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A healthy New Year

January is traditionally a time to make resolutions for the coming year. For many people, one of those resolutions is to exercise regularly. We all know how important exercise is to our health, physically and emotionally. This is true not only for us, but for our dogs as well. However, finding time to exercise may be a challenge – family, friends, work and spending time with your dog may already keep you so busy that fitting in time for anything else is difficult. One solution is to combine exercise with the time you already spend with your dog. By doing so, you can get a lot done at once: improving your overall health, strengthening your bond with your dog, and improving your dog’s health. Perfect!

Why is exercise important for dogs?

Many dogs are overweight and exercise can help these dogs to shed the extra pounds. If you’re not sure if your dog is overweight, try this simple test. Run your hands over your dog’s ribs. You should be able to feel them without pressing hard. If you can’t feel your dog’s ribs without pressing down on them, chances are he is overweight. Excess weight can shorten your dog’s life and make him more susceptible to diabetes, osteoarthritis, heart disease and other health problems. Your veterinarian can help you determine a healthy weight for your dog based on his breed, size and age. Exercise can help your dog achieve and maintain that healthy weight.

Should all dogs exercise?

Yes, all dogs need exercise; however, the type and amount of exercise they need depends on the dog. For example, Retrievers will need more exercise than lap dogs. Your dog’s exercise requirements depend on his breed, size, age and activity level.

Exercise for puppies?

Don’t make the mistake of over-exercising your dog if he’s still growing, because his bones aren’t yet strong enough to cope with the extra stress this puts on him. Little and often is the rule until your dog grows to full strength. Remember that large breeds mature later than small breeds. Ask the breeder or your vet for their advice. Regular and varied walks are not just essential to keep your dog fit, but they also give him the chance to explore and to experience new stimuli, including meeting other dogs. This will help him develop into a contented and well-adjusted dog, without behavioral problems.

Exercise for senior dogs?

As your dog ages into a senior dog, he will tire more easily. His joints may stiffen and he’ll become more susceptible to the same sort of muscular aches and pains that humans experience as we age. Although he may be less active, it’s still good for your senior dog to maintain a moderate level of exercise. This helps to improve his circulation, keep his joints moving, and ensure he receives plenty of fresh air. It also gives him enough chances to relieve himself, avoiding accidents in the house, as he may not be able to control his bladder and bowels efficiently. Take your dog for shorter, more frequent walks, but never force him to go beyond his capabilities.

Getting started

Ease in: If your dog is not used to regular exercise, it’s important he start with daily, moderately paced walks. Set a pace you can both enjoy. Gradually, the length of the walks can be increased. Once your dog has built up his endurance, he may be ready for more fitness challenges, such as becoming your jogging partner.

Have fun: Walking, jogging, playing fetch or tossing a Frisbee – whatever the exercise you choose – it should be fun for both.

Stick to a routine: It’s the best way to ensure both get the exercise.

Safety first

  • Keep your dog leashed during outdoor exercise.
  • Watch for signs of fatigue or troubled breathing, then stop exercising.
  • Supervise your dog’s exercise. Leaving your dog alone, even in a fenced yard, leaves him susceptible to weather and other animals.
  • Training allows you and your dog to communicate. If your dog knows what to do when he hears the sit, down, stay or heel command it will make outdoor exercise safer and more enjoyable.
  • If it’s very cold outside, don’t cancel your exercise, change it. Shorten the time spent outside and get your dog indoors immediately if he starts to shiver. Or, play an indoor game that provides exercise.
  • In hot weather, exercise during the coolest parts of the day and make sure your dog has a shady area to cool down in.
  • Don’t feed your dog immediately before or after exercise and always ensure your dog has plenty of fresh, clean water to drink.

Don’t give up

Finding the time to exercise with your dog may be a challenge at first, but it is much easier once it becomes part of your daily routine. Your dog won’t let you easily break routine – you’ll likely find him ready for his exercise at the appointed time each day. His wagging tail, trusting eyes and excitement about the upcoming walk, jog or game is enough of a reason to exercise with him, even without the numerous other benefits!