Everything You Need to Know About Dogs & Exercise
Dogs need exercise. You probably already know this, as it is no secret that our furry friends need to be walked, but do you know how much your dog should be walked and why exercise is so important? Responsible dog ownership includes (but is not limited to) meeting your dog’s needs for physical exercise.
When a dog doesn’t get the exercise it needs, it could easily lead to health complications like obesity, cardiovascular issues, bone disease, diabetes, and pain, but additionally, a lack of exercise could cause boredom.
A bored dog might become an excessive barker, dig up the yard, chew up furniture, or cause a commotion inside the house, and failure to provide a dog with sufficient exercise is indirectly a cause of many dogs ending up in shelters.
Exercising your dog matters more than you think, and it can be a game-changer also for the physical- and mental health of dog owners.
Why Exercising Your Dog Matters
As puppy parents, we want our dogs to be happy, healthy, and to live long lives, and the key to all three is (yeah, you guessed it) exercise. It helps your pooch build muscle to protect them from future age-related medical conditions like arthritis, and it can even lessen the symptoms of hip dysplasia, elbow dysplasia, and other bone and joint disease.
No, muscle won’t completely save your dog from the above health conditions, but a protective layer of muscle will hopefully slow down their progression and allow your dog to continue living a somewhat normal life also as they grow older.
Exercising your dog could save you thousands of dollars throughout its life, as a physically strong and healthy pup is statistically less likely to fall ill or get hurt. It is a small sacrifice to make – taking your dog out for a good walk every day if it means your wallet and your heart will likely suffer less.
The thing is, a dog can’t really exercise itself, and he is dependent on you to make it happen. Some think that having a big yard is enough, but how often do you really see your fur friend running around out there by himself?
Also, a tired dog is a good dog, and destructive behaviors like digging, excessive barking, chewing, and even aggression could significantly diminish with an increase in exercise.
What About the Statistics?
Would you agree that having a dog helps you stay active? Let’s have a look at what the statistics say, to get a better idea.
It is generally recommended that you walk approximately 150 minutes per week in order to stay healthy, at a healthy weight, etc, etc. A Michigan State University study showed that dog owners are 34% more likely to meet these recommendations, compared to individuals with no dogs in the household.
The study also indicated that dog walking appeared to inspire additional physical activity, and that dog owners seemed more likely to partake in other sports and activities.
According to another study made by the University of Missouri, people that walked dogs tended to walk 28% faster than those walking without a dog, which clearly indicates that dog owners also benefit from exercising together with their best fur friend.
The University of Virginia also contributed interesting data, where teens in families with dogs were found to be more physically active than teens in dog-less families.
Physical Exercise vs. Mental Stimulation
It is true that mental stimulation is an excellent way to tire out a dog, but one cannot replace the other. Activity toys like food dispensing balls, Kong toys, snuffle mats and puzzles are fantastic, but they won’t help your dog build muscle and stay in shape.
A dog needs a healthy balance of both, and while mental stimulation could potentially work as a temporary solution, such as if your dog has surgery and is unable to walk and run for a few days, but it cannot be a long-term replacement for physical exercise.
Ideally, a dog needs a healthy mix of both physical and mental activity, where they are given the opportunity to work both their body and their brain.
It is easy to think that “Hey, my dog is nice, he won’t hurt anyone,” but how can you know that the other dog is as friendly? There are plenty of dogs out there that don’t do well with other dogs, as well as humans with severe pet allergies or dog fear.
Think about the stress you might cause someone else by letting your dog run up without an invitation. You don’t want to be that person. Unless you are 100% sure your dog will not leave your side – use a leash.
Picking Up After Your Pup
Have you ever stepped in a dog’s number two? Is it pleasant? Probably not. Be a good citizen and pick up after your dog, to make sure nobody else has to have that same experience. It can be a hassle to have to carry the bag around, but it is your duty as a responsible dog owner.
There are multiple reasons why dog poop should never be left on the ground, because while it is technically natural – it doesn’t look great, and especially if you live in the city. Left-out number twos could also become a growing ground for bacteria, and potentially pass on parasites or disease to other dogs.
Grab a couple of plastic bags before you head out and take your responsibility as a dog owner! If you are worried about the effect plastic has on the environment – get biodegradable waste bags.
