You’ve heard the saying: If you are too heavy, your dog isn’t getting enough exercise! Regular exercise, be it daily walks, agility, romping with other furry friends or any number of other types of exercise, is a necessary component of a healthy life for your pup. The type, frequency and intensity of any exercise must be appropriate for your particular canine companion.
Why does your Pup need exercise?
Imagine how crazed you would get if you never moved around, were stuck in a cage 12 hours a day or were not allowed to socialize with your friends. Your fur babies need to blow off steam, expend energy and enjoy life and if you don’t provide them with good outlets and activities they will devise their own – which may not meet with your approval. Some of the most common issues you may notice if your canine companion isn’t getting enough exercise and mental stimulation are:
- Destructive chewing, digging or scratching
- Digestive issues and constipation – just like the things we would suffer from
- Raiding the garbage can or pulling items off shelves
- Hyperactivity and excitability, including dashing around your house and crashing into things and night-time activity
- Excessively predatory or rough play or, conversely, fearful and timid behavior
- Attention-seeking behaviors like barking, jumpingand whining
- Reduction in mobility, agility and flexibility – again, the same sorts of things we experience if we don’t get up and move once in a while.
- And the obvious one, weight gain.
If you have any questions about your pup’s overall health or ability to engage in exercise, take her to your vet for a check-up. Here are some general guidelines to apply to any exercise activities you decide to engage in with your canine companion:
- The exercise should be appropriate for your dog’s size, fitness level and age – just like for us humans. Dragging your Chihuahua along behind you as you cruise along on your bike would just be wrong!
- Don’t forget about mental stimulation as well. Incorporate activities that are fun, challenging and stimulating for your pup.
- Take into consideration the weather, heat index, hot pavement, frozen or icy surfaces and uneven terrain when determining when and where to exercise. Specifically, when it’s hot outside, since your pup cools off through his tongue and feet, avoid hot pavement and provide plenty of hydration.
- Try not to engage in strenuous exercise right after a meal. This is particularly important for breeds which are more susceptible to bloat, including Great Danes, Weimeraners, Standard poodles, Irish setters, German shepherd dogs and Doberman pinschers.
- While you may love a good jog or run, most dogs, aren’t really meant for sustained running. Certain breeds, including those in the sighthound category (e.g. greyhounds, Irish wolfhounds and whippets) are sprinters, not marathoners.
- If you do go for a jog, watch your pup carefully and stop if he starts to exhibit sign of exhaustion or confusion. Make sure your pup has relieved herself and had a good sniff about before you set off. Also check your dog’s paws for blisters on their pads. Dogs with white or light-colored footpads and some breeds, such as border collies, are more susceptible to pad blisters. For added pad protection, you may want to try dog shoes such as PomPreece or MyBusyDog dog boots.
- Small or short-legged dogs usually don’t need as much walking as larger dogs.
- Young puppies don’t yet have the stamina for long walks. Their bones have also not yet completely developed so sustained running may not be a good idea.
- Breeds with short or flat noses have a harder time breathing under normal circumstances so vigorous exercise can exacerbate that condition and be quite dangerous.
- If you have a large dog, note that he may be susceptible to cruciate ligament injuries, arthritis and hip dysplasia so sustained jogging may cause pain and possible joint and bones damage. If you dog already has any of these conditions you will want to exercise him on softer surfaces like grass, dirt or sand, rather than pavement.
Let’s get started – exercise and play options!
There are as many exercise and play options as there are dogs so tailor your activities to your dog’s needs and likes, as well as to your own comfort level.
Playing Fetch: Not all dogs will fetch but if you have a Yorkie or Golden Retriever, for example, she will run after and fetch anything you throw for as many hours as you are willing to do it.
Hiking mountain trails: If you live in a mountainous region chances are there are dog-friendly trails in the area. Ideally, you will be able to let your pup accompany you off-leash but make sure you are able to recall him in the event of danger (including bears and other wild predators).
Swimming in the pool or playing in the surf: On the opposite end of the geographic spectrum, take your pup to the beach. Remember that he can get sunburned just like you can so put a canine sunblock, like Epi-Pet Sun Protector Spray for Pets, on his nose, ears, stomach and other areas where his skin shows through the hair. Also note that not all dogs know how to swim so check out the guidelines below on how to introduce your pup to swimming. If you go to the beach, take plenty of fresh water with you and an umbrella for a shady rest between dashes into the waves. Also make sure you scoop any poops your pup may deposit on the beach – this will ensure that those without dogs will be more receptive to those of us with dogs and, let’s face it, no one likes to step into a fresh pile with bare feet.
