An impromptu game of chase. A few minutes of fetch. Most dog owners spend at least a little time each day engaged in play. The trouble is, these brief episodes of activity aren't enough to prevent unhealthy weight gain and loss of cardiovascular fitness.
While I fully support playing with your dog whenever, wherever, and however you can, I also advise dog owners to set aside time for regular exercise. Daily walks, runs or other activities help you and your dog stay on a healthy track and gives dogs the structure they need to stay happy and well-behaved.
Want to jumpstart your dog’s exercise program? Turn to these tips for physical activities from my friends at K9 Fit Club.
Before You Begin
- Different dogs need different amounts of exercise, so talk to your veterinarian before starting a workout program. With a proper assessment, you can ensure your dog has a clean bill of health and embark on a workout program that won’t seem like work at all!
- Just like people who aren’t used to exercise, dogs who have been sedentary should start off slow. And as we say at K9 Fit Club, a little bit of something is better than a whole bunch of nothing!
Where to Start
- Moderately paced walking and swimming are a good way to start—both people and pooch athletes build their cardiovascular and muscle strength without putting undue stress on their joints.
- Keep a close eye on your dog: watch for any unusual signs of fatigue or trouble breathing, and if your pup wants to stop, let him. Dogs that overdo it can suffer strained tendons or ligaments or other orthopedic problems.
- Don’t expect your fuzzy buddy to be a weekend warrior, even if you only get exercise on the weekends yourself. Exercising only once a week can lead to injury.
- A 15-minute walk in the morning and evening, combined with an appropriate diet, can be meaningful. As you and your pet get stronger, you can graduate to longer walks on the weekend, hiking, biking and even running.
Keep the Fun in Running
Four-legged friends make great running buddies – but always put safety first. Follow these rules for ruling the road:
- Leashes are a must when you’re out on the trails (and it’s also the law in many places).
- Make sure your dog has plenty of fresh water before, during and after your run.
- If you have to run when it’s dark, put reflectors on your dog’s collar as well as on your clothes.
- On hot days, concrete and asphalt are tough on the paws. Try to run on dirt paths or grass as much as possible. Gravel, cinders, and road salt can also irritate paws.
- Take it easy in extreme weather. If it’s freezing cold or hot and steamy out, either keep your run short or play a little indoor fetch instead.
If your dog eventually gets bored with running or walking, take heart: there are other ways to get him the exercise he needs. A 15-minute game of fetch makes for a good workout. Supervised play with other dogs is a good option too. Whatever you do, make sure you and your furry friend get moving and stay moving!