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

22 thoughts on “How to exercise a senior dog”

  1. Great ideas!
    Our arthritic foster GSD mix Maddie liked to play hide and seek in the house. I would also put an empty backpack on her.
    Swimming sounds so good, I wish we had a pool.

    Would you have any ideas how to safely exercise puppies? We got a ca. 3 month old GSD mix and he’s an erratic, chaotic devil. I wish I could walk him for more than 15 minutes.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I like the hide and seek and the backpack idea for seniors.

      Gosh, puppies are also challenging aren’t they? Do you take him for multiple short walks per day? Maybe that will have to be another post topic!

      1. I take him out a few times a day. He’s learning how to follow you on a leash. Afterwards, he still has lots of energy.
        Honestly, he’d prefer to chew your shoes than to go for a walk. The joy of puppies.

        That would be a great post, Lindsay.

  2. Great to see our seniors getting some attention. We’ve had seniors for the almost the last ten years, and have exercised with all of them. It’s so important. Glad you are planning ahead for Ace!

  3. It’s getting more and more difficult with my sister Katie and her joint pain. She still gets two walks a day, but they are not as long as Bailie and mine, and she is also quite slow. Mom tries to change up the route all the time to keep it interesting and she does her exercises along the way for treats. She is losing weight, and not gaining, so gaining is not an issue with her. Her senior exam showed she is completely healthy, just has the arthritis. It is tough for an active family to have a member that is slowing way down, but we are working with it.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Katie is such a good girl. I’m glad she is still able to enjoy her walks. I have to slow down for Ace too but I’m just glad we’re still able to enjoy that time together.

  4. Great ideas! Zoey is 11 now & really slowed down. Her mind is still going strong though. When she’s excited about her usual things like snow, water, fetch etc. she gets that intense puppy look in her eyes but her actions don’t really back up her intentions anymore. I imagine that in her mind she is still sprinting after those rocks and sticks…haha.
    She likes long flat hikes best. Kaya & Norman run giant circles around her. She loves watching them, keeping her eyes locked on Kaya most of the time. She thinks Kaya is her sheep. She can be pretty stubborn when we want to walk her on leash around the neighborhood though. I guess she’s at a point in her life where she’s decided if she’s not having fun, she ain’t doin’ it.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I have such a soft spot for the seniors. I love the pics of Zoey you post, and I’m glad she’s still able to tag along on at least some of your adventures.

      1. Thanks! We have really been enjoying Zoey these past few years. She spent the better part of a decade filled with rage against any living thing (humans excluded) so it’s amazing to see her bond with other animals:)

  5. Our new Maltese is 10 or 11. Thankfully not too much senior stuff yet but I know its coming. I’ve started her on glucosamine and I will actually pick her up and take her down the stairs as that is where she seems to hesitate. Also, we are looking at putting carpet in our new place instead of hardwood so she has more traction to run around the house. We also walk slower and sometimes take them out seperately so D.O.G. can have some quicker more active walks. I also try to make sure and play with them seperately and together so that they both get interaction at a level that each of them need. They are still figuring each other out, and she is intimidated by his size but they seem to bet getting along just fine.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Aww, I’m so glad things are going well. The good thing about small dogs is they tend to age so much slower than the bigger guys. Generally anyway. I’m giving away a glucosamine supplement in today’s (Monday’s) post if you want to try to win a bottle for her.

  6. It’s so important to keep senior dogs active and I agree with all of these great tips. When my last dog reached his golden years we did a lot of swimming and short hikes – he absolutely loved the massages afterward as well. He was always enthusiastic about going out for his normal daily walks as well which made me feel great knowing he still loved getting out and being active.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      I’m glad Ace still loves his daily walks as well. I’m hoping we’ll be able to continue doing this for many more years.

  7. Question, my daughter will be fostering a blind guy, and we don’t know the best way to interact with him. She has three other dogs and bless his heart he’ll be in a strange house with the goof balls already there

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      Oh gosh. I don’t have a lot of experience with blind dogs, but the ones I’ve known seem to have adapted really well.

      Maybe just have him in part of the house at first so he can get used to that area? Then slowly expand his environment as he becomes familiar with it?

      Obviously be careful when introducing the dogs so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed. I would introduce them one at a time on a walk side by side so he can get used to their presence through scent and energy.

  8. We still train and hunt our senior dogs. We have two of them. One will be 9 in March and one is 7 1/2. Our older one is slowing down a bit but we still keep him active so that he can work as long as possible. We are a bit more careful about exercising in the very cold and we give them a good supplement (which has really helped). We just hunted them in a field of high cover which was very strenuous and they both did excellent. We also still play fetch in the yard. I have a post coming up on that. I agree it is important to continue to exercise them.

  9. 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!

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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.

  10. 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.

    1. Lindsay Stordahl

      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.

  11. 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…

  12. 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.

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