Living with a dog has many perks, but one of the best one has to be the impetus to get off the couch and out the door so you can both get some exercise. Exercise is as important for your dog as it is for you!
Exercise isn’t just a nicety; it’s a necessity for maintaining optimal physical and mental wellbeing. As with people, obesity is becoming a major health problem in today’s dogs. Between 20 to 40 percent of all dogs seen by veterinarians in the United States are considered overweight, with many clinically obese. Obesity prevents dogs from enjoying many physical activities. Obesity decreases speed and stamina, and makes it more difficult for your dog to deal with heat. It’s also associated with several medical problems, such as arthritic changes in overly burdened joints, increased risk of torn ligaments, back problems, high blood pressure, cardiac problems,diabetes mellitus, difficulty breathing, impaired liver function, increased surgical risks, skin problems, constipation, flatulence, anal sac impaction,whelping problems, and possibly even increased risk of some cancers.
If the physical threats associated with obesity aren’t enough, there’s the behavioral aspects of lack of exercise. Dogs are active by nature. Their ancestors, wolves, covered many miles every day in search of food. Many domestic dogs were selectively bred to be even more active, hunting or herding or patrolling for hour after hour. Preventing them from their genetically programmed activity level only builds frustration, which usually exhibits itself in the form of hyperactivity, barking, digging, tail chasing, and home destruction. Lack of exercise is one of the major reasons behind many causes of problem behavior. Remember, it’s difficult for a tired dog to get into trouble.
Don’t think you can just stick your dog in the yard and he’ll exercise himself. Unless he has a friend, or lots of stimulation on the other side of the fence (in which case he’s probably barking too much to be a good neighbor) he may chase his tail a few times, sniff around, and then just sit there. You’ll need to play coach to get him in shape.
So what kind of exercise is advisable? It depends on your dog’s age, breed, and individual needs. Puppies need short spurts of exercise. They should never be pushed to exercise beyond their limits; for example, don’t take your puppy jogging or jumping until he’s finished growing, but do let him run amuck at his own speed. With an adult, work up to longer walks or runs gradually. Your dog burns the same number of calories whether he goes the same distance fast or slow, so especially at first, be content playing tortoise. It’s better to exercise at a slow steady pace every day than it is to try to burn off everything on the weekends with crazed running.
If you’re walking or jogging, be sure to avoid hot pavement and check your dog’s paws for abrasions. Don’t exercise in the heat of day; your dog can’t cool like you can. You can purchase special attachments for running your dog next to your bicycle, and you can even buy treadmills designed especially for dogs. Swimming is a great exercise, but never send your dog into rough or fast-running water, especially if he’s already tired.
Your dog’s breed will also affect what kind and amount of exercise is best. Dogs that were bred to be active for sustained periods, such as many sporting, herding, protection, and some terrier breeds, will need longer exercise periods than those bred to have short bursts of energy, such as many hounds and some toy and companion breeds. Dogs bred to retrieve are happiest getting their exercise by fetching, and often, swimming; those bred to hunt like to chase and explore; those bred to pull carts or sleds love to pull anything; and those bred to herd enjoy herding, but may have to settle for chasing and catching.
Even handicapped dogs can get exercise. Blind dogs can walk alongside you or even chase noisy toys. Older dogs can play low impact games inside that get them up and moving. Swimming is a great exercise for arthritic dogs.
Don’t forget the mental exercise! Add in some games that require your dog to think—a tired dog is a happy dog.