A healthy balance of diet and exercise is necessary for both humans and pets. Our fur babies rely entirely upon us for both. Most Americans know that we are facing an obesity crisis, but many aren’t aware that dogs are too. But there are some things to consider when exercising with your dog:
- Why do they need it?
- What do you both get out of it?
- Can your dog keep up?
- What is the proper way to exercise with a dog?
- Are there exercises you shouldn’t do with your dog?
Your dog needs exercise, too!
Exercise for dogs has many of the same benefits as for people: better overall physical health, weight control, and a decrease of the risk of depression. It also creates an energy outlet, reducing bad behavior due to boredom. Dr. Karen Becker recommends a variety of walks-- from purposeful to exploratory-- to keep muscle tone and prevent wasting.
But that’s exercise for your canine companion. It has a side effect of being exercise for you, too; but sometimes, that alone may not be enough for you. After all, most of the exercise gained with a dog is cardio-- walking, running, dancing-- not weightlifting.
Weightlifting is strength training, which improves endurance and builds muscle. You don’t need to hulk out or bulk up, but lifting even light weights builds muscle in a different way than cardio.
There are scientific benefits to exercising with your dog…
Science is definitely pro-pet when it comes to exercise! Dogs and humans burn calories & walk at roughly the same rate as each other. And, as discussed before, you both get similar health benefits. We’re also both social creatures, and getting outside for a walk or a game of fetch with your dog is an excellent way to accomplish socialization. Sure, going to a dog park is great for socializing your pet! But what about getting a ripping game of frisbee going with everyone who is out in the neighborhood walking their dog? Humans vs. Dogs-- who can catch the most frisbees?
Additionally, because your dog simply must exercise every day, they make great motivations! We can come up with any excuse in the book for not completing our exercise… but could you deny your dog a vital part of their health?
Dogs can’t tell time, but they certainly know when they’ve had enough lazing about! Letting your dog out into the backyard without a partner with which to play is not the same level of care as they need and deserve. Without a partner, dogs will entertain themselves and sniff out any interesting odors-- but it’s just like giving a toddler a sand shovel and bucket at the beach. Their brains are stimulated by the activity, but their bodies need more.
Get your dog out for actual physical activity… with you! In caring for their needs, we are inadvertently caring for our own.
… BUT not all dogs can keep up!
Not all dogs were created equal. Some dogs-- through breeding or other limitations-- just can’t keep up a good pace.
For example, Greyhounds were bred to be sprinters-- but that 5 or 6 mile jog a human takes is just too long for them. A Labrador is much better suited to that type of exercise.
Puppies are still growing, so longer periods of sustained intense exercise is bad for their development. Shorter periods of activity are best for them. Certain dog breeds such as Pugs and Boston Terriers have respiratory issues and shouldn’t jog or run. A more sedate pace is necessary for them, and for senior dogs with aging bones.
This isn’t bad exercise for you, but it’s often not enough on its own.
Is there a right way to exercise with your dog?
Yes, there is a 100% right away to exercise with your dog. Aside from walking or jogging, here are lots of home workouts designed to do with your dog!
Lunges and squats
Lunges and squats work all of your lower body muscles-- from your glutes to your core-- but they can also work your dog, too. Some workouts recommend holding a treat or a toy in your hand as you do this, but it works just as well if you use it as a way to train your dog.
As you lunge forward, holding out your hand to your dog. Let them sniff it, or give them a treat. Alternatively, ask them to shake your hand.
As you squat, pass a treat or toy from one hand to the other by reach around your opposite leg. The goal is to get your dog to chase it. If your dog is small and well-trained, you could also practice holding your dog as a weight when you squat.
Dogs love to jump, even if there’s no reward in your hand! As you bend or squat low, get your dogs attention. Then jump up. This works for basic jumping and jacks.
Arm & shoulder work
For a dog, the exact muscles that we use during push-ups are used for digging. Be absolutely certain that the location of “the dig” is in a safe spot away from the neighbors and utility lines. Allow your dog to dig-- maybe bury a treat for them to find. While your furry friend works his shoulder muscles and biceps, work yours! Do planks or various kinds of push-ups.
Exercises to avoid with your dog
There are definitely exercises that you should avoid doing with your dog! Some exercises for humans are dangerous when done with a dog.
For example, it’s perfectly fine to go on a run or jog with your dog-- but don’t rollerblade or rollerskate with them. Even if your dog is well-trained, a sudden change in direction will tangle the leash around your legs. The increased forward momentum that blades or skates provide will make your crash harder on you. Plus, what if you fall on or over your dog? They can break a leg just as easily as you can.
Don’t use a treadmill, either. Well-- don’t do it all of the time. Treadmills should generally be reserved for rehabilitation under vet supervision, or for giving your dog some extra exercise if their normal routine wasn’t enough. However, running on a treadmill isn’t mentally stimulating. When dogs are on a walk, they’re sniffing and looking around-- their minds are working just as much as their paws. Additionally, it’s not social exercise-- part of the stimulation of exercising outside is meeting other people and canines.
There are some other factors to consider when exercising with your dog as well. Temperature is a big one-- if it’s too hot or cold for humans, it’s too hot or cold for dogs. If you are walking your dog in the winter, consider dog booties to protect them from ice and salt. During the summer, consider a product to protect your dog from the sun and help them heal from any sunburn they get while playing outside.
Make sure that you both stay hydrated, and pay attention. That means get off your smart phone! Distracted pedestrians have been known to have all kinds of unpleasant accidents because they were distracted by texts, apps, and calls. Your dog also needs your attention.
You want the best for your dog, and getting them exercise is necessary. Make sure that you’re doing it the right way, and you and your pooch will be happier and healthier as a result!