Having a workout buddy increases your likelihood of exercising, so why not workout with your K9 buddy? Pet ownership is one health behavior that we’re getting right: 39 percent of American households include at least one dog, according to the 2011-2012 National Pet Owners Survey. But there’s probably more you can get out of your friendship with Fido. A dog needs exercise and so do you — why not do it together? Here are a few things to know to exercise with your dog:
Getting started: Big or small, young or old, dogs just like humans need to exercise daily. While some breeds have special needs that have to be taken into account, and dogs do slow down as they age, they still need to take part in some form of daily physical activity. Without activity, just like us, your dog will become bored, frustrated and unhealthy. Exercise tones the muscles, helps the body and metabolic system to function properly, and engages the mind. Anyone who has had a dog that suffers from lack of physical activity and mental stimulation will tell you that they will often turn to destructive behaviors — behaviors that magically disappear once the dog is getting out everyday. When making your dog your exercise buddy, step one is a trip to the vet. Your vet can evaluate your dog for any heart, lung, or other health problems. It’s also important to check for signs of arthritis or musculoskeletal disease. A dog with inflamed joints or ligaments may require a low-impact exercise plan.Start slow and work into a routine. Just like a couch potato human, there are those of the K9 variety and being thrown into a vigorous exercise program right off the couch can cause injury to you as well as your pet. While there is no evidence to suggest your dog needs a warm up, it certainly can’t hurt you or your pet, and may help your dog set the pace” says John Crumley, DVM. Though exercise needs are based on a dog’s age, breed, size and overall health, Dr. Crumley also recommends starting slow. He suggests 3-5 days a week, and if they are true couch potatoes starting with 1 or 2 miles, and doubling it each week until they get to 5 miles. This goal is not only great for your pet but for you as well! “Once they are doing 5 miles, 5 days a week, they can do longer runs (20 miles and even up for some guys), Dr. Crumley states. He also warns to use common sense on those workouts. If your dog is sore the next day then you went to hard and you need to reduce the workout intensity (usually measured in distance, but not always). When exercising with your dog, watch for signs that one of you may be overdoing it. You may be working too hard if you are too breathless to carry on a conversation. Your dog may be overworked if he shows reluctance to follow their owner on the run/activity. “I always say, ‘A dog will run himself to death to keep up with you”, says Dr. Crumley. So if he goes down and refuses to follow you, stop, get some food and water. Never force a dog to work. Other signs, lameness, slowing down, whining, attention seeking, and “shade seeking” (looking for a place to lie down in the shade).
Cold weather: Dr. Crumley advises that there is no reason not to for most dogs to exercise down into the teens. Short haired dogs may need a waterproof jacket in the snow, but usually this is not needed. Long walks on rough surfaces can damage a dog’s paws. Start slowly. If you work your way up to longer walks, most dogs will develop thicker pads on their feet and not have problems. On hot days, avoid too much contact with asphalt or sand. On snowy days, check paws for ice build-up. And if you venture onto very rough surfaces, consider buying a set of dog booties.
Do you need to change your dogs diet for more exercise?:
Dr. Crumley recommends more calories, especially in the cold. Watch the weight so they don’t get fat. “I’m a protein and fat guys for dogs in training, but in the acute caloric deficit, carbs are needed”.
Can ANY dog go running? “Hell yes”, Dr. Crumley says. I worry more about the owner than the dog. Some need to start slow, dogs just don’t pace well. We have to use our common sense to pace them.”
Swimming with your dog: Swimming is an all-in-one workout that is especially beneficial for people or dogs with arthritis. Because it’s a low-impact sport, swimming is easy on the joints. But that doesn’t mean it’s a wimpy workout. Swimming works various muscle groups, improves endurance, and strengthens the heart and lungs. Not all dogs enjoy swimming, so start slowly. Use toys or treats for encouragement, and if your dog still resists, find another sport.
What are a few good tips to get that fat dog moving? Love, attention, time with their owner and the outside is usually all they need.
A recent Michigan State University study found that people who owned and just walked their dogs were 34% more likely to get the amount of daily exercise they need. Similar studies and public health campaigns that promote pet ownership represent a logical opportunity to increase physical activity. Research also suggests that people who exercise with their dogs are more likely to stick to their fitness program!
A workout with your beloved K9 best friend can do wonders for both you and your pets cardiovascular health and weight management, but it can be hard to find the motivation to get moving every day. Use your dogs tireless energy and need to be outdoors to get going! Running with your dog can be a very rewarding experience and foster an even deeper bond between the both of you. When done safely and effectively, it can also provide a necessary outlet of energy for your dog which can help maintain a healthy weight, promote a longer more active life, and in some cases, even help correct problem behaviors. So why not leash your fitness and add your buddy to those daily runs!
Dr. John Crumley is a UC Davis graduate, but hails from Texas. He has a special interest in internal medicine and cancer therapy. He is one of the partners at Baring Blvd Veterinary Hospital. In his spare time he is an avid tri-athlete and climber. My deepest thanks to him for his expertise, patience and love he gave my dog and for all the expert advice for this article.