The Australian Shepherd is an athletic active working dog that is also pretty smart. They are affectionate, playful, and love attention and company.
They are available in two sizes with the original Aussie being from 18 inches (46cm) at the shoulder and weighing 40 to 60 lbs (18 to 27kg). The smaller version of the Australian Shepherd, known as the Miniature Australian Shepherd or the Miniature American Shepherd, is 14 to 18 inches (35 to 45cm) tall and weighs around 20 to 40 lbs (9 to 18 kg).
Whether you have a standard-size Australian Shepherd or a miniature Aussie, you have an energetic and clever dog that requires a reasonable amount of daily exercise and mental enrichment. Failure to provide for their needs can result in a dog that develops behavior issues such as barking, destructive behavior, and escaping.
How much exercise does an Australian Shepherd need?
A healthy adult Australian Shepherd requires 1 to 2 hours of moderate to intensive exercise daily but they won’t say no to even more. Being very smart dogs they also require plenty of mental stimulation and enrichment to challenge and tire their minds.
The amount and types of exercise your Australian Shepherd will depend on several influencing factors.
- Age. For a puppy under 12 months old the volume and kind of exercise are different from that of an adult dog. For a senior Australian Shepherd (7 years and older) the exercise you give them should be tailored to their individual circumstances.
- Health and fitness level. For an Australian Shepherd that has health or medical issues, it is important to modify the exercise to suit them. They may have different or lower exercise needs. It is best to work with the guidance of your vet who will know what is best for the individual Aussie. It is also best to set the exercise volume to the fitness level of the individual Australian Shepherd. Fitness should be gradually built up over time. For overweight or even obese dogs, it is best to do a lower volume of exercise to prevent doing damage to their joints and tendons and use diet to reduce their weight gradually.
- Energy levels. Although Australian Shepherds are an active working breed, every dog is an individual even of the same breed. A particular Aussie Shepherd may require more activity to release their pent-up energy than another.
- Lifestyle. The lifestyle of an individual Australian Shepherd will affect how much structured and planned exercise they may need. A dog living on a small property or one that is left home alone more often will require deliberate exercise sessions. An Australian Shepherd that lives on a farm or has a busy lifestyle such as lots of social activity with other dogs or goes everywhere with you will burn energy in their day-to-day lives. They will still require that you walk and exercise them but may not require the same volume.
Not providing sufficient exercise for your Australian Shepherd will leave them with excessive pent-up energy and becoming bored. This usually results in behavior problems developing such as nuisance barking, digging and escaping, and destructive chewing.
It can also cause your Australian Shepherd to become hyperactive. For more on how to calm a hyper Aussie see here. Adequate regular exercise will also help in their obedience, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.
How much exercise does a Miniature Australian Shepherd need?
Do Mini Australian Shepherds need a lot of exercise like the larger version? The Miniature Aussie is an active dog but on average should need as high a volume of exercise as a standard Aussie. They require at least one hour of daily exercise up to two hours depending upon the needs of the individual dog.
The exercise needs of an individual Mini Aussie will depend upon age, health, energy levels, and lifestyle. Their daily activities should include going for walks, play and energy-burning activities, and mental challenges to tire their mind also. Due to their smaller size, they are easier to exercise indoors or in a smaller space than a standard Australian Shepherd.
How to exercise an Australian Shepherd puppy (including Miniature)
Excessive exercise is not necessary for a puppy and can in fact be harmful. This is especially true of high-impact or repetitive activities such as flirt pole exercise, fetch, and going on runs with you. A puppy’s bones, joints, and tendons are growing and developing. Their bone density is not as strong as an adult dog and they don’t have the same level of endurance.
I have seen many cases of puppies that have been overexercised and done the wrong type of exercise leading to injury or issues developing later in life.
How much exercise does an Australian Shepherd puppy need?
The best guideline for the volume of exercise for an Australian Shepherd puppy is
5 minutes of exercise for every month of age done twice daily. For example, for a 4-month-old Australian Shepherd, two 20-minute sessions in a day are more than sufficient. As they get older the volume can be increased gradually. For a six-month-old puppy, sessions of 30 minutes each will do.
