Ready, Steady, Run!

Developing an informed approach to exercising your dog.

Owners of active adult dogs are usually fully aware of the need for exercise as an aspect of caring for their dog’s all-round health. Exercise leads to increased strength, endurance, flexibility and longer life. Also, our dogs are social creatures and during exercise they enjoy quality time with us. Exercising regularly with your dog not only helps you to develop a bond of closeness between you and your dog, it also keeps your dog fit, healthy and provides the necessary mental stimulation for him.

Benefits galore

Regular exercise improves joint movement, builds up strength and helps to prevent secondary problems of instability and recurrence where there has been an injury. This is especially important for competitive or sporting dogs.

Exercise helps both people and dogs to lose weight (the majority of dogs are overweight) or maintain the correct weight. Though much of the problem is due to poor quality food, inactivity certainly compounds the issue. Changing your dog to a balanced diet and giving him an opportunity for regular exercise will add years to his life span.

Exercise = Mental stimulation and contentment. Dog behaviour problems often stem from boredom, separation anxiety, and too much pent-up energy. Increasing your dog’s activities and exercise time will help your dog become well adjusted, better behaved, and much more happy and healthy.

Fitness and general good health – in addition, the cardiovascular system will improve and more calories will be burnt, helping to keep your dog trim and fit and his muscles will be better toned with improved flexibility of joints.


Pause before exercising PAWS!

Before starting an exercise programme or increasing the amount of current exercise activity, there are a number of important factors to consider.

Visit your vet. As with humans, it is always advisable to consult a medical practitioner before starting an exercise programme. Your vet will establish the general conditioning level of your dog and offer advice around suitable exercise activities. You should also establish and record your dog’s starting weight.
The age of the dog determines how much exercise activity should take place. Whilst gentle exercise is recommended, no dog should be subjected to a really demanding exercise routine until growth is completed. For most dogs, this is between nine and twelve months and at least eighteen months for the larger breeds. This does not mean that your puppy should not be allowed to enjoy himself – just use good judgement.

Different dog breeds have significantly different capacities for physical exertion and owners must be realistic and considerate of their pet’s limitations. Your vet will again be able to advise you, but some general rules are:
Dogs with short legs and long spines (Pekinese, Dachshund, etc) are not designed for excessive exercise. Like the “Toy” breeds (eg Chihuahua), they are very enthusiastic and love a short, brisk walk, but be prepared to carry them most of the way on a long hike.
Spaniels, terriers, collies, retrievers, pit bulls and other “working” breeds have tremendous stamina.
Greyhounds and the Afghan Hounds were born to run!
The German Shepherd and Rotterweiler breeds, whilst they will out-run all but the most physically fit
humans, unfortunately are examples of breeds that are notoriously prone to hip dysplasia. Whilst milder cases will actually be helped by exercise, the more severe cases will only be able to tolerate a mild exercise routine including, for example, hydrotherapy. The worst cases will not be able to tolerate any prolonged activity.
Bulldogs, Boxers and Mastiffs – due to their facial construction, have a reduced ability to breathe, particularly in hot weather so you should schedule your workouts for the cool time of the day.
The “giant” breeds, like the Great Dane and Saint Bernard, have an extremely long period of growth and are not completely mature until they are at least eighteen months old. Forcing them to work too hard before then will probably permanently damage bones and joints. As adults, these breeds have a limited ability for vigorous activity.

Dangers of heat – the coat of the dog is also a consideration and the thicker the fur, the less the dog will want to exert himself under conditions of heat and humidity. A dog can sweat through his feet pads, anus and tongue. He does not have the heat releasing mechanisms of many other animals. Dogs are susceptible to heatstroke and other related problems. Dogs that were bred for cold climates such as Huskies, have been introduced to unnaturally warm climates which results in behavioural and health problems. Dogs react to heat by panting or digging holes in the earth under shady trees or bushes. Exercise raises your dog’s metabolism and boosts his temperature, which in turn can turn to heatstroke. You should never exercise a dog in the heat of the day and keep his weight under control. It also advisable to offer your dog a drink of water before a walk.

Most veterinarians will caution pet owners not to exercise a dog right after feeding him as this can lead to gastric torsion.

What exercise tickles your fancy?

Running – dogs in the wild do a lot of running but mostly when they are hunting or chasing prey. Taking a dog on a daily run is not necessarily in its best interest. Dogs should never be run on hard surfaces like pavements or paved roads but on earth. If you insist on having your dog jog then make certain that the pace is a fast walk or trot rather than a run, of course this should never be allowed in hot weather. Always check the dog’s feet after a run for cuts and rawness.

Swimming – if you have a pool, swimming is good exercise but avoid exuberant play with jumping in and out and scrambling out on the side of the pool. Teach safety and the correct place to get out – at the steps. As with children, swimming should be supervised to avoid accidents.

Walking – To keep your dog fit, it should have a thirty minute walk 3-4 times per week, but preferably daily. Allow your dog to run off leash for some time, when possible, to benefit from the freedom to explore and he will also cover 3-4 times more ground than on a leash. Safety is always important and your dog needs to be obedient on the lead and well socialized with other dogs. This will make exercising a pleasure and not a stress for all concerned

Competitive and fun games – you can use your imagination with this, but some games include hide & seek; retrieving thrown objects from the ground, treasure hunt (for treats), completing an had hoc obstacle course (use cones and small jumps). Fit and competitive dogs are capable of more challenging games and exercises that should include a warming up, stretching and warming down session to avoid injury.

Too much of a good thing
Avoid tug-of-war, jumping to catch balls or Frisbees, rough wrestling exercises and over-exercise leading to fatigue, as these place excessive stress on certain joints and can lead to injury. Typical injuries include damage to external joint structures (muscles, tendons, ligaments, capsule) and to internal joint structures (ligaments, cartilage, bone surfaces). These in turn often lead to long term, chronic skeletal problems such as arthritis.

When the damage is done…

We all know how debilitated we feel after damaging a muscle, straining a ligament, having a hip replacement or fracturing a bone. Animals experience similar pain and suffer from weakness and stiffness after injury or surgery. Following a veterinary consultation, you will usually be advised to follow some kind of planned rehabilitation programme for your dog. This is where treatment by a registered physiotherapist can be critically important for a speedy recovery and the return to normal activity. Working in communication with vets, the aim of the physiotherapist is to restore normal movement function through a variety of treatments. Treatments may include hydrotherapy (heated water is one of the most effective therapeutic environments to promote and assist recovery after injury and gives relief from arthritic pain), joint mobilisation, electrical muscle stimulation, ultrasound, light therapy, laser therapy, massage, stretching and owner-managed exercise programmes.

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