Get Fit With Your Dog

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Posted by Pets Best on 6/18/2007 in Lifestyle

Say the word exercise and many people respond with one word: ugh. Or, they may come up with a half-dozen excuses why they can’t make it to the gym or reasons why their bike gathers cobwebs in the garage.

But the secret to improving your health is just a tail wag away. Your best workout buddy just may be your dog. For starters, replace the word, exercise with motion. Each time you lift, bend down, twist, turn, throw, walk, run, or even skip, you’re improving your digestion, melting away body fat, and fortifying your body against a host of medical woes.

Keeping your body in motion is like putting gold in the bank. A national study by the American Heart Association reported that burning 2,000 calories a week by performing a physical activity ­such as walking an hour a day for a week ­could increase life expectancy by two full years.

So, why not step into an exercise program with your dog? The payoffs: you and your dog can become fit and healthy together. You will enjoy happier, healthier years together, have improved strength and flexibility, be at reduced risks for heart disease, arthritis, diabetes and other conditions, and save money on doctor and veterinary bills.

An added bonus: You may discover that you have much better behaved dog, adds Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, a veterinarian and director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine in North Grafton, Mass.

“Quite often, the cause behind doggie destructiveness in the home is sheer boredom,” says Dr. Dodman, author of If Only They Could Speak. “A dog who doesn’t receive adequate exercise will find something to do to release that pent-up energy. That may mean chewing on the sofa or digging up the garden.”

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Before you lace your sneakers and start getting serious about regular workouts, get a complete physical exam from your doctor. Then book an appointment with your veterinarian to give your dog a head-to-tail physical exam. Also, discuss the best optimal workout plan for your dog based on health, age, body shape, likes and dislikes.

Keep in mind that no two dogs are the same. What may work, exercise-wise, for one dog, may not work for another, even if they are the same breed, say experts. Generally, long-legged, light-framed dogs are best suited for jogging and leaping. Short-legged, stocky-framed dogs are built for short energy bursts and steady-paced walks. But, there are always the exceptions: the low-to-the-ground Dachshund who craves a spirited jog down the block or the Golden Retriever who prefers long, lopping walks over mile-long runs.

Begin major activities with a five-minute warm-up to stretch your dog’s muscles. Using a treat for motivation, have your dog jump up on you. Then instruct your dog to get into a “play bow,” (outstretched front legs, head down low, and rear end up in the air). If willing, have your dog do a figure-8 in between and around your legs.

Depending on your dog’s condition, start with a five-minute walk, gradually working up to 30 minutes or longer. Equally important: size up your dog. Dogs of extreme sizes—the gigantic (like Bull Mastiffs) or the itty-bitty (like Yorkshire Terriers) – usually require less exercise than mid-sized breeds (such as Labrador Retrievers).

Make a date with your dog daily ­even if you can only spare 10 undivided minutes with them. For starters, break up the monotony of the nightly walk, says Susan Greenbaum, a professional dog trainer who operates the Barking Hills Country Club in Milford, New Jersey. Don’t bring your dog back inside as soon as he goes to the bathroom. Vary your routes and stop occasionally to practice obedience commands and fun tricks. Have your dog sit or gimme paw. These actions reinforce your dog’s mental focus and provide him a good workout so that when it comes inside, he is ready to relax.

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Avoid turning your dog into a weekend warrior by only working out with him on Saturdays and Sundays. Devoting some time each day to exercise – even 10 minutes – can reduce you ­and your dog’s ­risk for injuries to muscles and joints, say sports veterinarians.

Even a simple game of backyard ball can provide ample aerobic exercise for your dog. If your throwing arm is a bit achy, you can use a tennis racket to bounce the ball for greater distance in a game of fetch that will satisfy your dog’s natural instinct to chase and retrieve.

During hot weather days, scrutinize the walking surfaces. Always place your palm down on the sidewalk to test for its heat intensity on a sunny day before allowing your dog’s footpad to touch the asphalt or concrete surface. If it’s too warm to your touch, time your walks in the early morning or evening after the sun goes down to protect your dog’s footpads.

Bring a water bottle for you and a lightweight collapsible water bowl for your dog on your excursions beyond your neighborhood. On hot days, squirt a few jets of water into your dog’s mouth every 30 minutes.

With your dog as a workout partner, your choices of activities depend on where you live and your interests. Your choices may be swimming, hiking, or even canine musical freestyle (translation: dancing with your dog to choreographed steps).

Take the TV Test

Is your dog exercising too much – or too little? Try this test when you are watching television at night. A dog craving more exercise will often get in between you and the television show in an attempt for attention. A bone-tired dog will flop on the floor and barely move, even during a noisy TV show. A dog who received adequate exercise will lightly snooze or contently chew on a bone near you, says Suzanne Clothier, a professional dog trainer and breeder from St. Johnsville, New York.

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Dog-Tired Signs

Be careful not to overexert your dog on walks and during activities. Stop the activity and allow your dog to rest if he displays any of these signs:

Drooping tongue
Rapid panting – an early sign of overheating
Hesitation – taking a few extra seconds before retrieving a tossed ball
Weight shifting – using different muscle groups to offset soreness
Staggered walking
Muscle tremors
Limping – check footpads for cuts and bruises and legs for sprains or muscle pulls

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