When I began to have problems with my hips, my Buddy suffered, too – our walks were getting shorter and shorter. Buddy loved his walks and I think he could have gone all day. After my surgeries, we went back to our daily walks no matter what the weather. Dog exercise is just as important for them as people exercise is for you. Even with Buddy gone these past six months, my new dogs and I are out in the neighborhood rain or shine.
I have noticed something odd since I got Buddy — people don’t seem to walk their dogs! They may have big yards where the dogs run around, but as for putting them on a leash, it’s almost rare! One lady told me that I was the only person she ever saw walk a dog. By the way, you get to know your neighbors if they’re dog lovers while you walk the dog. You should try to keep your pets off the lawns in the area, though, because people who are proud of their grass can get TESTY!
There are other ways your pooch can get exercise if walking isn’t on your day planner. For instance, an older dog that does not move begins to have trouble getting around and this is a common reason owners will put him or her down. This can be avoided by giving them at least twenty minutes of vigorous exercise three times a week to build up muscles to make them stronger and prevent degeneration. This will also help keep their weight down, which is really important for dogs of any age.
You should be careful not to overdo when starting out – begin gradually and work up to what you think is their top level of exercise. I’ve noticed that my Houston floor rescue, Lady, just bumbled along on walks, just keeping up. Even though she’s about 70 years old in people age, after seven months she is now alert and trots along, eager for her walks.
To allow your dog to climb stairs (or jump on the couch or bed), try to get her to put both feet on one step, which shifts her weight to her hind legs. Distract her to get her to stay there one whole minute. When this seems easy, have her put her legs two steps up.
Your dog needs to have fun during exercise to get interested in it. Ever done the same exercise tape over and over? BOOOOORING! Get her excited! Maybe playing ball or Frisbee (mine just look at me like I’ve lost my ever-loving mind). Find a toy that promotes activity.
You could create a little obstacle course like those agility competitions you may have seen on TV – those dogs seem to love it! And their owners get them excited with smiles, laughing, praises, and pets! An easy backyard obstacle course can be a chair to jump over or go under, a rope or hose that’s raised a little off the ground to step or jump over, and a cardboard box to crawl through. This will also get your dog’s brain active, too!
If you have a hound like I do, you can drag something smelly (be creative!) along a path and hide it – when they find it, they get to eat it! What fun! (I guess you have to be a dog to get this game).
Another exercise is to have your dog stand, then lift one leg for 10-20 seconds. This strengthens the other legs. Have him go from sit to stand to sit to stand about 10-20 times a day. He’s gonna wonder what your problem is, but what the heck? Who’s the master around here? For dogs just starting to move, you can have them lay down and move their joints around their full range.
And then there’s running or jogging. This old fat chick is years past that, but you might be interested in this one. A study in 2012 shows that dogs get a runner’s high just like people do. Long distance running is not for all dogs. Sprinting and walking is more the pace for some dogs like my old Lady. Your vet tells you if the age, breed, fitness level, and overall health of your pooch is good for running and for how long.
Limit distance for senior dogs and development of bones may not have happened for puppies all the way yet. Depending on their breed, small dogs can start at a little under one year old and large dogs might wait until they’re a year-and-a-half. And breathing is an issue for dogs with flat faces (you know who you are!). Watch for her getting pooped out and give her a break.
If you have the way to get to water that allows dogs, many dogs love to swim. You may want a LONG lead for this until you’re sure she will come back or can handle the water.
Be sure your dog is a healthy weight. I will cover diets in another article, but just like people, an obese dog is more likely to have arthritis and back and knee problems. Your vet will tell you if your dog’s weight is good, but here are some signs that cutting calories and pushing exercise is indicated:
• Can you feel your dog’s ribs? If not, he’s too fat.
• Can you feel the bones at the base of the tail? His pelvis should not be too padded.
• When you look down at him, is he oval-shaped? Not good.
• Can you see too much fat on his neck, hip, or tummy? Better not to.
If your dog, no matter what age, isn’t getting healthier with a good diet and exercise, talk to your vet. She may be hurting from muscle or joint problems. And you can’t have that.
Finally, take along the gear you need. Have a good leash (flat and no longer than 6 feet) and head collar or harness. Take water and maybe a collapsible bowl. And your cell phone in case of emergencies.
Getting your dog to exercise is much better than euthanasia, especially when you can prevent your dog’s decline. Special thanks to Dr. Karen Shaw Becker for her help with this article. Give me your comments and pictures of your dog exercising. I love to hear from you!