Skip to Content

How to exercise a senior dog

I fostered an ancient black Lab named Dora a couple of years ago.

Even with pain medication, her joints were so bad I just didn’t take her for walks at all. Looking back, I wish I would’ve come up with some ways to exercise her.


Today, my own black Lab mix Ace shows signs of sore joints. We still go for walks, but I no longer take him running and we don’t play as much fetch.

Ace is one of those dogs who is completely obsessed with a tennis ball, and playing fetch tends to hurt his legs. So now, we just play a game every night where we roll the tennis ball back and forth in the living room. He loves it!

With older dogs (Ace is now 10), it’s tempting not to walk them as much or even at all, especially if they have less energy or if they have joint pain.

How to exercise a senior dog

But as you know, exercise is still important for older dogs, for obvious reasons such as:

  • Weight management
  • Enjoyment!
  • Stress management
  • Bonding with family members – Ace’s favorite thing is probably to go on a walk with my husband and I together
  • Continued socialization and training
  • A healthier immune system

So, basically the same reasons why we should ALL be exercising, right?

It gets more challenging with an older dog, though, because you may not be able to take him running, hiking or on those off-leash dog park excursions.

In Ace’s case, I can’t just throw his ball 20 times to help him burn energy like I used to do. He’ll hurt his legs.

So, here are some tips for exercising your senior dog, especially if he’s having joint issues:

Tips for exercising a senior dog

1. Just do it

Don’t use a senior dog’s age as an excuse not to exercise, said Kate O’Brien, one of the bloggers behind SlimDoggy.com.

“It’s even more important to properly exercise a senior, as arthritic joints do better if they are kept loose and limber,” she said.

She also suggested massaging your dog after a workout.

2. Multiple short walks throughout the day

Ace gets sore after a mile or so, but he also still has energy after going that distance. I used to take him on one longer walk each morning and call it good, but that doesn’t work for him anymore. Instead, I walk him for about 20 minutes in the morning and then we go for a second walk some evenings.

On the other hand, if your senior dog still seems to do OK on longer walks or even running sessions, that’s great! I would keep it up if it’s working. See my post on taking senior dogs running.

3. Use hills

“Hills can be a great way to keep a dog in shape,” according to Steve Pelletier, the other blogger behind Slim Doggy.

“Seniors in particular will often show a marked weakness in their hind legs,” he said. “Which can hinder their mobility.”

He suggested to walk uphill to more effectively engage the dog’s hind legs and then “zig-zag down to alleviate stress on the front legs.”

4. Swimming

It’s not always easy to find a convenient, controlled area to take a dog swimming, but if you have the option, use it!

We are fortunate to live just a 5-minute drive from the Pacific coast and right by a dog friendly beach. Dog paddling is beneficial for Ace because it gets his heart rate up while strengthening his muscles. He also doesn’t get too hot like he sometimes does on walks.

Playing fetch in the water vs. on land is also easier on his joints.

5. Range of Motion  

Pelletier suggested a stretching exercise you can try with your senior dog.

“Have your dog sit, and with a treat in hand, have them follow your hand as you slowly move it away from them, and then side to side,” he said. “You can even move it back towards their flank so they get a really great stretch.”

To make this stretching exercise effective, he said the dog needs to remain in a seated or down position. It can be used as a warm-up and will “keep your older pet limber.”

SlimDoggy.com also has a great post on balancing exercises for dogs of all ages.

Exercise a senior dog

6. Walks in new places

Some senior dogs are well behaved in new areas, which makes it easier to take them places. To tire out your senior without putting too much stress on her body, you could take her on a walk through a pet friendly store or to an event like a street fair. Ace is wiped after such events.

What do the rest of you do to exercise your senior dogs?

Let me know in the comments!

Also see my posts:

Older dogs and running

My dog’s tennis ball obsession

How to exercise a senior dog

Previous
Can you believe these embarrassing cat stories? #CatPaw
Next
Opportunity for your dog to try a glucosamine supplement for FREE

Heather

Monday 1st of February 2021

I have just lost my staghound Wolfhound and I wished I would have walked him more I miss him so much but he just couldn't walk any longer he was 11 and a half years old

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 1st of February 2021

I'm so sorry to hear your dog died. That's do hard.

Holly

Thursday 5th of January 2017

Cosmo is our 14 yr old Beagle. He still loves a short off-leash trail walk. It's mentally stimulating as he decides when to stop and go, can investigate smells, uses intelligence to decipher things on the trail and enjoys the company of me and being out in nature.

Suzy

Saturday 6th of August 2016

My 9 1/2 yr old senior Pittie goes for walks 4 times a day... the longest is usually 30 mins and that is her choice not mine... We also go to the department stores that are pet friendly... to compensate for all this walking she sleeps a great deal which is fine since I'm a senior also... However I do give her glucose mine with condroitin daily to help her joints though she does not yet have arthritis in her joints but starting to in her back...

Julie Lenio

Monday 8th of December 2014

Our mutt is 13 and 1/2, and she is definitely showing signs of joint pain. She does love to walk, but a mile is all she can do at one time. I love your suggestion of walking 20 minutes in the morning and again at night. Our Sydney loves to run and catch frisbees, what use to be a 20 minute game, as not been reduced to 5 minutes. It's funny now, I think she just loves being outside with us! One of her most favorite things to do in snowy Michigan , is to go outside with us when we shovel the driveway. Sydney loves to just be with us and wander behind us as we shovel several "paths" across the driveway.

Lindsay Stordahl

Monday 8th of December 2014

Ace just loves being outside with us too. It doesn't really matter what we're doing. I also used to bring him out while I shoveled snow in Fargo, N.D. We don't have to shovel anymore now that we're in San Diego, but Ace and I miss the snow.

Patti

Wednesday 12th of November 2014

My Jake is now 14 years, 8 months young and physically he is doing great for his age. I am finding it is also important for him to be getting mental exercise and stimulation. I have been buying him lots of different puzzle toys. He loves the treat dispensing ones best!

Lindsay Stordahl

Wednesday 12th of November 2014

That's something I hadn't really thought of, but it makes a lot of sense. Ace doesn't have many puzzle toys other than a Kong. I'll have to get him some.