My friend was shocked when her veterinarian told her that the dog she had recently adopted wasn’t getting enough exercise to stay healthy. And it wasn’t even overweight!

But the vet explained that a dog’s breed, size, energy level, age and health all determine how much exercise and/or which types of activities lead to optimal health.

Even when a dog is walked daily and let out into the yard, it might not be enough.

To help my readers figure out how much exercise—and what type—their dogs need, I called Susan Nelson, DVM, a clinical associate professor of veterinary medicine at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas.

HOW MUCH EXERCISE IS BEST?

For customized recommendations, talk to your vet, since that doctor knows your dog best. But in the meantime, here’s how to know whether the amount of exercise your dog gets is in the right ballpark…

1. Consider your dog’s size. For small dogs—those under 40 pounds—30 to 40 total minutes of daily exercise is usually enough…although this is in addition to the normal physical exertion that dogs get by walking around the house or yard. (More on types of exercise is below.)

Many larger dogs, which have longer legs and bigger muscles and were typically bred to be “working dogs,” as opposed to smaller “house dogs,” have more energy to expend and are genetically built to have more strength and stamina. So those dogs are better off getting at least 40 to 60 total minutes of daily exercise.

2. Consider your dog’s breed and energy level. Size isn’t the only part of the equation. There are exceptions to the above rule. For example, if you have a small dog that’s very high-energy, such as a 15-pound Jack Russell terrier, that dog may need at least 60 to 90 minutes of exercise a day even though it’s small. (Jack Russells were, in fact, originally bred to hunt foxes, so they are not “house dogs.”) Or if you have a large Basset Hound that’s very low-energy, that type of dog may need only 30 to 40 total minutes daily even though it’s pretty big.

HOW SHOULD MY DOG EXERCISE?

The next step is to make sure that your dog exercises properly, because you want to raise the dog’s heart rate…but you don’t want to overdo it and leave the dog injured or dehydrated. Here are Dr. Nelson’s guidelines…

1. Start slowly. Don’t suddenly increase the amount and/or intensity of a dog’s exercise routine. Begin gradually and work up to the recommended amount.

2. Consider your dog’s health and age. A dog can burn calories and gain fitness through gentle exercises or vigorous exercises—vigorous exercises raise the heart rate and burn calories in a shorter amount of time, but they can be too strenuous for a dog that is old and/or weak and/or has a health problem. Extended exercise periods may also be too much for this type of dog. So walk this type of dog slowly in many short spurts. For instance, if the dog’s size, breed and energy level indicates that 30 to 40 total minutes of daily exercise may be needed but its health status and age will not allow the dog to exercise for a long span of time, try four 10-minute walks instead of two 20-minute walks or one 40-minute walk.

3. Challenge your dog. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that your dog will get enough exercise if you just let it loose in the yard or on a patio or deck. Dogs often walk around for a minute or two after you let them out, but then they lie down. Every once in a while they get up, walk to a different spot…and lie down again. Like humans, dogs need periods of sustained exercise for good health.

Walking your dog is better than nothing, but unless your dog is old, weak or sick, at least some of your dog’s daily exercise should be vigorous. So while in a park, your yard or even a large living room, play fetch with a ball, chew toy, Frisbee or stick. Or teach your dog to jump through hoops or to jog with you.

When your dog gets the proper amount and type of exercise, it’s likely to live a healthier, longer and happier life, said Dr. Nelson. So what are you waiting for? Go play with your dog. As a bonus, you’ll get exercise, too!