Exercising with Your Dog
The days of hunting, chasing and being chased are over. Your dog doesn’t have to find his own dinner anymore, or run and hide from larger predators. Result: Big, fat, unhealthy dog who sits in the front of the TV as much as you do. Should you enroll Fido in a doggy aerobics class?
No. It’s time to help your dog get in shape by helping you get in shape. A 2004 survey by Purina of pets in five major U.S. cities found that 60 percent were moderately to severely overweight. Of these dogs and cats, 12 percent were so portly that they were suffering from weight-related health conditions, many of which can lead to an early death.
While the benefits of a healthy lifestyle for people are well-known, fitter pets also reap rewards. Dogs that get regular exercise are more relaxed, generally better behaved and have fewer problems with chewing and barking, according to MSNBC Health Editor Molly Masland.
“A dog is probably going to have a better personality if it’s exercising, and maybe we will, too,” says Dr. Howard Erickson, professor of physiology in the College of Veterinary Medicine at Kansas State University.
And just like people, dogs that stay in shape and eat right have healthier hearts, more efficient respiratory systems, stronger muscles and bones, and often live longer than more sedentary pets, says Erickson.
A healthier pet benefits you too. How? Dogs can be a motivating force in your workout life by holding you accountable to your fitness goals. So says Dr. Robert Kushner, professor of medicine at Northwestern University Medical School. Kushner’s study shows that when people and their dogs exercise and diet together, both lose weight and keep it off.
In addition, having a canine buddy added variety and helped reduce the hum drum of a standard fitness routine. “Across the board, people who exercised with their dogs found it rewarding, fun and an opportunity to bond with their dog more than they ever did before,” says Kushner.
Below are guidelines from MSNBC.com research to ensure your dog’s safety:
l Beware the weekend warrior syndrome. Make sure both you and your dog are in shape before undertaking any vigorous activities since excessive exercise in occasional bursts can lead to serious injuries for both of you.
l Always bring a collapsible dog bowl and a supply of drinking water.
l If you take your dog running, keep an eye out for signs of heat exhaustion, such as excessive panting, salivation, vomiting or staggering. Sometimes a dog will simply sit down and refuse to go any farther.
l Watch the weather. Taking your dog out for a workout on a hot or humid day could lead to heat stroke.
l If your dog gets severely overheated, immediately carry it to a shady spot, allow it to drink small amounts of water and hose it down if possible. Consult a veterinarian.
l Periodically check your dog’s feet for cuts, thorns or cracked pads. Some surfaces, such as hot pavement, sharp gravel or ice, can cause painful damage to your dog’s paws. Before you head out, ask yourself whether you would want to run barefoot on the same surface.
l Keep pets licensed and on a leash, and remember to scoop the poop.
l Don’t take your dog for a run or workout right after it’s eaten or your pet could suffer cramps and vomiting.
l Never exercise your pet while driving a car with your dog outside on a leash, or while you’re riding a bicycle, skateboarding or roller blading.
As with any exercise program, you and your dog should be checked out by a doctor/veterinarian before beginning. Your dog must start out gradually, just as you did at the beginning of your fitness journey. Start out by walking around the block and add a block each day to work up to the optimal distance.
Keep your dog’s size and breed in mind when deciding what exercise to pursue. Very small dogs aren’t good jogging partners, and dogs with pushed up noses (Pekingese, bulldogs, pugs, mastiffs) often have breathing problems, so very strenuous workouts can be dangerous.