Lack of exercise can lead to obesity, heart disease and poor muscle tone. It can also lead to behavioral problems because your dog hasn’t expended its excess of energy, and is bored. A dog who gets enough exercise is more likely to be calm while at home, and tends nor to be anxious when he’s left on his own.
If you spend time exercising your dog, you’ll have a lot of fun together and improve your relationship with him.
Before you start any exercise program with your dog, have him checked by your veterinarian to make sure there’s no reason you can’t increase his activity level. He may need to lose a little weight first, or he may be too young to do too much physical activity. Keep an eye on the weather – dogs don’t sweat like we do, and can suffer from heat stress in warm conditions.
How Much Exercise Does Your Dog Need?
Don’t think for a minute that owning a big backyard will mean you dog will get enough exercise. Dogs tend not to exercise themselves, and will lie around waiting for you to be active with him.
Different breeds, and in fact different individual dogs, have different exercise needs. Some dogs are happy with a walk every day. Others, especially the working breeds, need a lot more exercise to be satisfied. Aim to give your dog at least one exercise a day, and target the type and amount of exercise to his individual needs.
Your dog is telling you he’s had enough when is panting heavily, and no longer actively participating in the activity. He may no longer bring back a ball, or he may lie down under a shady tree during your run. Be watchful for these signals because over-exercising him when he’s tired may lead to injury.
Methods of Exercising Your Dog
There are many ways of exercising your dog, and you’re sure to find one that you also enjoy.
Walking. Keep your dog on a leash as you walk, for his own safety. Walking is a healthy activity for both of you, and is a great way to unwind at the end of a busy day. You may find, depending on your dog, that you can’t walk far enough to tire him out. If that’s the case, you may need to take up running or biking with him, or play with him when you get home.
Running. You don’t need to run long distances to use up your dog’s energy. Again, keep him on a leash and when you are starting, stick to grass, sand and other soft surfaces until his pads toughen. Dogs are like people in that they need to build up to a distance, so use a walk/run program such as the Couch to 5k (www.c25k.com) with him, until he is fit enough to go further.
Cycling. You can purchase accessories for your bicycle that hold your dog’s leash as you ride. This allows you to run your dog longer distances than you may be able to go on foot. Your dog will need some time to get used to being close to your bike, so spend a few days just riding up and down your sidewalk before you venture further afield. This is an advanced skill to take your time.
Swimming. This is particularly good for dogs with sore legs, because they can exercise without putting any weight on them. Your dog can swim in the ocean or a poll, and it will also keep him cool as he works out.
Retrieving. Playing fetch is a great option if you prefer not to exercise yourself, or if your dog needs to burn up a bit more energy after a walk. Your dog can fetch a ball or other toy, for as long he wants or as long as you’re prepared to throw it for him. You can teach your dog to play Frisbee with you, and this is a great party trick for when you go to the beach. Whatever you play with, keep your throws low and don’t allow your dog to leap in the air to catch his toy, particular on hard surfaces. This is a recipe for knee injuries.
Dog Sports. Dog agility, lure coursing and flyball are fast sports that keep a dog physically and mentally in great condition. There are clubs all over the country, and both you and your dog will have a lot of fun training and competing in these sports. They are particularly good for improving your mental connection with your dog, and a great way to build your relationship.
Exercising Your Dog’s Mind
Dogs are intelligent creatures, and need mental stimulation to avoid boredom related behavioral problems. You can play fun games with him to keep him thinking; alternatively consider purchasing toys such as the Buster Cube. You can put his kibble into this cube, and he will spend hours working out how to get it out.
Other fun games include:
Find it – take one of your dog’s favorite treats, and hide it in a room. Tell your dog to “Seek” and encourage him to search for his treat. You can also hide his favorite toy, but make sure you let your dog play with the toy before you hide it again. This will keep him interested in it for next time.
Tunnel game – make a tunnel out of large cardboard boxes and encourage your dog to go through it.
Find your dinner – hide the kibble for your dog’s dinner in your backyard and help him scrounge around until he finds it. This can keep him busy for quite a while.
Pick a bowl – put a treat under one of three bowls and see if your dog can sniff it out. Watch him try and turn the bowl over to get at the treat.
It does take time and effort to exercise your dog’s body and mind, but it’s worth it. A tired dog is a happy dog, and is much less likely to into mischief.
Adopting a Rescue Dog – The First Seven Days
By: Dr. Susan Wright & Misty Weaver