The best types of exercise for a puppy include –
- Going for casual walks. Using the 5-minute rule, a walk should be 5 minutes per month of age at a pace that is comfortable for them. If the puppy seems tired or wants to stop it is best to end the walk. Puppies under three months of age would not be fully vaccinated so can not be walked in public. Check with your vet before taking them off your property.
- Play with other dogs. Socializing your puppy with other puppies or friendly adult dogs is a great way to burn energy while learning the social skills they will need.
- Play with toys. Provide your puppy with age-appropriate safe toys a good way to occupy and tire them both physically and mentally. This can include playing by themselves or a fun game with you that provides bonding time.
- Mental stimulation. One of the best ways to tire a puppy while developing its brain. Learning is a great way to tire a puppy’s mind by teaching commands or even simple tricks. It is also a great training opportunity to teach them the rules and boundaries and to be obedient. For enrichment ideas for an Australian Shepherd see here.
How to exercise an older senior Australian Shepherd
The life expectancy of an Australian Shepherd is 12 to 13 years. From around the age of 7 or 8 years old, they are considered senior dogs. You may notice a gradual reduction in their energy levels although Australian Shepherds tend to be still very active when they reach their golden years even though their bodies may not be as willing.
As they age there may be a reduction in their mobility due to arthritis, hip, and elbow dysplasia. Exercise for the older Australian Shepherd is a balancing act. It is important to keep their joints mobile, muscles strong, and manage weight but too much can make them sore. Tailor their exercise to a level they can comfortably achieve.
Some recommended ways to exercise your senior Australian Shepherd include –
- Casual walks. Continuing with daily walks will help to keep their joints mobile and muscles strong. Try to walk on soft surfaces such as grass to minimize impact. Keep the distance to a comfortable distance for them and end the walk if they become fatigued.
- Muscle strengthening exercise. As a dog ages, they tend to lose muscle mass. Gentle muscle strengthening exercises will keep them strong giving support to their joints and tendons.
- Swimming. Walking in water or swimming is an excellent low-impact exercise for an older dog that also keeps the muscles strong. Swimming is a strenuous exercise so keep the sessions short. Use a lifejacket to provide extra buoyancy and save energy.
- Mental stimulation. Providing enrichment and mental stimulation is a good way to keep an older dog’s brain sharp and prevent boredom aiding in their mental well-being. For enrichment ideas for an Australian Shepherd see here.
Different types of exercise for Australian Shepherds
There are four main types or categories of exercise that you should provide your Australian Shepherd. A particular activity may fit into more than one category. For example, flirt pole exercise is a great energy-burning activity while also a strength-building exercise. Playing with a herding ball not only gives your Australian Shepherd a job to do but also provides enrichment by tapping into their instinctive herding behavior.
The four categories of exercise for Australian Shepherds are: –
- Regular walks. Ideally, your Aussie should be getting one or two walks daily for a minimum of 45 to 60 minutes. Walking your Australian Shepherd around the block on the leash will not tire such an athletic dog but they will burn some energy while getting other benefits.
- Purposeful activity. A working breed like the Australian Shepherd needs a job to do. This type of exercise is great for burning pent-up energy while getting enrichment from having a task to do.
- Strength and muscle-building exercise. The purpose of this type of exercise is not to build huge muscle mass. It is to keep their muscles in peak condition and aid in supporting joints and tendons and preventing injury. This type of exercise is also great for weight loss or maintenance as they will continue to burn calories even after.
- Mental stimulation and enrichment. It is just as important to exercise your Australian Shepherd’s mind as much as their body. These types of activities will help prevent boredom which is one of the main causes of behavior issues in a smart breed like this. Mental exercise can also help tire a dog just as much as physical exercise. For more on mental stimulation for an Australian Shepherd see here.
How long should I walk my Australian Shepherd?
How many miles a day should an Australian Shepherd walk? The minimum length of the daily walk should be 45 to 60 minutes or a distance of 4 or 5 miles (6.5 to 8 km). This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to walk that far. If you walk them on a long leash or even off leash they will walk double the distance you cover.
