When is the last time you saw a German Shepherd just laying in the sun? Can you even picture one sitting on the sofa all day? Maybe you have seen a lazy GSD, but chances are, the dog was napping after a rigorous agility trial or is in his teens.
If you are familiar with a German Shepherd through a friend or because you own one, you know how energetic and driven the breed is.
Are you thinking about adding a GSD to your family or do you have a new puppy? How much exercise does a German Shepherd need? True to their stamina and fitness, German Shepherds need a lot of exercises every day. The exact amount varies by individual traits like age, personality, conformation, and joint health.
When does age matter for exercise needs of the GSD?
You know intuitively as your dog slows down with age, her requirements for exercise will decrease. She may not be able to do the same activities she performed in her prime, no matter how willing. However, you also need to take it easy with your exercise expectations for a young dog.
Precautions to take with GSD puppies
The OFA reports that almost 20% of German Shepherds born in 2017 will suffer from hip dysplasia and 14% from elbow dysplasia. Hip dysplasia is a complex process whereby the femur and socket do not come together properly because of abnormal growth.
A hereditary component of hip dysplasia is well-documented, but there are also outside influences that can contribute to the full manifestation of the debilitating condition.
While hip dysplasia requires the genetic markers to be present for it to express, obesity and overexertion exacerbate the condition.
German Shepherds do not have an inherent problem with their weight. However, health professionals have implicated the rapid growth of large breeds in extreme hip dysplasia.
Therefore, a diet low in calories and without excessive nutritional value combined with a moderate exercise regimen are the recommendations for young Shepherds.
Some veterinarians recommend feeding adult dog food to puppies, although pet food manufacturers now market special large-breed puppy diets.
One of the greatest concerns with growing German Shepherds and bone developmental problems is overexertion. There is a fine line between giving your puppy sufficient exercise to keep him mentally at peace, yet not so much as to cause uneven growth in the multiple components of her joints.
When you first bring a puppy home at eight to twelve weeks old, it is easy to limit his exercise. He is likely uncoordinated and unsteady on his stubby legs and does not have much exercise tolerance. What seems an excellent rule of thumb is five minutes per month of age.
It is also reasonable to break exercise sessions up into several brief outings per day. Another effective approach is to center your pup’s exercise around his meals.
As your puppy grows older, she can withstand more exercise. Six to eight-month-old puppies start coming into their own, though, and it is at these ages they are susceptible to overexercise. Moreover, their vibrancy fools their owners into going along with them.
Choosing an exercise regiment for your adolescent dog will be specific. You should not shrug off soreness or lameness as a normal result of your daily activities together. If your dog starts limping, you will need to taper your activities. You might even want your dog to completely rest for a couple of days.
Also, it is helpful to know the signs of hip dysplasia. If you see worrisome symptoms in your puppy, seek veterinary assistance.
- Struggling to get up or negotiating stairs
- Unusual gait running or walking – some pups appear to bunny hop, moving their hind limbs together. Others walk like a crocodile, weaving in the hind end.
- Standing with the hind legs very close together.
- Lethargy – you may find your puppy is not very interested in activities. This is abnormal for a German Shepherd.
- Additional weight-bearing on the forequarters, which if it goes on long enough, will lead to atrophy in the hindquarters.
Your dog is in the prime of her life
German Shepherds experience great health and vigor and require two or more hours of exercise daily. You will not be able to get by with a long walk.
At least half an hour should involve vigorous running. Providing mental stimulation will enable you to substitute tasks for some of the intensive exercises.
Since German Shepherds require regular training to become civilized within the family and out in the social world, you can make it part of your exercise routine. Incorporate games and perhaps weekend outings into your dog’s schedule to keep her from becoming bored.
German Shepherds may deal with insufficient exercise and tedium by digging, chewing, barking, or becoming otherwise disruptive.
Old age has its own challenges
German Shepherds still need exercise as they grow older. As long as they do not suffer from severe arthritis, they usually want to be active with you. Any lack of desire to engage in exercise could be a sign of disease.
- Hypothyroidism – The thyroid gland is sluggish and your dog will need supplementation of hormones.
- Diabetes – A blood-sugar disorder, diabetes can cause lethargy.
- Von Willebrands – A bleeding abnormality that can cause sluggishness at various times through your Shepherd’s life, especially if he has a blood loss episode.
- Hip or elbow dysplasia/arthritis – Pain causes disinterest in physical activity. Many treatments exist to make your dog more comfortable if she suffers from dysplasia or resulting in osteoarthritis.
If your dog is dysplastic, he will require physical therapy. Your veterinarian can walk you through specific range-of-motion exercises and other tools to make your dog more comfortable and ensure she still gets the activity she needs.
