Exercising a German Shepherd: How much & How long?

Exercising a German Shepherd

German Shepherd dogs were originally bred for herding purposes, so they need to be kept occupied both mentally and physically and require at least 1-2 hours of exercise per day to make sure they aren’t bored stiff.

The German Shepherd, by classification, is a working dog that was originally raised for roundups, however, they are a true utility breed and have been used in many jobs that require fitness, including law enforcement, guard dogs, and search and rescue work.

In this ultimate German Shepherd Exercise guide, we will take a look at several types of exercises for German Shepherds. You will learn how to run with your dog and how to properly exercise your GD dog. Furthermore, we will explore how to use food to get your German Shepherd to exercise. Also, we will go over the types of toys German Shepherd dogs like to play with.

Article Published on 7th May 2019 » Updated on 14th January 2022

Do German Shepherd Dogs need a lot of exercises?

The short answer is “Yes”, German Shepherds are exceedingly active, high-energy dogs and require large amounts of movement every day of energy burning activities.

When it comes to exercise and your German Shepherd, the more the better. If they don’t get the exercise they need to release their pent-up energy they can become destructive or develop behavior issues.

It is highly recommended that if you cannot give your GSD physical and mental exercise on a daily basis, you should choose an alternative breed.

How to exercise a GSD?

Because German Shepherds are so spirited, strong-minded, and have bucket loads of energy, you need to find activities that can burn energy in a short period of time and develop skills. This can include a high-intensity game or doggy strength training to keep their muscles in peak condition. By making the muscles stronger, they will support the joints and tendons which helps prevent injury.

There are three key types of exercises and activities you must provide your German Shepherd every day.

  • Daily walk – 45-60 minutes minimum
  • Purposeful High-Intensity – games, tug-o-war and agility training
  • Mental stimulation – puzzles or obedience training

One of the chief responsibilities of being a new dog owner is ensuring that Fido gets plenty of daily exercises to prevent unscrupulous behavior. Failure to do so will result in you finding your favorite running shoes shredded to bits or your backyard suddenly riddled by custom dug holes.

Running with Your GSD

German shepherds make great running partners when properly physically conditioned over time. Talk to your dog’s veterinarian and get the OK before embarking on a new exercise plan.

Though exercise needs are based on age, breed, size, and overall health, GSD’s are a breed in the hunting, working or herding group, making them ideal for long periods of moving. If your GSD is younger than 1 year to 18 months of age, use caution against any long-distance running while bones are growing, the respiratory system is building and growth plates are closing.

If you’re given the all-clear by the vet, start slow and notice your dog’s response; add mileage as they get stronger and endurance levels build. Starting with short runs is not only safer for the dog, but makes the new process enjoyable for you both.

Allow for a warm-up and cool-down periods before and after your run. Walking to the park or around the block beforehand should prepare the muscles for a light jog. Dogs won’t naturally overdo exercise like humans, so it’s important to read your pet’s behavior and watch for signs that he isn’t up to a jog or that he’s reached his limits.

Always keep in mind your own running/conditioning process—and those days you just don’t feel like running, do a walk instead of a run that day, or do shorter, more frequent walks rather than one long one. A dog with a sore limb or a stomach ache or a dog that is just generally tired won’t make a good running companion for that day. Watch his response to movement and react accordingly.

Over Exercised Dog Symptoms

German Shepherds can go hard and keep going, often not knowing when to stop. With any dog, it is possible to over-exercise them, especially in hot weather. It is important to be aware of the signs and symptoms of a dog that has overdone it.

Overexertion Signals

  • Excessive panting during or after the exertion
  • Extreme thirst
  • Lagging behind
  • Lameness, limping, or a reluctance to move in usual ways
  • Appearing overtired post-exercise or sleeping or laying down more than normal
  • Reluctance to go out for a run
  • Missing mastered cues or commands

The most common dangers associated with exercising with your dog are heat stroke, pad abrasions, and muscle soreness. When in doubt, exercise during nonpeak heat hours, early in the morning or late in the evening.

If you notice your dog is showing early signs of heat stroke, stop and take a break. Be sure to always provide your dog with ample water. And when in doubt, walk home, give it a try the next day. Also, keep in mind that dogs overheat quicker than humans.

