Exercise is an essential element to a happy dog’s life. Dogs need play and exercise to fulfill physical needs but also emotional and social needs. The type of and amount of activity you can offer your dog may differ according to their age, fitness and surroundings.
The Importance of Play and Exercise
The best form of exercise is one that stimulates both your dog’s mind and body. Play is an excellent way of engaging your dog and satisfying their physical and emotional needs. A well stimulated dog is less likely to become bored and start exhibiting behavioural problems such as destructive behaviours, chewing, digging, excessive barking and poor socialisation skills.
Physical Benefits of Play and Exercise in Dogs
- Raises metabolic rate
- Increased muscle tone and strength
- Increased joint flexibility
- Improves circulation
- Increases bone strength
- Reduces risk of heart and respiratory disease
- Weight control. Avoids diseases such as obesity and diabetes
- Can help manage arthritis
- Boosts the immune system
- Aids digestion
- A healthier happier pet that lives longer
Emotional Benefits of Play and Exercise in Dogs
- Strengthens the bond between you and your pet
- Greater social skills
- Mental stimulation
- Emotional well being
- Reduces stress
- Brings about stable sleep patterns
- Reduces behavioural problems
Types of Exercise for Dogs
Whatever types of exercise you choose for your dog ensure that you have full control. Basic training should be implemented from the first day you introduce a new play or exercise activity. This ensures the safety of you, your dog and others around you.
The best forms of exercise are those which involve both you and your dog. That way you’ll both get fit and reap the benefits together.
Walking and Hiking
The duration and intensity of this activity can be increased as both your strength and stamina levels improve. Start with a moderately paced 30 minute walk and gradually build up. Walking on uneven terrain is much better for you since it improves muscle tone, coordination and burns more calories. Walking gives you and your dog the opportunity to explore the countryside around you. All the sights and smells of new territories are a great stimulation to awaken the senses of both you and your dog.
Throw and Retrieve
You may want to consider what your dog was originally bred for when choosing an appropriate physical activity for you and your dog to enjoy. Dogs originally used for hunting may love throw and retrieve games. Some dogs may take some time to learn to retrieve but these games provide an excellent way to strengthen owner- pet bonds.
Some dogs love to run and are happy to jog alongside an owner who is running, cycling or rollerblading. This kind of activity will be most suitable for breeds who are suited to running long distances and who are physically fit. Examples of such breeds are those that were originally bred for sledging etc. Many owners use their dogs as training partners and both will find their fitness levels raised as they reap the benefits of exercise.
Start with a brisk walk, once you can both maintain this walking pace for 30 minutes try and turn this into a jog. Exercise studies have shown that interval training is a great way of increasing your metabolism. Try and intersperse faster bursts of running into your jog to maximise the benefits.
Note that this kind of exercise is only suitable for dogs who are well trained, obedient and easy to control.
The benefits of swimming as an exercise are far reaching. This activity is especially suitable for overweight animals or those suffering from joint or skeletal problems such as arthritis. If you are going to introduce swimming to a dog then it is best undertaken in a specialist hydrotherapy centre as this is safer than outdoor swimming for the beginner. See our articles on swimming and hydrotherapy.
Using balls is a great way of engaging your dog in a physical activity. Once a dog has been introduced to a ball they can happily play with it for hours. Each dog will come up with their own individual way of handling the ball and will relish games with multiple participants.
Be careful when playing this game with small breeds. Make sure the ball is big enough not to be swallowed.
Play with other Dogs
Dogs love to play with other dogs and as long as your dogs are friendly and well socialised then this would be an excellent exercise for them. It is vitally important that you choose the area carefully and assess its safety before you allow dogs to play there. It is also essential that your dog is obedient in times where control is needed.
Some parks have designated dog play areas. When using such areas or other places where there may be many dogs, the following rules must be adhered to.
- Watch all dogs playing carefully, at the first sign of trouble you must intervene
- Children should not be responsible for dogs playing together. Adult supervision is essential
- Dog faeces should be picked up and disposed of immediately.
- Ensure your dog comes to you when called. Practice this often and reward them with treats.
- Do not bring your dog’s favourite toy to the park to play with unless they are good at sharing.
- Be vigilant and watch for any signs of trouble. Learn to recognise the signs of trouble and confrontation (stiff walk, growling, stiff or slowly wagging tail, showing of teeth)
- If these signs occur then call your dog immediately in a happy voice
IF A FIGHT BREAKS OUT BETWEEN DOGS
- Never attempt to reach between the dogs who are fighting- you run the risk of getting seriously bitten.
- Try and throw water, blankets or coats over the dogs.
- If you must attempt separation then grab one of the dogs hind legs while someone does the same to the other dog
- Be careful when pulling the dog that it does not turn to bite you.
