Nearly 9 in 10 pet owners see their pets as members of the family, but how many think of them as exercise partners?
54% of dog owners state that owning a dog keeps them active and dog owners are also 34% more likely to reach the federal benchmarks on physical activity.
Are you making the most of your time together however? Here’s why you should get fit with your dog.
The Human Benefits of Training with Your Dog
Having a partner keeps you going, whether they have four legs or less. Your commitment to them helps you stick with an exercise routine and if you can’t do it for yourself, you can always do it for them.
Dogs really do make the best training partners. They are great motivators –always keen to go out and exercise, and they will never let you down. Their joy is also infectious – just take a look at how much they’re enjoying the workout routine and try holding back a smile!
To some extent you’re also already taking the time to exercise with them, so there’s no excuse. When you’re balancing work, family responsibilities and a social life it can be hard to squeeze in a bit of “me time” and get to the gym. Depending on your canine’s size and age, you already take them out 2-3 times a day – transform your 30 minute walk into a 30 minute run and think more creatively about complex routines and exercises.
The Canine Benefits of Working Out
Maintaining a healthy weight is a key benefit to exercising your dog. 53% of dogs and cats in the United States are overweight or obese. For dogs, obesity is a leading cause of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and orthopaedic issues – so get them moving!
Exercise can also help your dog maintain a strong cardiovascular system, improve muscle toning and prevent arthritis, but there are short term benefits too. Exercise can improve digestion and alleviate constipation. Walking also stimulates urination, making your canine less susceptible to infections.
Exercise will also help your canine sleep. If you hear creeping paws throughout the night it could be a sign that your dog is suffering from insomnia. Getting a good amount of exercise will physically tire out your dog and help them put the “Zzz’s” away.
Exercise isn’t just about physical health however – mentally it’s good for them too! By doing a full workout your dog is not only more likely to sleep, but it should also reduce unruly and destructive behaviour by using up energy that they may otherwise channel on your furniture or their canine siblings. It’ll also reduce hyperactivity and attention seeking. They’ll enjoy the one-on-one time with you and therefore will be less likely to beg, whine and bark to get your attention.
It’ll also help to build your bond and their trust in you, increasing their happiness, which in turn will build their confidence. Whether you’re a runner, walker, cyclist or enjoy doing something a bit different, your exercise regime will evolve over time. As you challenge yourself to work further and harder your dog will encounter new settings and obstacles, building their own confidence levels.
But remember, not every dog is the same
Before you rush out the door however there are a few things to bear in mind first.
Whilst they may be full of energy, it can be dangerous to take puppies and young dogs out with you. Their bones are still developing and you should wait for their growth plates to be fully closed before physically exerting them. This happens at different ages in different breeds so it’s worth speaking to your veterinarian before you start.
It’s also important to remember dogs were bred differently for a reason. Whippets and Greyhounds are built to sprint, whereas Border Collies are more sure footed and quick to react. But exercising isn’t just for larger dogs, in fact sometimes the opposite. Small dogs, such as Jack Russell Terriers make good running companions because they are light and carry little weight, whereas larger dogs such as Golden Retrievers are more comfortable working long and slow. If you own a flat-nosed breed such as a Bulldog they’ll be more suited to low intensity exercises as they are more prone to respiratory problems.
Saying that, however, these are just guidelines and you shouldn’t stereotype completely. After all, you and I may not have the physical make-up of Usain Bolt but we can still fancy ourselves as a runner.
Quick tips before you exercise with your dog
So, before you take your pooch on your next workout, make sure you know these quick tips:
- Overweight dogs will need to ease into exercise, so don’t rush into it.
- Your dog still needs time to relieve themselves and explore – this means sniffs and bathroom breaks, and make sure you clean up after your dog.
- You would never want to exercise after a meal and neither do they – save dinner for when you get home.
- You will need to have basic obedience training to get started and you should always start with a leash. Start with getting your dog to walk to heel.
- The weather is hugely important. How would you feel working out in a fur coat? – That’s what it’s like for them all the time. During warm spells, exercise at the coolest part of the day and be wary of hot surfaces, like pavements. Dogs prefer dirt and grass and the low impact is better for your body too.
- While we recommend safety equipment such as harnesses and reflectors, remember the less equipment they wear the more naturally they will run. You don’t want to cause chafing – keep this in mind when purchasing for your pooch.
- Retractable leashes are a no-no – they don’t give you the same control and could break under pressure.
- If your pooch is a real beginner their paws will need to toughen up over time, so don’t take them out every day to begin with. You can also purchase wax to help their feet and check their paws after every workout.
- Dogs can run themselves into trouble. Despite how excited they may be, they will need days off too. Make the sensible decision for them.
- One at a time! If you’re lucky enough to have more than one dog that’s great, but it’s harder to take them all out together. Taking one at a time gives each one the opportunity to bond with you and will give the others an opportunity to rest.
- Warm up! You will and they should too – start slow and ease into it.
- Remember to hydrate – you should always take water for the both of you!
- Consult your vet first if you have any concerns and stop if they don’t appear to be enjoying it. Safety is key.
- And finally, have fun! You’re more likely to exercise when you’re having fun. For ideas on how to get creative with your workout keep an eye out for Getting Active with Your Dog – Part 2.