We all occasionally need a nudge to get off the couch and start exercising. Sometimes that nudge is nothing more than a poke by a cold nose. You know the drill — your dog stands there wagging her tail, holding the leash and begging to go for a walk.
Part of the responsibility of having a dog is the commitment to her well-being. Lack of daily exercise can lead to obesity, breathing difficulties, circulation problems, joint damage, diseases such as diabetes mellitus, and other health problems. In Torino, Italy, the city that played host to the 2006 Winter Olympics, it’s a crime not to walk your dog three times a day. Owners who fail to do so are subject to a fine of up to $650.
By making your pal your regular exercise buddy, you will both benefit. Think of your pooch as your personal trainer. If she had her way, she would sign you up for a walk in the morning, another at noon and a moonlit stroll at night, with a couple more outings in between! Responding to her enthusiasm and motivation can put you both on the road to good health.
One Step at a Time
There’s no perfect schedule to fit all dogs or dog companions; what’s best depends on the breed and age of the canine and of course your time schedule. Be realistic — in order to ensure that you don’t start off with good intentions that quickly fade away, commit to making a fixed exercise time part of your daily routine.
If your pet hasn’t been exercising regularly, start off slowly – simply go once around the block. Then add a block a day until you are walking a reasonable distance together. At that point, you can start to pick up the pace a bit. It may even be advisable to ask your veterinarian to work out a personal fitness plan for your pup. Most vets will recommend an outing of between 20 minutes to an hour a day.
It’s also a good idea to vary the route. Your pup will appreciate exploring and sniffing new terrain. And you never know who you may meet — before long you may even get a walking group together, which is all the more incentive to make exercise a daily activity.
Hitching a Ride
Apart from walking and jogging, there are lots of other outdoor activities such as hiking and cycling, that you can do with a dog. But once again, your pet’s breed and physique will set the pace. Your Yorkshire Terrier or Chihuahua is never going to become a marathon runner; likewise, it would be futile to train your Basset Hound for a triathlon. Certain breeds such as Pugs and Bulldogs are respiratorily challenged, so you will have to adjust your fitness routine accordingly.
If you enjoy cycling, the perfect compromise for small non-sporty breeds is to attach a pet carrier to the back of your bicycle or strap on a special basket up front. Head for a park or green belt and park your bike there. Then you can both go for a comfortable walk before you chauffeur her back home. If your breed is more athletic, there are many gadgets that attach to bicycles so that your pet can run beside you. Don’t try this on busy streets and never drive your car while your dog runs alongside.
Unlike most of us, dogs are not dissuaded by weather reports – they are ready to go rain or shine. Nevertheless, be sensible about scheduled walk times and stay out of intense heat that could lead to heatstroke. Signs of heat exhaustion include; excessive panting, salivation and even vomiting. And if your dog sits down and refuses to budge, take heed! She’s not being stubborn; she’s protecting her health.
Remember that even moderate exercise increases a dog’s thirst – it’s a good idea to make frequent drinking stops along the way. There are wonderful water bottles that are designed to clip onto a belt and then convert into a drinking bowl. Mind your own limitations as well. If your jogging partner is a Labrador or a Border Collie that never seems to tire, take along a ball or Frisbee to toss when you need a break to catch your breath.
Keep an Eye on Those Feet
Be cognizant of the terrain. Hot pavements and icy surfaces can take their toll on pet paws. Make it routine to check for cuts, thorns, and cracked pads. You can find soothing balms to massage into tender paws to keep them in good condition.
When you’re both back home and comfortable on the couch again, don’t spoil the benefits by snacking too much. And hold back on your dog’s treats, too! Finally, if you really don’t have time to keep up the routine or you lose your motivation and revert back to being a couch potato, hire a pet walker to ensure that at least your dog continues to get the exercise she needs and deserves to live a happy, healthy life.