- Once the dogs are separated then get the dogs as far from each other as possible and as quickly as possible
- For dogs who repeatedly fight then behavioural advice should be sought.
If your dog is aggressive towards other dogs then you might consider the use of a distraction device such as pet corrector or dog stop.
Breed Exercise Requirements
Every dog needs exercise, regardless of their size, shape and breed. However, some dogs have greater requirements than others. There is of course huge breed and individual variation but we have tried to group dogs according to their size.
Many people impulsively carry these tiny dogs, however they have four legs too and need to use them!! They should have at least 30 minutes exercise twice daily as a basic exercise requirement. They should also be engaged in play with the owner to stimulate them mentally. These are not accessories they are dogs……. Just in miniature!!
Included in this category are some of the terrier breeds who have a huge amount of energy for such little dogs. Many of these breeds can exercise for hours on end. You should ensure your small dog is getting at least 1 hour exercise twice daily. You should also include some obedience training into your dog’s weekly routine to prevent these small dogs becoming unruly!
Included in this category are breeds such as Springer Spaniels and Staffordshire bull terriers. Many of these breeds have large exercise requirements and they should be getting at least one hour twice daily. Working breeds such as Collies should be getting at least 3 hours daily. Again mental stimulation should be provided in the form of training since these breeds can be highly intelligent and need mental stimulation that basic exercise cannot provide.
Good exercise discipline needs to be implemented in these larger dogs from a very young age. Getting into good habits from a young age will give the dog a lifetime of exercise to look forward to. This will significantly reduce the risk of developing obesity. Intelligent breeds such as German Shepherds should have obedience training incorporated into their exercise routine every day. One hour twice daily should be the minimum exercise requirements for these breeds.
Breeds such as the St Bernard and the Great Dane don’t necessarily have a greater exercise requirement than the smaller breeds. Beware of over-exercising pups of these breeds since their joints are still developing and there is a risk of them developing bone and joint problems later in life. Again, discipline is of the utmost importance when exercising these large dogs.
The Importance of Nutrition
The food you provide for your dog is the fuel that fires their furnace. It is important for you to select a high quality meat based diet which is balanced in terms of all major nutrients. It is also important that your dog is fed species appropriate diet, not one littered with human food stuffs.
A common downfall with many pet owners is to choose the dogs food based on price rather than based on quality.
The increasing incidence of obesity in pets is mainly due to owners not meeting their pets exercise and nutritional requirements. Your dog relies on you completely for their food and owners must take responsibility for feeding their dogs a healthy diet which is appropriate for their size, breed and activity levels.
Potential Dangers when Exercising your Dog
Choose your area carefully:
Make sure the area in which you wish to exercise your dog is free from hazards. Uneven terrain can be dangerous when playing high intensity games which involve running. This is especially true if your dog has any orthopedic problems.
When playing throw and retrieve games:
Make sure the item you are throwing isn’t going to damage your dogs teeth or jaw. Lightweight items are better than heavy ones. Make sure balls are not too small or there is a risk they will become stuck in the throat. Also make sure the item you throw doesn’t have parts which can easily come away be swallowed or lodged.
Never throw sticks!! They can cause serious injury to the dog if they become lodged in the mouth or throat. This is a common injury in veterinary practice with sometimes fatal outcomes.
Make sure your dog doesn’t twist awkwardly on the hind legs when trying to catch the toy. This can cause joint or spinal injury. It may be safer to give your dog nice long throws so they can chase the toy rather than jump up for it. This is especially important of overweight dogs or those with existing joint or bone problems.
Retrieve games may not be suitable for dogs who have dental problems. Make sure you select the retrieve object with great care.
Make sure your dog is socialised properly. A dog who is aggressive to strangers or other dogs is difficult to exercise in public places. This poses a problem for owners since they can’t allow their dogs to take part in many great activities. Training and obedience classes are a must for such dogs. Tackle behavioural problems as soon as they appear.
Dogs lack an efficient body cooling system so exercising them in warm temperatures can put them at risk of developing heat stroke. No exercise should be undertaken in the middle of the day, choose early morning or late night exercise sessions throughout the summer. Dogs particularly at risk are short nosed breeds, large breeds, long haired dogs and black dogs.
Warm up and cool down
Any period of exercise should be preceded by a warm up for both you and your dog. This gently increases blood flow to muscles and greatly reduces the risk of injury. Always start off any exercise gently and gradually build up the intensity. Not only will a warm up prepare you physically, it will also prepare you mentally. Similarly a cool down is important as it removes the metabolic waste products created during exercise and therefore prevents muscle soreness.
Exercise is one of the greatest gifts that you can give your dog. Do it regularly and safely and you will both enjoy this wonderful activity for many years to come.