Why having a big back garden doesn’t mean your dog is healthy

It’s a common misconception that opening the back door and watching your dog bound out to play means they’re getting enough exercise, but what really goes on when you’re not watching?

Dogs are wired to rest most of the time. Originally this was to conserve energy between hunting, but behaviour hasn’t changed much since they became household pets. In fact, dogs on their own will spend around 80% of their time alone lying down. And even when they’ve got other doggie company to play with, they’ll still rest for 60% of the day.

So why do so many owners believe that their pooch is racking up the miles in the garden? It’s all to do with pack mentality. The first thing most dogs do when they’re let outside is to go for a sniff around the perimeter of the garden to make sure you’re safe and no intruders have been in. As you turn your back and go inside, they almost certainly just flop down on the lawn and have a snooze.

When you open the door to let them in, up they come, racing back towards their owner – tricking you into thinking they’ve not stopped exercising since they went out. But unless you’ve got a dog activity tracker fastened to their collar, you’ve no way of knowing for sure.

Dogs need a reason to run, just like us – and they like to have company to do it. Join them on a brisk walk, play a game of fetch, go swimming or jogging: it’s all motivation to move. An hour a day of proper cardiovascular activity will help keep your pooch in tip-top shape. A gentle stroll won’t get your heart rate up, so there’s no reason to think it’ll get your dog’s going either.

Just goes to show: you can lead a dog to a lawn, but you can’t make it run.