Benefits of Exercise
Dogs, like most mammals, need regular exercise to stay healthy and fit. How much exercise a particular dog needs depends in large part on its breed. Terriers, for example, are generally extremely active and can run circles around most people and other pets. Chihuahuas and Shih-Tzus, on the other hand, don’t really need a great deal of exercise to stay in tip top shape. Labrador Retrievers like a good romp, but can be rather lazy. Mastiffs rarely enjoy long exercise sessions. Sedentary dogs are prone to becoming overweight and are at risk for developing more medical and behavioral problems than active dogs. Dogs that exercise regularly have improved metabolism, muscle tone, strength and temperature regulation. Their joints are more supple, they tend to stay fit and trim and they maintain a youthful attitude. Of course, too much or too strenuous exercise, especially in temperature extremes, can cause its own problems. No dog should be forced to exercise beyond its ability or comfort level.
Getting Your Dog Ready for Exercise
Puppies, old dogs and dogs that are out of shape should not be immersed into a vigorous exercise regimen. Like people, dogs need to warm up to an exercise routine. They also need to warm up before an exercise routine. No dog should be taken from a nice leisurely nap directly into a long, strenuous run, especially in hot, humid or frigid weather. Let your pet (and yourself) warm up slowly. Take a walk around the neighborhood. Stretch your collective legs – all 6 of them. Get the muscles and joints loosened up so that they are ready for exercise and will get the most benefit from it. Several short walks a day are better than one long exhausting walk, for everyone involved.
Walking or Running with Your Dog
Many active owners enjoy walking, hiking, jogging or running with their dogs. These are great outdoor activities, as long as the weather conditions and overall health of both participants are complimentary. Young dogs – especially rapidly-growing large and giant breed puppies – should not be exercised rigorously until after they are at least one year of age. Too much strain on their growing joints, muscles and tendons can cause permanent musculoskeletal damage. Old dogs should only be exercised up to their comfort level. Owners who hike or run with their dogs should pay particular attention to their dogs’ paws. Hot asphalt, and even sand, can burn a dog’s foot pads, and cold snowy footing can cause icy build-up between its toes. Booties are available to protect a dog’s sensitive paws from these painful conditions.
Hunting breeds, such as retrievers, pointers and spaniels, are especially fond of water. Not all breeds share their enthusiasm for swimming. Tossing a dog into a lake with no buoyancy device is a terrible idea; the dog could drown. Like people, dogs need to learn to swim, a process that should be done in a warm, confined, safe aquatic environment. Some dogs take to swimming naturally, but others don’t. Swimming is a terrific form of exercise for dogs and people, as long as it is done safely and with appropriate supervision.
As human health spas and gyms increase in popularity, so does the availability of treadmills designed for dogs. Some owners exercise their pets on treadmills made for people. Common sense dictates how to exercise a dog on any treadmill. Dogs should never be left alone, tied to a treadmill, with the treadmill running. The length of the exercise routine should be suited to the dog’s overall health and condition, erring on the side of being shorter rather than longer. Dogs used for endurance competitions such as sled racing, and conformation show dogs, may benefit from treadmill work to increase and maintain muscle tone. However, most companion dogs don’t need this much of a work-out to stay fit.
Competitive Dog Sports
Many competitive activities are available for dogs and their owners. Conformation showing is one of these. At dog shows, purebred dogs compete against others of their breed in terms of their physical structure and type. Other canine events include obedience, tracking, agility, rally, field trials, hunting tests, herding tests, herding trials, lure coursing, earthdog tests, coonhound events and canine good citizen examinations. Lots of other fun activities are available, including Frisbee competitions, flyball events, weight-pulling and sled races.
Regular exercise is great for most dogs and their people, as long as it isn’t overdone. Being active with your pooch is a wonderful way to bond and stay fit together.