Fur, limited heat loss from sweat evaporation, an inability to self-regulate their pace, an eager-to-please character and the extra pounds all contribute to a possible heat stroke victim.

Signs of Heat Stroke

  • Vomiting
  • Malaise/lethargy
  • Excessive panting
  • Dark red or dark pink gums
  • Collapse
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Diarrhea, progressing to bloody diarrhea
  • Bruising
  • Kidney failure
  • Difficulty breathing

Surface Issues

Anything that’s considered decent for your joints is good for your dogs’ joints, which means running on any soft ground surface (beach, grass, dirt trails) is better than unforgiving asphalt. You can wear protective shoes to protect your feet and a myriad dog shoes and booties are contrived to protect dogs’ footpads against surface heat, road/trail debris, and ice and snow.

Unfortunately, not all products fit great, and some dogs can’t stand to wear them. In areas where snow and ice are common, wash your dog’s paws immediately after a run, as salt and other chemicals can be toxic—particularly if your dog is a licker.

During hotter summer months, if you’re not going to walk on grass, a dirt trail, or at the beach, face your palm down flat on the pavement to test the surface temperature—you might be surprised by the amount of heat. If your hand doesn’t burn after keeping it in place, your dog’s pads are safe.

Always check your GSD’s paws during run breaks and post-exercise sessions. While pads are tougher than human feet and have reduced pain sensation, abrasions and paw pads are painful! Remember as they age to adjust your expectations as your dog transitions into his senior years. In spirit, they want to join you just as much as ever, but their body isn’t quite up to the task.

However, dogs with osteoarthritis or orthopedic problems still need regular exercise but once a dog has developed osteoarthritis, the constant pounding of running is painful. Slow your pace so your dog can walk quickly beside you. Take walks in the park or at the beach. Swimming is an excellent alternative once your dog passes the point of “sore” return on bones and joints.

Dogs that remain trim live longer and suffer less from osteoarthritis and other physical issues.

Dog Playgrounds

GSD’s require space to exercise, sometimes a ton of it. Not everyone has a wild. One option, if your yard is smaller is to build an agility course for them to run through. Taking the dogs out to a park is really a wonderful way to get in good, intense exercise but it depends on the dog, depends on the park and depends on the laws in your area (off-leash laws)

As far as dog parks go German shepherds usually are not there to play with other dogs, they’re there to play with you and the other dogs in “your pack”. Dog parks are a good idea as puppies because they can blow off that adolescent energy and is the only thing that really exhausts them, and puppies tend to do very well socially.

German Shepherd Training

Because male GSDs are, by nature, stubborn and more dominant, they are much more difficult to train compared to female shepherds. Begin training your dog from a young age. Start by keeping the training session shorts and involve tons of treats.

Female German shepherd dogs are easier to train and make better contenders for sporting competitions, such as agility and obedience events.

Both male and female dogs cannot stand being left alone or unexercised for long periods of time, therefore only adopt the German shepherd breed if you do not have a busy schedule and can spend the time to train them properly.

How to use Positive Reward Based Training

Rewards and positive reinforcement are powerful tools in dog training. Reward-based training is about setting your dog up for success. Treats are usually the foundation of positive dog training or positive reinforcement training.

Reward-based learning is centered on the dog earning rewards for correct behavior. The rewards are known as primary reinforces and these can be food rewards, toy rewards, play sessions, physical or verbal praise.

Reinforced behaviors tend to be repeated and behavior that is not enforced will eventually die out. This is a very simplified explanation of reward-based training, there are many degrees and a new GSD owner should further research the subject.

The Power of Food

All dogs like food, but not all dogs like toys, play sessions or a lot of coddling. This makes food the most effective tool in the toolbox for reward-based training.

A food treat can be delivered quickly to reward behavior and if it’s the right size and not too hard or crumbly your dog will quickly devour it and be ready to focus on the training session again. Food is also a great way for beginner owners and dogs to take the first step into reward-based training.

It’s not uncommon for owners to mix up training with food, toy, or play rewards as their dog becomes more experienced and skilled in training. Two key things to keep in mind with food rewards are; they need to be high-value treats, to keep your dog engaged.

And size does matter; too insignificant or too large of a treat will make your dog lose focus and disconnect from the training.

