Man’s best friend is battling one of man’s worst enemies — obesity. Up to 40% of dogs in the U.S. weigh too much. Like people, overweight dogs are at risk for health problems, from arthritis to heart disease. This is one challenge you and your pet can face together. Research suggests people who exercise with their dogs are more likely to stick to a fitness program. The key is finding activities you both enjoy.
Brisk walking is an ideal exercise for human and hound. The benefits include a stronger heart, lower blood pressure, more energy, denser bones, and a lower risk of depression. In dogs, regular walks can also reduce common behavior problems. There’s no set rule for how far or how long a dog should walk. Just work slowly toward a goal and slowly increase your speed and how far you walk. A trip to the vet for your dog and a doctor’s checkup for you is recommended before starting an exercise program.
If long walks don’t entice you, try dancing with your dog. Also called musical freestyle, you choreograph a dance routine to upbeat music. You’ll have your pooch running between your legs and performing other tricks, while both of you get an aerobic workout. The benefits of dance include burning calories and developing greater stamina, better balance, lower blood pressure, and improved muscle tone and bone density.
Not all dogs are built to jog. Greyhounds, for example, are pros at short-distance sprinting, but can get tired during long-distance runs. If you want to jog with your dog, choose a breed that is suited to distance-running, such as a Labrador. Wait until your pup is full grown and then gradually build up to a 30-minute excursion. This should include five minutes of warm-up, 20 minutes of jogging, and five minutes of cooldown. Remember that dogs can’t sweat, so avoid the hot times of the day and stop if your dog is lagging behind you.
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.
Frisbee offers a classic canine workout. You can play a relaxed game in your own yard or join a formal “Disc Dog” team. Participating in competitions may give you and your dog greater motivation to practice regularly. Competitions give you a goal to work toward. They give you motivation to keep exercising, while working on your training and your relationship with your pet.
If your area offers hiking opportunities, you’ve got one lucky dog. Most dogs love to go out and find new smells and see other animals while spending time with their owner. Like walking, you’ll need to keep a brisk enough pace to elevate your heart rate. And if you live in an area where ticks carry Lyme disease, make sure you cover up and apply an insect repellent containing DEET — and protect your dog with flea and tick prevention and a Lyme vaccine. After hiking, check your body for ticks and do the same for your dog.
Summer Valley Veterinary Clinic