I try to be with my dog as much as possible – he’s young and energetic and I’ve noticed that walking him, even a few times a day, doesn’t provide enough exercise to burn off all his excess energy. Running works, but I don’t like to run all the time and many people I know who also have high energy, athletic dogs can’t run or don’t enjoy running.
Biking is a great alternative. I’ve seen people biking with their dog and the dogs look so happy and the owners are enjoying the whole experience. I enjoy riding my bike but haven’t ridden with my dog yet. He’s not afraid of my bike when it’s stationary or I walk it, but riding it with him trotting alongside is another story. Like anything else, he needs to learn and I need to prepare him for this form of exercise in order to keep him and me safe and injury free.
Most people that I see probably haven’t taught their dog behavior cues when they start riding, but it’s really a good idea to take the time – this will enable you to guide him when you ride. Such cues may include, “slow”, “stop”, “easy”, “turn” and “leave it” many of which your dog probably has learned if he’s been through obedience training.
It’s important to note that a dog under a year and sometimes, depending on the breed, two years old may have bones that are not completely developed. Unless the growth plates are closed, the risk of injury could be high so it might be worth getting a veterinarian’s opinion before starting any strenuous exercise program.
As with any vigorous workout, your dog needs to build up time, distance and pace. Rides should increase slowly, working up to a steady trot. The sustained trot should be effortless. If your dog appears to be tiring or doing heavy panting, then it’s time to slow or stop. You also need to get a feeling of your dog’s natural pace – because he wants to please, he’s going to try and keep up with you even if he’s in discomfort. You should keep to his pace, not the other way around. Once he proves he’s in good running condition, briefly bring him to a gallop but for most of your ride, he should be at a comfortable trot.
As with other forms of vigorous exercise, like running with your dog, both you and he need to be well hydrated. You should also be aware of the condition of your dog’s pads. If he hasn’t been running on pavement, then his pads may become rough and raw until they toughen up. This takes time – another reason to initially take it slow. Checking for signs of lameness and waning enthusiasm is important to help prevent soreness and injury.
For his safety, your dog also needs to be tethered to you when you ride. A leash is an option but there are attachments that are much safer. Devices that have been on the market for a while include “Springer”, “The Bikerdog”, “The Walky Dog” and “The K9 Cruiser”. All are designed to allow you to keep both hands on your handlebars while keeping your dog a safe distance from your bike, eliminating the potential of your dog pulling you off balance, causing a crash or a collision with your dog. Another good idea is to have a reflective/colorful collar or harness for high visibility.
Biking with your dog can be a lot of fun and provide the opportunity to build an even stronger bond. Just keep in mind, that not all dogs want to bike and if that’s the case, then there are plenty of other activities that you can do together.
In our business, we’ve noticed that most people think aqua therapy and other structured exercise programs are only for dogs who have some sort of problem, such as arthritis, dysplasias, weight issues, and other joint or spinal problems. That can’t be farther from the truth.
Just like humans, dogs need more exercise than they typically get. A walk or backyard playtime is generally not enough. To preserve health, dogs need a high quality cardiovascular exercise like a good run, “weight training” to keep their muscles strong, appropriate stretching to keep them flexible, and activities that provide mental stimulation. Cardiovascular or aerobic exercise is beneficial not only for overall physical health, but it provides psychological benefits as well. Because of the endorphins and serotonin released, this type of exercise can calm your dog and elevate and stabilize his mood. Statistics show that most dogs don’t get enough aerobic exercise, which is a major factor in the rising obesity rate in dogs, now estimated at 54%.
You can make sure your dog gets enough aerobic exercise by going for a jog or bike ride with him if he’s able and it’s not too hot. Interval training, where you run with your dog for a short period of time, then walk, and repeat is a great way to build cardiovascular and respiratory endurance, again if your dog is able. Specific training exercises such as “sit to stand”, “down to stand” or play bows are good examples of ways to build muscle strength and provide mental stimulation. Swimming or aqua therapy where all four limbs are moving is in my opinion the best form of exercise for most dogs. It’s a full body workout that improves cardiovascular health, builds muscle mass, and helps with weight loss. It’s ideal for dogs who can’t easily do land based exercise because it’s non-weight bearing.
Instead of waiting until your dog has a problem, why not start a fitness regimen while he’s still healthy? You’ll be richly rewarded by keeping your loving companion healthier and happier for a longer period of time.
Contributed by Anthony Woerner, PTA and CCRP.
One way to assist senior dogs is through muscle strengthening programs. By strengthening the muscles it can help alleviate weight on sore joints. There is substantial credible evidence that supports the use of resistance training to maintain muscle mass.
For some seniors body weight and gravity is plenty of resistance. For others uneven surfaces, balance platforms, balls, hills, water or a low-level resistance type vests* may be used to enhance intensity and increase balance skills (proprioception).
Strength exercises that target the hind limbs, front limbs, and core are important throughout the life of your dog and if done on a regular basis will help your dog approach the senior years with style and dignity.
Recommended Strength Exercises:
*For dogs with hip or back weakness please consult your vet before using a resistance vest.
Suggested recommendations: Start with 2-3 exercises everyday with 2-3 reps for each exercise. As strength increases add more exercises and intensity. Strive for good technique. Keep sessions very short, between 1-5 minutes. Aim for 3-5 days a week.
Most Important – as with any exercise routine, correct movement is necessary. Correct movement more important than reps, intensity or speed. Build intensity and resistance gradually and progressively. Back off or try another exercise if your dog struggles with any exercise.
Senior dog exercise should also include cardio, flexibility and mental exercises. This will be discussed in a separate post.
Obesity is the number one preventable medical condition seen in veterinary hospitals today. A recent survey conducted by The Association for Pet Obesity Prevention (APOP) revealed some startling facts:
According to APOP founder Dr. Ernie Ward, pet obesity is the leading health threat to our nation’s pets, and it’s completely preventable. “We continue to see an escalation in the number of overweight pets and an explosion in the number of type 2 diabetes cases.” Type 2 diabetes is far easier to prevent than it is to treat, and is much less costly. Prices range from $200 to $300 for initial diagnosis, $50 to $100 for veterinary monitoring of glucose, $30 for the meter, and $75 per month for supplies including insulin and test strips. Then there’s the cost of additional trips to the vet because of other associated health problems.
Overweight dogs also suffer from damage to joints, bones and ligaments, as well as pancreatitis, heart disease and increased blood pressure, liver, skin and coat problems, increased risk of cancer, and more. All of this comes at a high price in the form of increased visits to the veterinarian, costly surgeries and medications. Many times, people relinquish their overweight pets to shelters simply because of the cost of treating their symptoms. The biggest cost of all, however, is decreased lifespan (an average of two years) and quality of life.
What do veterinarians say about the obesity epidemic? New York-based veterinary endocrinologist and APOP board member Dr. Mark Peterson sums it up by saying “The soaring rate of feline and canine obesity is taking a terrible toll on our animals’ health. The best preventive measure a pet owner can make is to keep their dog or cat at a healthy weight.”
Take a look at your dog and be honest with yourself. Can you easily feel ribs? If not, your dog is fat. Get rid of the high calorie treats and food, and get on a structured exercise program before it’s too late. You and your dog will be glad you did.