You might also consider engaging your GSD in swimming. Shepherds do not necessarily love water, but swimming requires no weight-bearing and can help cardiovascular fitness and joint mobility.
Your German Shepherd will appreciate a variety of exercises
You should plan out a workout schedule for your Shepherd. It can involve fetching, romping in the yard, running in an open field, and intensive training. You might end the day with a brisk twenty-minute walk. Owning a Shepherd will require a huge dedication to her exercise requirements.
Like you, your dog could benefit from a variety of two or three different types of activities in the weekly selection. Changing it up consistently will keep your Shepherd engaged and exercise different muscle groups.
Agility is one of the most beneficial activities for a German Shepherd because it requires your active involvement with your dog, it involves mental stimulation for your dog, and it reinforces advanced training. Moreover, agility can be strenuous and Shepherds are proficient at it.
In truth, any breed can perform agility according to Modern Dog Magazine. Agility is a sport like many whereby your results are dependent on how much work you put into it. You can start it in your backyard.
You and your Shepherd can practice agility casually or you can compete. It has become widespread with many enthusiasts participating in private and group lessons.
In competitions speed and accuracy are crucial, putting your dog’s obedience and athletic skills to the test and your talents as a handler. A few obstacles your dog may have to navigate are weave poles, tunnels, and hurdles.
Hiking and trekking are optimal adventures
What dog does not enjoy a weekend outing? An active dog like your Shepherd will love venturing from the ordinary daily routine.
Hiking can be as casual or strenuous as you like. There are beginner trails with minimal inclines if you want to keep things light with your pet or if you have a growing dog not ready for strenuous trekking. Other hikes are excellent because they offer variable terrain and hills that require strength and endurance.
A few things to keep in mind are to bring plenty of water for you and your dog, prepare for weather conditions, and bring snacks for long ventures. For exceptionally rocky trails you may consider equipping your German Shepherd with booties.
Because of her thick coat, she will not likely benefit from a jacket in the winter. Unless your dog is unfailingly obedient, keep her on a leash as her high prey drive might have her chasing the indigent wildlife.
Jogging Is Fun
Some dogs jog with their owners regularly, which can be a nice bonding activity. German Shepherds were originally meant to trot for miles every day and therefore adjust well to run alongside you.
Believe it or not, jogging provides many of the same mental and physical benefits to your Shepherd as it does for you. If you are a runner, you know that cardiovascular activity helps you relieve stress and it can do the same for your dog.
By the time you start taking your dog for runs, you should have already socialized him. However, jogging is a way to further develop your German Shepherd’s social skills. Inevitably you will cross paths with other people, dogs, and unusual sights and sounds.
The exercise will also help decrease your dog’s reactivity once he warms up past the initial excitatory phase and begins to tire slightly.
Can German Shepherds do Flyball?
When you picture flyball, do you only see Jack Russells or Border Collies? Well-socialized German Shepherds can participate in flyball also.
Flyball is a type of relay whereby four dogs run an obstacle course as a team with a ball as the baton. German Shepherds tend to be task-oriented and can add speed and power to flyball teams. They need to be able to compete side-by-side against other dogs without allowing any dog aggression to distract them.
This video should lay to rest any doubts about whether a GSD can be competitive against a Border Collie in speed and agility.
Obedience Can Be an Event
Do you want to perform an activity specifically designed for your breed, the German Shepherd? You can try Shutzhund. Germany first conceived of the idea to implement breed testing for the GSD. According to Germanshepherddog.com, Shutzhund focuses on obedience, tracking, and protection.
Similar to agility, Shutzhund accommodates various abilities of the handler. Both you and your dog can participate in Shutzhund training and competitions, establishing a stronger bond through communication and working together. The training is also a fantastic way for you to exercise your dog and discover his natural abilities.
Produce a Show Dog
It is no simple task to dress your dog up and throw her into the show ring. You can participate in breed shows, pet shows, and everything up to AKC shows and championships. While it requires a particular personality and mindset from you and your Shepherd, it is a great way to bond working towards a common goal.
Show dogs usually must have it all. They have to be fit, well-groomed, socialized, and obedient. Exercise is a must to keep your dog mentally balanced and devoid of anxiety.
Get Back to the Roots With Herding Trials
German Shepherds were originally herding dogs, and if you have the means, you can engage in old traditions. Herding is an excellent exercise for the GSD. Moreover, herding will engage your dog’s intellect.
You and your dog can take herding lessons and participate in various competitions. Some Shepherds compete for simple titles such as Excellent, while others compete against various herding dogs for trophies. Alsatians can participate in breed-specific trials or classes against other herders like Australian Shepherds.
This is an example of a German Shepherd performing a herding trial. You can observe how alert and mentally engaged the dog must be and how attuned to the handler. Note how much speed and endurance the Shepherd possesses.