It may be cold outside, but that doesn’t mean you have to give up regular exercise, like walks, dog parks, or a fetch game. Indeed, the move has a ton of physical benefits, including maintaining a healthy weight and strengthening leg muscles, all while providing mental stimulation. It can also benefit you, as a tired dog usually behaves better. Exercise can stop destructive behaviors, such as chewing, barking, and digging.
But before putting your dog on an exercise routine, it’s a good idea to talk to your veterinarian. Discuss your dog’s breed and if there are any pre-existing health conditions that could be problematic; talk about your pup’s weight and how it can impact a routine (overweight dogs may need a different routine than fit ones); determine if your dog’s age would affect activity level; and could your pup’s personality be a contributing factor (e.g. a rowdy dog may not be the best at a dog park).
When in doubt, slow down to see what exercise your dog is comfortable with. “On a walk, around 30 minutes or so should be enough for many dogs, especially smaller ones,” says Jme Thomas, animal expert and executive director of Motley Zoo Animal Rescue. “For more interactive games like fetch or playing at the dog park, you can start with 10 or 15 minute exercise increments and then give your dog a break.”
How to exercise your dog
When it comes to choosing the type of exercise for your dog, there is no one size fits all.
MJ Viera, founder and trainer at MJ Pet Training Academy, says you should always think about the things a dog instinctively likes to do. Some dogs will be content with a walk at the local park to smell the trees; others were raised to have a job and need exercises that also challenge the brain.
“Dogs should do the things that are natural to them like pulling, digging and shredding during exercise,” she says. [For instance]If your dog always has trouble digging holes in the yard, make your dog a pit to dig on rainy days by piling blankets and towels on top of each other and hiding toys in them.
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Can I overexert my dog?
Is there too much of something good? When it comes to dogs and exercise, the answer is…sometimes. Take, for example, a dog that is not used to exercise. If you suddenly take this dog running with you, you risk joint problems and end up with a very sore dog.
Or, as Viera points out, a puppy that isn’t fully developed doesn’t have closed growth plates, which means lots of jumping or repetitive behaviors like running could be very damaging. “The best exercise for puppies is what they can do on their own — free time in a secure fenced area, for example,” says Viera.
You also need to be careful not to over exert an older dog or push them too hard when they are used to being a couch potato. “Dogs need to gradually implement new fitness plans, just like people,” Viera says. adding that when in doubt, you should always consult your veterinarian regarding your dog’s physical health and any major changes in fitness.
Why exercise is so important
Exercise has many benefits – improved physical, mental and emotional health.
Let’s dive into some of the top benefits of dating your dog.
According to Association for the Prevention of Obesity in Companion Animals, 59.5% of cats and 55.8% of dogs are classified as overweight or obese in the United States. APOP considers obesity a serious health issue and urges pet owners to speak with their veterinarians to develop a weight loss plan.
Related: Your Chubby Dog’s Extra Pounds May Be Due To The ‘Obesity Gene’
Although this will mostly consist of dietary changes, exercise can (and should) be part of the equation. “Studies have proven that dogs walked regularly by their owners are less likely to be overweight,” says Dr. Ellen Marcinkiewicz, Veterinary Advisor at Veterinarians. “If your dog is currently overweight it is important to start with light exercise and increase gradually. Be aware of your dog’s current abilities and if you have any concerns it is always best to ask your veterinarian.
Physical activity is an important source of mental stimulation, which can help prevent behavioral problems such as boredom and frustration. “Dogs that don’t get enough exercise may be more likely to develop problems like excessive barking or destructive chewing,” says Marcinkiewicz. “This negatively impacts animal welfare and strains the human-dog relationship.”
Related: 19 of the Best Interactive Dog Puzzles and Games for Your Bored Dog
Additionally, Thomas from Motley Zoo Animal Rescue points out that dogs need an outlet to behave well because otherwise their energy builds up and they don’t know how to release it, so it will show up in bad behavior, whether it involves pacing, jumping, barking or even biting. “The lack of an outlet can cause anxiety and neuroses, so it’s important to think of your dog as a shaken can of soda; it will explode if you are not careful,” says Thomas.
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Keeps joints healthy
Regular exercise plays an important role in joint health and mobility, according to Marcinkiewicz. It keeps joints flexible and strengthens the muscles that support those joints, because joints that aren’t used regularly become stiff and painful. So when movement occurs, it provides natural lubrication to the joints, which helps build cartilage.
However, you still need to be careful not to push too hard too fast. A dog that is very overweight or has advanced arthritis cannot go from being completely sedentary to hour-long walks. This will actually cause pain and can damage the joints even more. Instead, try swimming or taking gentle walks on a leash. Even 15 minutes a day will make a difference.
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What if your dog can’t exercise?
If you are concerned that your dog may not be able to exercise, always talk to your veterinarian. “If your dog has recently had surgery or has a medical condition that may affect their ability to exercise (like osteoarthritis), it’s important to consult a veterinarian first,” says Marcinkiewicz, who adds that there is usually an alternative even for these cases. “Dogs with arthritis often benefit from gentle, low-impact exercise, such as leash walking and swimming.”
More importantly, Thomas insists that you should always pay attention to signals that you are asking for too much. “Many dogs will grow back if exercise is taken too long, but it’s important to distinguish whether it’s resistance to leash use, fear of the environment, or something else. other than exhaustion,” she explains.
When in doubt, stop and go home to snuggle up on the couch – risking injury is never worth it.