Your dog called and he wants you to take a hike! No really. At this point in the pandemic, we’ve all been locked indoors for so long, we’re feeling a bit stir crazy and out of sorts, your canine companions included. Regular exercise isn’t just important to your dog’s physical health, it’s also important to their psychological well-being. Physical exercise contributes to healthy joints and muscle development as well as weight management, plus it also allows your dog to burn off energy that they might otherwise put into excessive barking, destructive behavior, etc. And if your dog has put on a few extra pounds during this pandemic (and quite honestly, who hasn’t?), don’t despair. Daily walks will help her shed that extra weight quickly and safely, allowing you both to have many more happy years together.
Just as you should check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise program, you will want to check with your dog’s veterinarian before you start them on a new exercise routine as well. Your dog’s age and any physical limitations should be taken into account when choosing an exercise program that will work for her. If your faithful companion is a Pug, for example, you won’t be looking at long hikes on rough terrain during the heat of the day (brachycephalic breeds like the Pug are more susceptible to heat exhaustion) , nor will you be pursuing swimming opportunities if you live with an English Bulldog (these heavy boned dogs are not built for water sports!).
So, where should you begin? Start with stretching (your dog has likely mastered the downward dog yoga pose already anyway!). Stretch your own muscles and encourage your dog to lay down and stretch with you. Gently massage their muscles and joints, loosening any tightness you feel there. This has the added benefit of helping your dog to see that regular handling of their body parts is no big deal. Now that you’ve stretched, it’s time to head outdoors for a walk. Begin by walking your neighborhood or a local park. Look for a flat, even walking surface with few inclines to start with. Bonus points if the area you choose for your walks has lots of sniffing opportunities for your dog! You can build up to longer walks with varying terrain, including local hiking trails that allow dogs on their paths. Do be a good dog owner and keep your dog leashed on those trails unless they are clearly marked as off leash friendly. Don’t forget to monitor your heart rate and keep an eye on your dog for exhaustion. Take plenty of water for the two of you. Staying hydrated means both of you will be happier at the end of your hike.
Working out in a small space? How about blowing bubbles for your dog to chase or going up and down the stairs together for a solid cardio workout? Break out that old aerobic stepper or half hemisphere yoga ball for you and your dog to practice balance exercises on together to build your core strength and your dog’s hip flexor muscles.
If the weather is still iffy where you live, consider setting up an indoor obstacle course for your dog! By moving furniture around a bit, adding in soccer cones, hula hoops, and empty boxes, you can create various courses your dog can traverse for exercise. Use treats or a toy to lure your dog around furniture, under tables, over boxes, through hoops, and around those cones. Assign names to each of the obstacles so as your dog gets more proficient, you can call out the obstacles in any order for them to traverse.
If you have a water-loving dog, try to find a place for the two of you to swim together. If you’re not sure of your dog’s swimming ability, or you are swimming in an area with currents or an undertow, invest in a canine life vest to ensure that your dog is safe in the water. For those brave water-loving dogs, why not teach them to surf or paddleboard? Just remember that you need to bring plenty of fresh drinking water for dogs that swim; you don’t want them drinking pool, lake, or ocean water that could make them sick or potentially expose them to water toxicity.
While you might like to run, bike, or ride your skateboard, those are sports to pursue with your dog with caution. Not all dogs are built for running and running them anyway can cause injuries. While it might seem natural to let your dog run alongside your bike or pull you on your skateboard, both of those activities could lead to your dog injuring herself, you, or others when the leash gets tangled in the equipment.
There are numerous canine sports that might spark your interest including agility, lure coursing, sledding/carting, flyball, and Frisbee. And if you have a herding dog, why not take them where they can competitively herd ducks, goats, or sheep for physical and mental exercise?
And if you’d like your dog to get some additional exercise, but you don’t have the time or ability to do it yourself, consider hiring a dog walker or sending them to doggie daycare where they can run and romp with other dogs. There are also dog fitness businesses that take their canine charges on field trips to local beaches, hiking trails, etc.
Finally, if you want to show off your dog’s exercise progress, consider participating in the American Kennel Club’s Fit Dog Program, where your dog walks every day and you work toward 150 minutes of exercise each week for a three month period. Once you reach that goal, complete the online form and receive your car magnet that tells the world you and your dog are getting your daily exercise!
Dogs shouldn’t lead sedentary lives any more than we should. Just 30 minutes of activity a day is good for both of you, so get out there and get moving!