Get Your Dog Enrolled in a Canine Sport
If you are getting bored with walks, or if you feel your dog isn’t getting enough exercise – why not try one of the many dog sports available? You can start practicing with the help of Youtube tutorials, join a beginner’s class in your area, or by learning about the sport online.
Practicing a sport is good for both body and doggy mind, and it could help strengthen the bond between you and your pooch, as you will likely have to work together.
Pick a sport that fits you and your dog, and don’t overdo it in the beginning. Start slow and explore your own as well as your dog’s capabilities.
A few examples of popular canine sports:
- Lure Coursing
- Dock Diving
- Rally Obedience
- Musical Canine Freestyle
These and many more can provide a dog with exercise in a whole new way, but it is important that you educate yourself before making an attempt, to avoid setting your dog up for failure, or at the risk of injury. Talk to your veterinarian to make sure your dog is a good candidate for a dog sport.
Exercising by Playing Games
If your dog likes to play, why not chose a game that will get them running and exercising? It is not uncommon for a dog to only play if their owners are there with them – encouraging the game, so be prepared to partake in the play session together with your dog.
Games should not replace walks, as they don’t provide the same type of mental activation, but it is a great way to get your dog tired, fast. The following games can be played right there in your backyard, at the dog park, or in any suitable outdoor area.
- Flirt Pole
Games like the above require very little equipment, and they have the potential to give your pooch a real workout. If you want to work out a little yourself too, why not try to run away from your dog to see if he will follow you? Go for a run around the outer perimeter of the dog park and let your dog run along.
Dog Exercise Safety Tips
It is great if you are feeling motivated to take your pooch out for a long walk, but before you get started, it is important to make sure you (and your dog) are prepared. Safety should always come first, and that becomes even more important if you are only just getting started with your new exercise routine.
Preparation is key when wanting to exercise your dog more, and you need to take things like hydration, visibility, and weather into consideration.
Always make sure your dog drinks water. A walk around the block probably won’t require a water break, but if you are going for a longer outing – consider bringing a water bottle for your pooch. Your dog can’t tell you if he’s thirsty, and that is why it is up to you to make sure you either have water with you or that there is clean water waiting for your pup at home.
Visibility is especially important when walking in the dark. You can probably see cars and cyclists just fine, but they might not be able to see you or your dog, which could cause a devastating accident. Invest in quality reflective gear and clothes, just to make sure everyone knows you are walking there.
Every dog has its own needs and abilities, and it often comes down to physical abilities. A Husky and a Yorkshire Terrier won’t have the same needs or capabilities, and nor will a 1-year-old dog and a 16-year-old dog. Talk to your veterinarian to set up an exercise plan that fits your dog, and don’t overdo it in the beginning, especially not if your dog (or you) is a little out of shape.
Surprisingly, not many dog owners remember to check their gear before they head out. Inspect the leash and the harness for any wear and tear, as often as possible, to prevent it from unexpectedly snapping at a highly inconvenient time. A leash that breaks could lead to your dog bolting into traffic, or getting in trouble with another dog. Always revise your gear and update and replace it as needed.
Committing to the Routine
Be ready for committing to a whole new exercise routine. Dogs are very adaptable, but they are masters of routine, and chances are they will start reminding you when it is time to bring out the leash and go for a walk.
You might be busy with something else, but walking duty calls and your dog will likely pick it up pretty fast. Adapting your routine depending on the season is probably necessary, as a mid-day walk might make perfect sense during the winter, but not so much during the hottest months of the year.
The idea is to make sure your best fur friend gets physical exercise every day, even if you end up having to stray from the schedule. Be creative and find a way to make it work.
Consider everything you do in a day to stay entertained. You go to work, talk to your coworkers, go grocery shopping, gossip with the neighbor, spend a few hours on social media, and watch TV. You have endless possibilities to combat boredom.
…Your dog only has you. You are your pup’s main entertainment, which makes it your responsibility to provide your dog with an active and enriched life.
A dog can’t sign up for a gym membership or watch Yoga YouTube tutorials, but you can make their day by doing something as simple as picking up that leash and taking them for a walk. Get out there and exercise! Your best fur friend will thank you.