FACT: Exercise is one of the most important parts of keeping your body at a healthy weight and lower the risk of some diseases.
So it would make sense that exercise would be one of the most important parts of keeping our pets healthy but how do you do it?
The answer of how to exercise your dog will depend on the age, breed, size, and overall health of your pet.
Age is always an issue.
- Dogs < 2years of age: Growth plates do not close in most dogs until between fourteen and twenty-four months of age. It is best to avoid exercises that involve jumping, extreme movements, and repetitive running in dogs less than two years of age. Running three miles with your one year old Lab may seem like a good idea to burn that energy, but all that running could cause problems when they are older in the form of arthritis. One great exercise for dogs under the age of 2 are exploratory walks where you follow the dog as it chooses where and for how long it goes. Another great way to exercise these dogs is to attend obedience training classes where they get to walk, sit, down etc for an hour in a controlled setting. Both of these activities are also great mental exercises too.
- For dogs greater than two years of age regular endurance exercises, such as walking, is appropriate. Ideally, a twenty to thirty minute walk a day has many health benefits include maintaining weight, cardiovascular fitness, musculoskeletal strength, and mental stimulation.
- Older dogs, over the age of seven, depending upon the breed, may have special needs of their own. Musculoskeletal, cardiac, pulmonary and other systemic needs must be considered. An older dog that loves running may need you to set the boundaries. Just because they have always done the running, does not mean they should continue with the same pace.
Breed is also something that should be considered.
- Brachycephalic breeds such as Bulldogs, Pugs, and Boxers are at risk especially in the summer for overheating and breathing problems due to their short noses and smaller tracheas. Walks and playtimes should be short and at a slower pace. Try other exercises indoors like fetch and tug-of-war.
- Deep-chested, narrow-bodied breeds such as German shepherds, Doberman pinschers and Great Danes are prone to bloat (gastric dilatation-volvulus) and should not be exercised right after meals.
- Sighthounds, like greyhounds and whippets are built for short-distance sprinting not long-distance runs.
Size does matter.
- Small or short-legged dogs usually don’t need as much walking as larger dogs. Focus on the amount of time spent exercising and not on the distance.
- Some dogs may have medical reasons that limit their ability to exercise. These may include anything from arthritis to heart and lung disease. Most dogs with medical conditions can be exercised with respect to the disease or condition, but please contact your veterinarian to discuss how.
- A dog in pain should never be asked to exercise. The first step is to find out why they are in pain. Limping, refusal of activity such as jumping in/out of the car, decline in performance, or refusal to move are signs of pain. It is simple – if you suspect pain – find out why and stop any activity. I always assume a physical cause rather than a behavioral with any training or performance problems.
Some dogs are just not into exercise and activity. They are overall healthy and happy and have no other desire that to hang out with their owner. I have also seen many owners not into exercise and are just trying it with their dog because they were told it was a great thing to do. There is no denying the benefits of exercise but if it is being forced by you onto the dog, and you really do not like it, do not bother. It is important for you and your dog to enjoy spending time together so instead of trying to force yourself to like running come up with another form of exercise that you will enjoy doing together.
In the end, we all want our dogs to have the best quality of live for the longest time possible. So when it comes to exercise the most important thing is to know if and when your dog is ready. If you have any questions or concerns contact your veterinarian and they will be able to help you determine the best exercises for you and your dog.