Exercise is important to every kind of dog, although the exercise requirement for each type of dog varies greatly depending on the dog’s breed, age, and fitness level. Some smaller breeds get all the exercise they need by entertaining themselves around the house; other breeds need regular strenuous exercise not only to stay fit but to keep from going stir crazy.
Under-exercised and a little nutso?
If you recognize any of the following signs in your doggy, there’s a reasonable chance he needs more physical activity than he’s currently getting. Some of these symptoms can have other causes as well, but your first attempt at remedy should probably be to take a look at Fido’s current exercise regime and provide more regular exercise if you realize it has been lacking.
- Chasing his own tail or other forms of hyperactivity.
- Excessive licking or chewing his own body.
- Destructive behavior around the house.
- Destructive digging out in the yard.
- Never exercise him hard right after meals – although a nice after-dinner walk would always be welcome.
- Never exercise hard in hot weather; Fido’s cooling system is not nearly as efficient as yours, which leaves him dangerously susceptible to overheating. Always bring water along when you exercise your dog in any kind of warm weather.
- Pay attention to Fido’s breathing – it’s the surest way to tell if he’s starting to work too hard. If he starts panting hard, back off a little and let him cool down. Remember – he wants to please you and he’ll likely push himself to keep up with you long after his body needs to rest; it’s your responsibility to be vigilant on his behalf and give him the breathers that he needs.
- A rest day should always follow a day of hard exercise. The body needs time to repair itself; the rest day should have a mild exercise (such as a nice walk) in it.
Be aware that puppies have different exercise needs than adults. Too much exercise at too young of an age can hinder proper growth and bone development. Different breeds mature at different rates; in general smaller breeds develop more quickly than larger breeds. A rule of thumb is that small breeds that reach up to 25 lb. can exercise fully at 8 months of age; medium breeds that reach 35- 90 lb. can exercise fully at 12 months of age. Larger breeds should not exercise fully until 18 months of age.
So which exercise is best?
Clearly it depends on the dog, his breed, his age, his health, the weather and where you live, as well as your own level of fitness and exercise habits. Here are a few of your options, along with some of the pros and cons of each.
The safest and most low tech exercise available to you; in addition to being a nice after-dinner activity for you and your doggie to engage in together (whatever type of doggy you have), walking is the most recommended form of exercise for puppies, overweight dogs just beginning an exercise regime, and for seniors.
If you’re a jogger, you probably enjoy having Fido run alongside you to keep you company; often you’ll probably find yourselves running on paved surfaces, but dirt roads or grassy areas are actually best, safest and least damaging for Fido’s joints and footpads. Don’t run your dog daily – switch off with other forms of exercise to allow Fido’s body to repair itself. And always check your dog’s feet carefully after a run for cuts, burrs or raw spots.
Easy for you – not nearly as easy for Fido. Running alongside a moving bicycle is an activity for an already fit and healthy dog, and should not be attempted in warm weather or by the following types of dogs:
- Dogs with medical problems of any kind.
- Dogs under two years of age.
- Senior dogs.
- Short-legged breeds.
- Dogs with respiratory problems and/or short-nosed breeds; breeds with shorter snouts have impaired breathing ability, especially in warm weather.
Before you bike with your dog:
- Have your vet evaluate his fitness for biking.
- Use a bike attachment device designed specifically for dogs – don’t even try holding a regular leash in your hands while you bike; besides being dangerous to you both, the dog and bike won’t function smoothly together. The best biking attachments come with a harness for your dog, are spring-loaded for absorption, have a safety release, and can be installed on either side of the bike in a couple of seconds without tools. As always, carry water with you, pay attention to Fido’s breathing and afterward inspect his paw pads for damage.
Catch/Fetch backyard activities
What dog doesn’t love a rousing game of catch? If you’re starting a new exercise program with an overweight dog, begin with short, easy sessions on level ground. Once his fitness level improves, you can vary his game routine; one day throw the ball repeatedly down an incline, another day up an incline. On in-between days, toss the ball on level ground again. For his health and your comfort, use a solid rubber ball – fabric/tennis balls are not only slobbery and hard to dry off, but are also filled with dirt and bacteria.
Your doggy is born knowing how to swim; many breeds really enjoy a nice refreshing dip. Some breeds are born for very cold water, and others love swimming so much they’ll jump in, no matter the water temperature. That’s not such a good idea.
- Make sure your dog is always warmed up and pre-exercise before jumping into cold water – the cold is not good for his muscles.
- Clean out those ears afterward! Dogs are highly prone to ear infections, and the likelihood is always much higher if Fido’s been swimming.
Surprisingly, a treadmill can be a great tool for exercising your dog. If you live in an urban area where dog parks are scarce and you’ve got a breed of dog that requires regular exercise (or if you’re not a big exerciser yourself and don’t care to join Fido in a run or a swim) a treadmill can be a very practical solution. Not to mention a great convenience on those days when the weather is just too bad to go out. Simply train him to walk or trot on it at moderate speeds, program the treadmill to go for a couple of miles (always under your supervision, of course – never leave an animal unattended or out of your visual range on a moving machine) and Fido will get all the exercise he needs in the safety of your home exercise room. Not exciting, perhaps, but much, much better than nothing.