or struggling on walks
- Limping or changes in walking
- Stiffness or soreness after exercising
- Sleeping for an unusually long time
If you notice any of those signs, head home, and make the next exercise session slower and shorter.
What Happens When your German Shepherd Doesn’t Get Enough Exercise?
As a dog that was originally bred to be a working dog, they need both constant physical and mental challenges. Lack of exercise has been attributed to health issues and boredom, which lead to many behavior problems in dogs. Here are some behavioral problems associated with a lack of exercise:
- Excessive barking
- Scaling the fences
On the other hand, proper exercise will give you and your shepherd many benefits. One of those benefits is to improve your dog’s rate of house training success. It’s become common knowledge that puppy and adult dogs usually relieve themselves during or after exercise. This means by planning our dog’s exercise time in advance and making it more consistent, we can “manipulate” their need to relieve themselves.
Speaking about exercise time, German shepherd owners who work full-time outside of the home may find it challenging to find the time needed to fit their dogs’ exercise in to their day. These dog owners either have to enroll their dogs in doggie day care (which can cost as much as child care) or hire a pet sitter or pet walker to come into their homes.
Unfortunately (or fortunately), since COVID-19 set in, many more people have been working from home, which gives us more time to spend with our shepherds. I don’t know what the future holds, but I expect this trend will continue for at least the next couple of years.
Fun Ways to Exercise Your German Shepherd
If you are looking for some fun ways to exercise your German shepherd, here are my top 5 favorite activities:
- A long line
1. A Long Line
Earlier, I had mentioned briefly about a long line. What is a long line? A long line is a 25- to 50-foot-long lead that allows your puppy to roam freely in a yard or field. The length of the leash itself gives your puppy maximum freedom while remaining in control. You can easily grab or stop on the leash if they should become rambunctious or wander off.
You can attach your puppy to a long line and engage your puppy by playing with a ball or let them investigate their surroundings. With this exercise, you don’t want to give them too many commands, just hang out and enjoy the scenery together.
Swimming is my favorite form of aerobic exercise that German shepherds of all ages will surely enjoy. If you have access to a clean lake, it is a great free way to keep your dog trim while not putting excessive strain on their joints. I usually bring my shepherds to swim two to three times a week for about a half-hour.
Agility is a fast-paced, fun sport that everybody loves. I mean, who doesn’t? Your shepherd will love the challenge of flying through a series of obstacle courses in the midst of excitement as you guide your dog from obstacle to obstacle.
Different agility trials can have somewhat varying obstacles, so you will never get bored. Obstacles may include weave poles, tunnels, jumps, seesaw, dog walk, and a frame. You can get started right away by contacting a nearby agility club or training class. Once your dog learns the basics, you can build your own backyard agility course to keep the training going yourself afterward.
Read also: Best Agility Equipment for German Shepherds
Barring any physical limitations, it’s almost guaranteed that every shepherd dog breed will enjoy spending a day hiking mountain trails. Not only is hiking a great way to bond with your dog, but it also gives you a chance to escape from the busy, crowded city and enjoy a serene wilderness experience.
Nonetheless, hiking with a dog does take a lot of preparation and planning. First of all, you need to build your dog’s endurance. If you used to walk your dog on a short distance, don’t expect them to go for a rugged, long hike on the weekend.
Second, because dogs must be on a leash in national parks, you need to practice hiking with the dog’s leash attached to your pack or waist. And third, don’t forget to inform your vet so that he or she can give your dog additional vaccinations for the diseases that your shepherd could be exposed to in the wilderness.
Nosework is a convenient exercise that trains your dog’s search skills in a fun, stress-free environment. What makes nosework activity convenient is that it can be done anywhere—at home, out in public, or in classes or workshops—and without a lot of equipment or training.
Nosework starts out easy, with you hiding your shepherd’s favorite treats or toys under or in one group of cardboard boxes. As he becomes adept at finding a treat in a box, you will want to progressively increase the exercise’s challenge by finding more difficult places.
Other popular activities that you may want to look into include:
- Barn hunts
- Canine Good Citizen
- Competition Obedience
- Dock Jumping
- Fly Ball
- Freestyle Obedience
- Rally Obedience
- Ring Sport
- Search and Rescue
Do’s and Don’ts of Exercising Your German Shepherd
Here are some do’s and don’ts to keep in mind.
- Do consider the fitness levels and medical conditions of both you and your dog
- Do provide your dog with plenty of water
- Do a brief warmup with your dog
- Do supervise your dog closely
- Do let your dog get enough rest
- Do talk with your vet to discuss the best exercise plan
- Don’t overexert your dog
- Don’t allow your dog to run loose in sight of traffic
- Don’t exercise your dog in the heat
- Don’t forget tick prevention