By Emily Hoppmann, DVM
Often dogs do not want to play or exercise because the extra weight they are carrying is causing pain and can cause them to not handle the heat very well. However, as the weight starts to decrease there will be less stress on all joints resulting in a decrease in joint pain, which allows your dog to be able to handle more types of fun exercise activities. An overweight dog’s body almost fights against it when an exercise program is started so be sure to keep in mind that increasing exercise time is a gradual part of the overall lifestyle change. The main goal will be to find a level that is both effective and safe for your dog. The level needs to increased with what a dog can reasonably do – for some dogs that is a 5 minute walk and for others that is an hour long walk exploring trails through the mountains. No matter the distance, you still want to keep in mind that walking as little as a city block can be painful if done too quickly, so be sure to also consider the speed of exercise – at first in may take 20 minutes to walk that city block. Other tips to avoid injury include walking on a flat level surfaces with some cushion, like grass or dirt, but not too much, like sand. The most important thing with starting to exercise is consistency. Setting aside a designated time every single day helps exercise not only become part of the healthier lifestyle, but gives your dog a special time to look forward to each day.
**Above All Have Fun**
Activities can include daily walks with your pet, playing catch with size/breed specific toys, tossing and fetching toys appropriate size toys, swimming, jogging or anything that keeps your pet moving.
Like most pet owners you probably have a backyard or a place you let your dog out to run and this may be all he gets for daily exercise. Unfortunately most dogs won’t exercise when they are left outside by themselves. As an owner, you want what is best for your dog – freedom to play – but you don’t want to turn that play into work.
Most people don’t equate exercise with fun. In reality, exercise is healthy for your dog’s body and mind. Exercise can be used a reward for your dog – giving you the added benefit of time to bond with your faithful friend – a friend that is counting on you to do what is best for them.
Here are some tips that could turn exercising into a more fun activity/reward:
• Make a Friend! Taking your dog to a local dog park can be a treat for both of you. Your dog can run with some friends while you have a chance to share tips and relax with their companions. If the park does not provide water, be sure to bring some along – making friends can build up quite a thirst.
• Go Fetch! Your dog can “fetch” a lot of entertainment out of something that may not seem all that exciting to you and this can be done inside or outside. A favorite toy and a safe area to run can lead to a very happy dog.
Just a few safety tips:
• Don’t use a stick for your game of fetch; many dogs are injured this way.
• Keep your throws low to the ground to avoid injury to your dog’s legs when jumping to catch objects.
• Hidden Rewards! Put aside some of your dog’s normal diet, or choose another low calorie snack, and hide it inside a toy. You can also wrap a favorite toy or small treat inside a towel and let your dog try to unwrap it. These games provide a workout for both body and the mind – and a reward for persistence!
• Routine Play! An everyday walk can become an amusement park for your dog. Set up a small obstacle course, let your dog jump across a fallen tree, or hide a favorite toy along the way for them to find. You can also add a little resistance (and burned calories) by taking your walk to the water.
• Swimming – If your dog likes the water, swimming can be a great exercise. Water provides a soothing space for your dog to make full use of his/her joints. A short swim can provide the same amount of exercise as a hard run, without unnecessary stress to the body and joints.
• Indoor Fun! In cold or inclement weather, fun can also be found indoors. Sign your dog up for an agility or obedience class.