Dogs can be great running buddies, but like pet parents, not all can jump straight from the couch to a lengthy jog without danger of injury. Even if your dog is not among the estimated 40% of U.S. pets who are considered overweight, it can take time and training to get him ready to participate in his first 5K. Here’s a plan to do it safely:
Step 1: Get the all-clear
Before your canine companion takes his first jog, head to the vet. You want to rule out any conditions that exercise may exacerbate and outline which activities are safe for your dog.
Your vet will also take your dog’s breed and age into consideration. While dogs of herding, hound or sporting lineage may be able to build up to a multi-mile run, snubnosed breeds (think Bulldogs, Pugs and Pekingese), young puppies or senior dogs could face challenges or potential health hazards. Your vet will help you set guidelines and limits for your particular pup, and advise if he’s more suited to moderate exercise.
Step 2: Start slow
You’ve got the all-clear to put paw to pavement, but what if your dog isn’t used to more than a short stroll?
The key to kicking off your dog’s workout routine is considering the variables of fitness: frequency, intensity, time and type. Increase only one variable at a time until you notice that your dog is eager to continue.
For example, if you add brief intervals of jogging to boost your daily walk, don’t change anything else, like the length of time you walk or how many walks you take that day. Or start by increasing the duration of your daily walk by 20 minutes, but keep the pace the same as you always do.
Step 3: Monitor your dog's progress
Using the fitness variables, gradually move up to three or four walking/jogging sessions of 25 to 30 minutes per week, alternating exercise days with days of rest. If you find that your dog is lagging behind on longer sessions or is not enthusiastic about starting sessions, don’t push him. It might be time to scale back or find a different activity (see below for ideas!).
If your dog isn’t as enthusiastic about clocking miles as you are, don’t fret! Here are ideas if you have a:
5-year-old Beagle who begs to fetch:
Agility is great for healthy, energetic adult dogs who want to take it to the next level, as it challenges their minds and bodies to move quickly through an obstacle course. Bonus: There’s a lot of running, so you may drop a few pounds, too!
2-year-old Frenchie who loves treats:
Tricks training is perfect for dogs who don’t have the stamina for loads of physical exercise. Try tricks that double as strengthening exercises, including “sit up and beg” (core strength) and tugging/dropping games (interval training). Use low-calorie rewards like small chunks of apples or carrots to keep pounds off.
11-year-old Lab who loves to lounge:
Swimming is perfect for senior dogs who want to play like a puppy because it is completely non-impact, so it’s easy on sensitive joints. Young or large-breed puppies can also burn energy in the water, since it’s easier on developing bones. Look for a doggy daycare center nearby with an indoor pet-friendly pool and dive in!
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