Let’s quickly look at how you can find out which treats your dog considers high value or simply likes best:

  • Hold a treat in your hand, close enough to your dog’s nose for him to smell it but out of his grasp.
  • Then set it down on the floor in front of him, still keeping it out of his reach.
  • Do the same with another treat of a different kind.  For example; a meat dog biscuit for the first treat and a piece of cheese for the second treat.
  • Now allow your dog access to the treats to see which one he eats first.

You should do this a few times and change the flavor and position of the treats.  Keep tabs on your dog’s choices and you’ll quickly find out which ones they like best. Later in the training process, you can add two or more different treats into the mix and follow the same steps. This way your dog will help you assign values to the treats.

Training that requires a higher level of motivation will need a higher value treat. With useful information from your dog about treat values, you can make the best choice for a specific level of training.

Do GSD’s like to play with other dogs?

This is determined on a case by case basis and is highly dependent on the temperament and training of the dog in question. In general, you want to provide the opportunity for your German Shepherd to play with other dogs as much as possible.

This is not only great to burn energy and stimulate their mind, but teaches them important social skills. Not all German Shepherds are dog-friendly however, so ensure yours is given ample opportunities to socialize to prevent the possibility of fighting or aggressive outbursts.

What does GSD like to play with?

The German Shepherd is also very intelligent so it is important to challenge their minds. They learn new skills quickly making them easy to train with the right guidance.

Playing games of any kind with your German Shepherd is really good for them and builds up your relationship. Remember, first of all, dogs are social creatures by nature and playing is one important element in developing and maintaining their social relationships.

Playing games is a proven fundamental way of “modeling” real-life behaviors and can be beneficial to their overall quality of life.

Learning Activities

Teaching your German shepherd new commands and tricks is also excellent to provide mental enrichment. A popular game that they will love and involves learning cues is to teach them the names of their toys then hide them and request they only retrieve toys by name.

Dogs can learn hundreds of words and names so this can take up a ton of time.

Types of Toys

Since GSD’s are large-sized dogs and powerful in physique, you’ll need dog toys that won’t be shredded to pieces in 3 minutes. They are also highly intellectual, so don’t forget to add a variety of interactive toys to the list to stave off boredom.

These are the different types of German Shepherd dog toys we recommend you try out:

  • Tug toys: They are constructed to be strong and long-lasting for hard biting and tugging. This is a great option for pups, as tug toys build up teeth. Our go-to toys: Pet Artist 3 Tug Toy or Puller Training Rings
  • Puzzle/interactive: These toys are made to challenge a dog cerebrally and often incorporate treats as a reward. Our go-to toys: Hide-a-Squirrel or Kong Extreme Goodie Medium
  • Teething/Chew: Durable and made from thick rubber or plastic, this is a great puppy German Shepherd toy and beneficial for dental health. Our go-to toys:  Kong Classic or NylaBone DuraChew
  • Soft/plush: These are comfort toys. Go for a plush toy with no stuffing to prevent a mess. Our go-to toys: Zippy Paws No Stuffing Plush Toy
  • Training toys: These will keep your dog physically and mentally stimulated; great for new dogs learning to obey commands. Our go-to toys:  Chuckit! Ultra Ball. HDP 18 Ft. Dog Training Tunnel


Remember, the German Shepherd dog is high energy, strong and has levels of stamina beyond most of its owners. They are also very smart and need to have their minds occupied constantly with activities.

Dog owners who regularly exercise with their German shepherd dog develop better communication with, understanding of, and respect for, their loyal companion. Playing fun games, running or other kinds of training allows you and your German Shepherd a chance to blow off steam and spend a little bit of time together in an otherwise tedious week.

It is vital to provide sufficient physical and mental exercises and activity to release pent-up energy and avert boredom. This can lead to behavior issues such as barking, digging, escaping, and destructive behavior. The cost of not doing so can be an unhappy and frustrated dog as well as the owner.


Sergey Uhanov, a certified veterinarian, has authored all of the content here. With over 20 years of experience in dog care and breeding three dogs of his own, he has a deep passion for these furry friends. Sergey owns a pet clinic in Israel where he provides care and treatment to dogs. He enjoys sharing his expertise and knowledge to assist others in caring for their dogs.

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