Walking with your Australian Shepherd will not completely tire them but there are numerous other benefits such as mental stimulation, social stimulation, training opportunities, and bonding time. An Australian Shepherd can walk for hours on end so it is important to include other energy-burning exercises in their daily routine (see below for ideas).
There are many ways to get additional benefits including –
- Use a long line or off-leash. Instead of walking your Australian Shepherd on a short leash use a long line to allow them to cover more distance. Ideally, if your Australian Shepherd has good recall, off leash at the park will burn more energy.
- Add resistance. Put a weighted vest or dog backpack on your Australian Shepherd to burn more energy and strengthen its muscles. It is recommended that no more than 10% of their body weight be added. Other ways of increasing the resistance on the walk are to walk on sand or in water, and by including uphill sections or stairs on the route.
- Nose stimulation. Sensory enrichment, especially using the nose is a great way to provide mental stimulation when out walking. Allow your Australian Shepherd to sniff as much as they want or play nose games. These can be simple games like throwing a toy or a treat into the bush for them to find or laying a trail of food.
- Urban Agility: This is where you use the surroundings to provide obstacles for your dog to run around, jump over or on to or crawl under. For example, jumping on and off of a park bench, or walking along a low wall.
- Variety. Try taking different routes and new locations to keep the walk interesting and engaging. A good game to get your dog to focus and be more attentive is called Change. Change the speed of the walk going from quick to slow or go in a completely random direction.
Can you overexercise an Australian Shepherd?
Even though the Australian Shepherd is an energetic working breed it is possible to overexercise them. Dogs often don’t know their own limits so it is crucial to beware of the signs of overexercising. This is especially true in hot weather where overdoing it can lead to heat exhaustion or even heat stroke.
Signs of overexercising your Australian Shepherd to keep an eye out for include –
- They are exhausted after exercise and are slow to recover between sessions.
- They fall behind on walks when they would normally be racing ahead.
- Your Australian Shepherd is drinking excessively and may be dehydrated.
- Panting excessively during and after exercise.
- Signs of lameness, limping, stiffness, or they just seem to be sore.
- They are disinterested or simply don’t want to exercise.
- Your Australian Shepherd is sleeping more than normal and seems tired all the time.
Suggested Australian Shepherd exercise ideas
The daily walk should form the basis of your Australian Shepherd exercise routine. In addition, you need to provide other activities that provide them with a job to do. This should be a mix of aerobic energy-burning exercise and strength conditioning type tasks.
Some recommended activities for Australian Shepherds include –
Flirt pole exercise
A flirt pole also called a flirt stick, is like a giant cat ticker toy. It consists of a pole with a rope that has a lure or toy attached to the end. You simply move the toy along the ground in different directions as your Aussie Shepherd chases it.
There are numerous benefits to using a flirt pole in your dog’s exercise routine. It is a great way to burn a lot of energy in a short time and requires little effort on your part. The quick movement and direction changes are excellent for muscle conditioning including the core.
Flirt pole games are also a good training game to teach your Australian Shepherd impulse control and learning to go from a state of high arousal to calm on command.
Every high-energy dog should do flirt pole exercise. View Flirt Poles on Amazon here.
Most Australian Shepherds love a game of fetch and it is a great energy burner. Most Australian Shepherds will take to playing fetch straight away. If they are not natural retrievers it may take a little training at first.
The larger the area you are able to play in the better. This means they have to run further to get the ball and just as far to return it. Use a ball launcher to get maximum distance.
View ball launchers for dogs on Amazon here.
An alternative to playing fetch with your Australian Shepherd is for them to play it with themselves by using an automatic ball launcher. Austrlain Shepherds are smart and will quickly learn how to use it.
The best automatic ball launcher I recommend is the IFetch Too. This uses balls that are the size of regulation tennis balls, which is convenient because you can easily replace them when the original balls wear out.
It can shoot balls up to 40 feet, This is one of the longest distances offered by any automatic ball thrower for dogs. It also comes with a rechargeable battery. You won’t have to invest in new batteries all the time.
View the IFetch Too on Amazon.
