» Exercise, Well-Being, And Your Dog’s Brain - The Optimal Dog

Exercise, Well-Being, And Your Dog’s Brain

Exercise, Well-Being, And Your Dog’s Brain

In addition to the tremendous physical benefits that exercise provides your dog and the psychological benefits that YOU will enjoy from providing care to your loving companion, there’s another reason you should feel compelled to provide your dog with daily exercise:

She is psychologically hard-wired to enjoy it.

That’s right.  The act of physical exercise is itself psychologically rewarding.  Your dog simply feels good when she is exercising.

According to Johns Hopkins University’s Dr. M. Christine Zink, DVM, PhD, exercise induces a euphoric feeling because it triggers the release of endorphins in your dog’s brain:

Runners and other fitness buffs have long recognized the psychological benefits of exercise.  It causes endorphins to be released in the brain.  Endorphins are biochemical messengers within the brain that induce a feeling of euphoria and overall well-being.  So exercise (and the good feeling it brings) can prevent a dog from developing problems such as lick granulomas (sores caused by repeated licking or chewing at the skin), destructive behaviors (such as chewing the corners of your new couch or digging up your tulip bulbs), restlessness, or excessive barking.  In fact, exercise is so important to a dog’s psyche that it’s the first line of treatment for most behavioral problems.  Dog behaviorists claim that lack of exercise is a significant contributing factor in over 50 percent of all behavioral problems in dogs.

Studies seem to fully support Dr. Zink’s claim that exercise triggers the release of endorphins in mammals. Some links are available here (abstract), here (abstract), here (abstract), and here (abstract).  Indeed, the theory has even been confirmed by recent experiments employing sophisticated brain imaging technology.

Modern science has also shown that the release of endorphins lessens feelings of pain and induces a feeling of euphoria. In essence, endorphins lock into receptors that are responsible for releasing chemicals that transmit pain messages to the brain, thereby reducing the subjective experience of pain.  Some more on that can be found here (pages 41 and 42) and here.

So exercise = less pain = more pleasure.  I guess it’s not hard to see why the prospect of exercise gets dogs so excited.

Have a great Tuesday!

– Coach Dan


  1. Nathan says:

    There you have it: exercise should be the mainstay of any dog’s life, as it helps in the areas of physical and mental well-being, as well as behavior training or issues.

    The concern is that no matter how much proof is out there, most pets can’t safely get outside and get moving. THE ONUS IS ON THE OWNER. We need to bring that accountability back where it belongs, and it should be part of the unwritten contract of deciding to own a dog.

  2. Audrey says:

    I’ve been aware of this for some time, but haven’t been able to find any specific studies that show exercise improves mood and behavior in dogs. I have anecdotal evidence but nothing concrete.

  3. Frankie says:

    Thanks for the great post! We run and walk dogs for a living, and know from experience that this is true. It’s great to have scientific support! Will be sharing.

    Frankie, pet sitter for Equipaws Pet Services.

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