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What is exercise? What it does to you and your dog & finding the Goldilocks amount. Getting it just right..

I was considering a couple of topics this week when our brilliant Behaviouralist Caroline kindly joined us on the podcast (#8 How to deal with Fussy Eaters and other behavioural issues). Something she mentioned in passing really resonated with me.  To be fair a lot of what she said fascinated me but this part really struck home. About just how much we should exercise our dogs.

She even mentioned encouraging your dog to have a day totally off exercise. Which I confess was new to me but makes total sense.

Why did this particular point resonate? Because surprisingly enough a lot of my patients in the “Human Practice” ( come to see me with symptoms created by too much exercise rather than too little.

In fact surprisingly AT LEAST HALF of the patients I have dealt with over the last few years are over exercising.  Nearly all of the athletes I see are totally training themselves into health Armageddon, but this also includes some of the weekend warriors brutalising themselves into Ironmen, or Tour de France contenders, any all of us rushing to get ready for a holiday on the beach……and people simply confusing Fitness with Healthiness.

Some of the fittest people on the planet are the least healthy. So why should it be any different with dogs?

As with all things balance with key. So where does that lie? First let’s understand exercise. What is it?

What is exercise? Stress for positive growth

The whole idea of exercise is for it to be healthy and BENEFIT the exerciser. Be that you or your dog. Exercise is very simply put, a stress on the body that is designed (if done correctly) to create positive growth.

These “growths” can be in many forms. Strengthening bones and joints. Building muscle (my dog is becoming increasingly barrel chested now she has graduated to Pro Garden Digging and Landscaping), improving cardio vascular fitness, heart health & lung function. To name a few. (If we were being technical we’d call this called Hormetic Stress – a stressor designed to create positive growth)

To achieve these growths you create a breakdown of muscle fibres and tissue. These minor tears are repaired by the body during periods of rest to make them stronger, more efficient or a combination of the two.

The key part of that paragraph is periods of rest.


When you or your dog exercise hard the body believes there is an emergency situation and puts it into “fight or flight mode” and produces Cortisol.

Cortisol is your number one anti stress hormone. It helps the body deal with stress. It also tries to reduce inflammation.

However. It is only supposed to be there for a short time, it’s your emergency services, designed to help you out in periods of urgency.

The downside is it comes at a cost. Every time you call out these emergency services your body stops doing other jobs its supposed to be focussing on to keep you healthy. For instance, to stop the inflammation it slows down your immune system.

This is why a lot of elite athletes bounce from illness to illness and end up missing major competitions. They have been training so hard there immune systems are being dialled down to “the low setting” and hey presto a huge flu appears.

So if you are exercising your dog constantly or for longer periods than normal (as can easily happen with a ball thrower for example as YOU tire much more slowly than your dog) your dog’s body can start to be affected by this cortisol.

Understandably it may be lethargic afterwards whilst it recovers. This is perfectly normal. It needs recovery. But behind the scenes if it has had a really taxing workout, its immune system is struggling to keep up.

Leaky Gut

I know you thought I was going to get through a whole article without mentioning leaky gut. But yes, over exercise has been shown to also produce leaky gut.


Because cortisol over long periods starts to damage the gut lining. (theres a whole lot of “cool” science I going to spare you here – please ask if you want to know more)

This can then lead to skin issues, food intolerance and the other things we have discussed in the previous articles. So if you are trying to heal itchy skin on your dog, or some strange food intolerance, be careful with the amount of exercise he or she is getting. It maybe you are accidentally creating leaky gut in your dog.

And also ensure they are getting plenty of essential healthy rest to allow recovery and growth. Its reaping the positive from the negative.

So if we tie this all up.

Exercise guidelines

This is only my opinion and not intended to replace medical advice. But I will share with you the guidelines I use in my practice for patients and on my dog, and myself with (so far!) very positive healthy benefits.

If we want exercise to create positive outcomes we need to find the correct amount.

We need to find balance between the stress it puts on the body and the growth that comes out of this. When I say growth I am not suggesting that your dog become a body builder. I am suggesting it becomes a super healthy immune system builder, with a mobile frame, great ligaments and tendons and an appetite for life.

Exercise does come at a cost, so use this tool wisely. A great thumb rule for this is :

Intensity versus duration, sprinkled with variety.

You should never have intensity and duration in the same room together. And mixing them up (on different days) gets the best results.

Whilst intense is a great way to exercise your dog make sure this is of a short duration. For example the ball thrower or sprinting on the beach. Small amounts at a time.

Mix this with days where you are going for longer less active walks, of low intensity and longer duration.

Throw in some rest and you have covered all the bases.

Please look out for Caroline’s article on how much to exercise your dog as she is now going pick up where I leave off, and help you read the signs of when your dog is exercising too much.

As ever, please help us help all of us. Feedback and support are greatly appreciated

Wishing you well!




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