Sports and games are a part of any healthy curriculum. In our Back to School series, it’s time to take a look at ways to exercise your dog for physical health.
A word of caution: With any new activity, please check with your veterinarian beforehand to make sure your pet is up to performing the task. His age alone isn’t the sole determining factor. Your dog’s physical conformation, the structure and angles of his or her skeleton, the flexibility and integrity of joints, the body condition and musculature can all affect your dog’s comfort and enjoyment of physical activities.
One easy thing to do is to check your dog’s gait. Obviously concerns are limping favoring a leg or loss of balance. Your vet should be able to help identify the reason. For example, if your dog is moving same-side legs when she should be trotting (diagonal legs in-sync), she could have joint or skeletal pain. This should absolutely be checked out by a veterinarian before strenuous activity. After your pet’s vet gives the go-ahead, here are some favorite doggy sports to try with your dog:
Contrary to popular belief, dogs are not born knowing how to swim. They need to be introduced to the water carefully, in a supportive environment. But once they’ve mastered the skill, swimming can be a great exercise. If the water is too cold for you to enter with your dog, it’s likely too cold for your dog for long periods. A great indoor option with trained staff to support your pet’s experience is Bailey’s Journey.
Chasing a ball is instinctive for many dogs. Bringing it back is a trained behavior. Retrieving is such a great team sport that it’s worth working on! If your dog doesn’t want to bring back the ball, try practicing in a smaller area such as a hallway. Also, do not reach for the ball when he brings it back. Instead, pet him and cheerfully praise him. Then, after at least a minute, trade him for a treat or an equal toy (another ball).
Repeating this many times will build the habit of proudly bringing it back, rather than avoiding you. Then you can begin to expand to larger areas with more options. Most dogs that like to chase balls soon figure out that bringing it back gets you to throw it again and then you can forego the treat-trade. If you have children, they can also participate. For small children, have the dog release the toy to you. Then you can hand the ball to the child to throw. This helps avoid accidental misunderstandings about whose ball it is, as well as the re-grab mishaps that sometimes occur.
Getting outdoors together and enjoying a walk can be a super way to give yourself and your dog some exercise. Be safe and courteous on the trail. When you are likely to encounter others, keep your dog on a regular, fixed-length leash. Your dog could be friendly, but the other dogs might not. Also, be sure to bring water with you to hydrate yourself and your dog along the way, as well as additional water in the car. On the way back from hikes, I’ve taught my dogs the phrase, “Find the van.” This comes with the reward of water and treats when we get there.
If I’ve taken them off leash, this simple trick helps them make a beeline back to where I’ve parked. Additionally, if they “check in” with me, I feed them high-value treats. I call them to “come,” feed them yums and release them “Free!” many times during the walk. This helps keep them close. But if I have a dog along who has not had this training, then a leash is the very safest way to ensure we all get home again! Also, keep ID tags current on on your dog in case the worst happens!
People have been road-conditioning dogs since way before treadmills. Having your dog run alongside while you ride is excellent exercise. But it’s also one of the riskiest sports as there are dozens of ways to get hurt. Here are a few tips to remember:
- Check your dog’s feet frequently. Paws can burn, so test the road surface; make sure the running surface is cool to your touch. Also, paws that are soft will rip on asphalt and concrete. Make your first trips short and check your pup’s paws often. They will eventually toughen up, just like yours did back in your barefoot days.
- Don’t tie your leash to your bike… Just don’t. Better to be able to drop the leash when your dog chooses the *other* side of an obstacle, then both of you ending up in the E.R.
- Find the right equipment. Consider purchasing a mechanism that attaches your dog to the bike with a spring. This allows give-and-take that necessarily happens, yet keeps your dog in a safe position.
- Wear a helmet. This should be the case when you ride with or without the dog. Crashes happen.
- Consider safety. Carry a defensive spray as you are a double-magnet for loose dogs.
- Don’t go “all out.” Your dog will actually run until he drops. Pay attention to his panting. If his tongue is huge and red, you went too far or too fast. A steady jogging trot is much better for conditioning than a gallop. Keep it safe and fun while you build his body condition.
A much safer option than bike riding is scootering with your dog. Check out this Bend, Oregon product: dogpoweredscooter.com. It’s great fun and enjoyable for most dogs, especially dogs that really enjoy pulling.
A must-have for terrier owners, the flirt pole is a great toy for dogs with high prey drive. A flirt pole is like a huge cat teaser toy. It is basically a horse longe-whip with a toy tied on the end for catching. We happen to sell these in our pet supply store at the shelter. I always recommend it to adopters who want a fun and easy way to exercise their dogs at home. Here’s a video of a puppy enjoying the flirt pole, before our new training center flooring was installed.
Notice that the puppy’s feet were on the ground (no twisting/leaping). We also stopped before any risk of injury to his feet, since that surface was too rough for tender puppy paws. Flirt poles are great for training impulse control, too – something we do in our puppy classes and private lessons.
This article concludes our Back to School series. But be sure to take advantage of our training class discount. When you register for classes through the end of October, enter SCHOOL in the promotional code area to save 10 percent. As always, if we can be of any personal help for training and behavior, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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