While some dogs naturally take to the water, many dogs do not and many dogs do not naturally know how to swim. Here are some guidelines for a safe and fun swimming experience for you and your pup:
- Introduce your dog to the pool or beach as early as possible, preferably when he’s still a puppy.
- Regardless of your dog’s age, make sure his first experiences with water are pleasant ones. If you are at the beach, look for a quiet place with shallow water and easy access. If you are in your pool, start on the steps at the shallow end.
- Wade into the water or sit on the steps with your pup and praise him as he begins to explore.
- Never force your dog into the water, and don’t let him go in over his head until you’re confident about his swimming abilities. Even then, always watch him closely when he’s in the water. Start with belly-deep water and progress from there. As he becomes more comfortable, you can toss a ball a couple of feet out into the water to encourage him to venture in a little deeper.
- Make sure you teach your dog where the steps out of the pool are. He will not automatically know where they are so you need to show him and teach him how to use them to get out of the pool. Also, note that dogs don’t know how to climb ladders so if you don’t have steps in your pool, consider putting a child safety fence around it or a cover on it whenever you are not using the pool.
- If you go into the water with your dog, be careful that the two of you don’t go into water that is over your head. Your pup may try to clamber onto your head or shoulders when he gets tired or scared.
- Neither of you should swim into currents and be careful about riptides if you are at the beach.
- If your dog jumps off a dock into a lake or from the pool deck into a pool, be sure he has an easy access ramp or stairs – and knows where they are – in order to get out of a swimming pool or climb back onto the dock.
- If you take your pup out on your boat, make sure he is wearing a canine life vest like the American Kennel Club Pet Flotation Life Vest or Funkeen Dog Life Jacket Aquatic Pet Safety Preserver. The vest should fit him snuggly and allow him to swim if necessary.
- Rinse your dog’s paws after visiting the beach to wash off sand and salt water and hose him off when he exits the pool to clean off the pool chemicals. Also, don’t let him into the pool for the first couple of days after your add chemicals to the water.
- Dry out your dog’s ears after he’s played in the water to prevent ear infections.
- If your pup has a heavy or soft coat you may want to brush him after he’s dried out in order to prevent mats which can trap bacteria and cause “hot spots.”
- Lastly never leave your dog unsupervised around an uncovered pool as he can easily drown if he falls in and can’t find the steps to get out.
Yoga: Yes, Yoga! Read all about it here.
Jumping: Most dogs love to jump so channel that natural inclination into a home-made obstacle course. Construct obstacles from materials you have around the house, including cardboard boxes, hobby horses, or a yard stick or broomstick laid across two chairs. Use your pup’s favorite treat to lure him over initially low obstacles and then gradually increase the height as he gets the hang of it. The maximum height should be at or below the level of your dog’s elbows to avoid stressing his bones and joints. Also, as with any exercise, once your pup gets tired, stop the activity.
Dog exercise balls: Dog exercise balls – as opposed to physio balls – are designed to inspire your pup to engage in soccer-style play. The balls come in different sizes and are made of hard plastic. If your pup takes to it, he will use his paws and nose to push the ball around for you or his canine or feline siblings to play with him. You may, of course, also play soccer with your pup using any ball, including an actual soccer ball.
Dog sports: Sports like agility, Flyball, obedience, rally obedience, musical freestyle and tracking can give you and your dog a whole new world of fun exercise and competition to explore. Activities for specific breed groups include herding, lure coursing, hunt tests and go-to-ground trials. Flyball, according to AnimalPlanet.com, “is a competitive sport in which dogs are part of teams and the rules of the game are similar to a human relay race. Dogs race down a course, which includes 4 hurdles. At the end of the first leg sits a box with tennis balls. The dog must stomp on this box to release a ball and then return to the starting line carrying the ball while jumping the hurdles. Once he or she crosses the starting line, the next dog takes off. The goal is to be the fastest team without penalties. Some penalties include dropping the ball or a dog taking off down the course before his or her teammate crosses the starting line.”
Socialization and playing with others: Sometimes the best form of exercise for your pup will be simply playing with other dogs – or cats. The animals will create their own games and play until they are tired. This is a great way to socialize your pup AND get him the exercise he needs and craves.
Brain games: Don’t forget to exercise your dog’s brain. Don’t stop challenging your pup once you finish the basic obedience training. Continue to teach him new tricks – you CAN teach an old dog new tricks – or incorporate mental activities into every-day activities like meal times by using feeders that require some figuring out.
Bottom line: You and your pup will both benefit from the time spent exercising and playing together. You will bond as you become healthier and spend time together enjoying life.
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