Finally—the glorious season of longer days and warm sunshine has arrived, which means more time for you, your horse, and your dog to jump into spring activities. But hold on one second! While our brains may be more than ready to gallop into the fun and sun, our bodies (and those of our animals) may not be. See your dog basking in the warmth streaming through the kitchen window? He may not be ready (or willing!) to take off on any new spring adventures just yet! While he’s still snoozing, let’s take a few minutes to consider how you can get him into shape in no time!
The doctor will see you now
Before starting any canine exercise program, it’s important to take your dog to your veterinarian for his annual wellness exam. Knowing where he’s at now will give you a marker that you can compare to later as you begin his exercise regimen. Take advantage of this visit to discuss any limitations your dog has. Ask if you should look into any prescription medication (yes, arthritic dogs get Adequan® and Legend® injections, too!) and any supplements that would be most beneficial for his unique needs.
This is also a good time to check your dog’s diet. If he’s is not already finding a high-quality diet in his dish—one that satisfies his nutrition and activity level requirements—consider making a switch. SmartPak’s LiveSmart line consistently appears on the approved list of dog foods by The Whole Dog Journal, which has been independently scrutinizing the ingredients of and rating pet foods for over thirteen years. LiveSmart could be just what your dog needs to fuel his active season ahead.
Don’t invite your pug to a pool party!
Now, take a realistic look at your dog’s physical characteristics and determine what types of exercise might be best suited for him. Your English Bulldog’s shuffling gait means he probably won’t do too well trotting next to your horse on the trail. And asking your Newfoundland to excel at Frisbee is a little like asking a Belgian Draft to compete in the hunters, so be fair. For long-term success and enjoyment, be sure to match your exercise choices to your breed of dog, both physically and temperamentally.
Depending upon your dog’s physical condition, you may want to start a simple walking program before you progress to something more vigorous. Once you notice an increase in his endurance, introduce short, controlled spurts of new exercises. The average dog fares better if his routine alternates between a program of simple exercise some days and more strenuous exercise others. Even doggie day care can be wearing on your dog several days in a row. It’s a good idea to take at least one weekday off from day care in the middle of the work week.
So what is exercise, really?
Time spent loose in a yard or loose inside is free time, not exercise. While proper turnout is important for a happy, healthy horse, we all know that although it is a vital to your horse’s well-being, it is not a conditioning or training program; it is merely an addition to it. Exercise, should be something that mentally and physically engages your dog. It should be an enjoyable activity that you and your dog most often participate in together, an activity that enhances your partnership. It could be a half-hour walk, a hike in the woods, an active fifteen-minute game of fetch, a two-mile jog, a swim, or even a romp with other dogs—the possibilities are endless. And be creative. No one—human, dog or equine—likes the same thing again and again and again, so it’s important to vary your dog’s exercise routine so he receives all the mental and physical benefits it can offer.
Here’s a look at some of the most popular forms of outdoor exercise and how you may want to incorporate them into your dog’s routine.
This traditional form of exercise is a great way to get your dog back in the action with limited stress on his body, and it’s a good activity for dogs of almost any age. Walking is also a great relationship builder. Because it’s a pack activity, it brings you and your dog closer while it helps your health. Best of all, you can do it pretty much anywhere. If you have already introduced your dog and your horse (see our previous blog on that topic) and you have access to a safe environment (a dirt road, field or back pasture), consider taking your equine friend out walking with you.
While jogging is a fast way to burn off excess energy, it’s not for every dog. He has to be physically mature and able to easily keep up and adjust his pace to yours. If you are doing more than a few miles (especially on a warm day), you should probably do a short loop with your dog, drop him off at home, and then continue. Remember, it’s important to build up slowly. Also note that constant pavement pounding can put unnecessary strain on your dog’s body. This is especially damaging if he is a young dog and has yet to fully develop, which is why this form of exercise is not recommended for dogs under eighteen months.
If you’re lucky enough to have safe hiking trails close to home, take advantage of them. Light hiking has an advantage over walking, jogging, or biking because there is no steady rhythmic pounding on a hard surface and your dog can usually move out at his own pace. As a bonus, you can often let your dog enjoy some off-leash freedom along the trails, which probably means he’ll end up covering more miles than you do.
How much exercise?
Now that you’ve got several different types of exercise to try, let’s take a quick look at how much exercise your dog needs. Like horses, not all dogs require the same amount. Depending upon your dog’s age, breed, and health, the amount of daily exercise that your dog needs will vary. In general, the more energetic the breed, the more energy your dog needs to burn. But that doesn’t mean you can become complacent if you own a low-energy dog—he needs exercise, too!
Let’s sum it up
Regardless of how much exercise they need, it’s important to follow these simple suggestions:
- Start slow.
- Begin with short distances and short sessions.
- As your dog builds up stamina, can gradually increase the pace and the distance, but always end when the dog is still eager to do more.
- Don’t exercise in very hot weather or on hot surfaces. Even though it’s spring, a few hot days tend to sneak in. Be aware that exercise on hot pavement is not only uncomfortable for your dog, it can actually wear down his pads.
- Remember to bring clean water or know where you will have access to it.
- Vary the amount and type of exercise so you do not burn out your dog with repetition.
- Pay attention to your dog’s post-exercise behavior, watching for limping, symptoms of heat exposure, and other signs they have had more than enough. Even dogs in good shape need to be monitored and can benefit from supplemental care.
Whatever exercise activities you choose, have fun and enjoy all the benefits of a healthy, happy dog and an enjoyable, lifelong partnership!