A game of frisbee with your Australian Shepherd is taking fetch to another level. Due to their athletic and high jumping ability, Aussie Shepherds look spectacular playing this.
To teach your dog to play Frisbee you can start by rolling it along the ground. They will automatically grab it in their mouths. You can then advance to tossing it in the air towards then. Gradually increase the distance and height until they master the skill. It pays to use a durable frisbee like the Kong Flyer to prevent them from destroying it and spoiling the game.
Australian Shepherds do very well at dog sports like agility. However, you don’t have to compete in an actual competition to get the benefits of an agility workout.
You can set up an agility or obstacle course in your own backyard by building obstacles yourself or using items from around the home. You can also get inexpensive agility equipment.
View dog agility equipment on Amazon.
another great alternative is to do Urban Agility. This is where you get your dog to perform obstacles while out on a walk. Having your Aussie do obstacles is not just a physical activity. It also provides a mental challenge. Just take care to ensure that the activity is safe and within their ability.
You can use the surroundings to provide obstacles for your dog to run around, jump over or on to or crawl under. For example, jumping on and off a park bench or walking along a low wall.
Herding ball games
Australian Shepherds need a job to do and there is no better job for them than what they instinctively breed for – herding. Most of us don’t have access to livestock for them to herd, but using a herding ball is a good alternative.
Teaching your Aussie to play herding games will actually reduce their desire to herd people and other dogs as herding breeds often do.
Australian Shepherds are generally pretty good at many dog sports including flyball, agility, rally obedience, agility, protection sports, dock diving, and herding trials.
You can enroll your Australian Shepherd in a local dog sports club either entering as a serious competitor or simply for fun.
Social play with other dogs
Most Australian Shepherds enjoy the company of other dogs and love to run around and play. For more on Australian Shepherds and other dogs see here. Give them the opportunity to socialize with other dogs whenever possible. This will help burn energy, provide social enrichment, and improve their social skills.
Most Australian Shepherds love to swim and are powerful swimmers. Swimming is one of the best exercises a dog can do and has numerous benefits.
- Burns energy in a short time. 10 minutes of swimming is equivalent to a 45-minute walk.
- Swimming is a great muscle-strengthening exercise as they have to push their limbs against the resistance of the water.
- It is a low-impact activity and takes their body weight off of their joints. Great for older dogs or dogs recovering from injury.
- Great way to cool off on a hot day.
- Minimal effort on your part and lots of fun.
Tug of war
A game of Tug of War is a good exercise for building strength, particularly in the rear end and core. The game should be done in a controlled manner and they should leave the toy on command. Even if they win the game, as long as they bring the toy back to you it is fine. If they do become processive of the toy, it is best to end the game.
An alternative to tug of war that they can play with themselves is to use a spring pole. A spring pole consists of a bungee rope with a toy or lure on the end for your Aussie to grab onto. You can hang it from a tree branch or wooden beam.
View Spring Poles on Amazon here.
Short sprints and high-intensity activities
This is equivalent to what is known as HITT (high-intensity interval training) done by human athletes. Short full-speed running will not only increase their cardio fitness but will strengthen the muscles of their shoulders and legs.
Stair walking is an excellent strengthening exercise as your Australian Shepherd puts all their weight on one paw at a time as they walk up. As they descend the stairs, they have to control the descent which involves negative contraction of the muscles.
It is not suitable for dogs that have a back issue or any injuries. You can either have them run up the stairs quickly for more of a cardio workout or slow and controlled. The slower they go the more of a strength exercise it becomes.
Bottom line – Australian Shepherd exercise needs
Australian Shepherd is an athletic herding dog bred to work all day long. A healthy adult Aussie Shepherd requires 1 to 2 hours a dog of moderate to intensive exercise and activity. The exercise needs of an Australian Shepherd puppy (under 12 months) and an older senior Aussie (7 years and over) differ.
Failure to provide sufficient exercise (both physical and mental) for your Australian Shepherd can result in behavior issues developing and them becoming hyperactive and frustrated. Regular exercise will also help in their obedience, mental health, and overall happiness and well-being.