EXERCISING YOUR PET
Dogs can be great fun to exercise, because they can get you out and moving yourself. You don't want to hit the ground running with your pooch, though. Just as with any animal--or person--you'll want a doctor's okay before you start your dog's fitness routine. "Begin with a visit to the veterinarian to discuss your plans and ensure your dog has a clean bill of health," says Dr. Jay Geasling, member and past president of the American Animal Hospital Association. "After your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead, start your dog on suitable exercise for beginners."
Just like people who aren't used to exercise, dogs should start off slow. Moderately paced walking and swimming are a good way to start--they let canine athletes build their cardiovascular and muscle strength without putting undue stress on their joints. A daily ten- to 15-minute walking or swimming session is a good start; you can build to an hour a day if Rover seems up to it. If, after a few months, he's doing well and can handle long, fast walks without fatigue, he can graduate to jogging with you. Once he's adapted to the exercise, you and your dog can run and walk to your heart's content, if you take a few precautions:
- Keep a close eye on your dog: watch for any unusual signs of fatigue or trouble breathing. 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. After a long week without exercise, your dog may be ready to get out and burn off energy. But because of their enthusiasm, many of the popular breeds, such as Labrador and golden retrievers, will overdo it.
- Safety first--keep Rover on a leash when you run. Even the best-trained dogs can run into the path of a car or a territorial animal. And if you have to run when it's dark out, put reflectors on your dog's collar as well as on your clothes.
- Concrete and asphalt are tough on the paws, especially on hot days. 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.
- The more active your dog is, the more water he'll need. Make sure he has plenty of fresh water before and after your run. If you're going for a long run, take some water along for him.
If your dog is getting 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. Tug-of-war is not a good game because it can damage his teeth and may increase aggressive behavior. If you have the time and your dog has the inclination, you could even try running him through some agility obstacle courses, which incorporate a range of activities. If you're interested, your veterinarian may know of a dog agility organization in your area.