Excerpt from Healthy Dog: The Ultimate Fitness Guide for You and Your Dog
From the backyard to the back woods, the outdoors offers oodles of opportunities for you to play with your dog. Here are some of my all-time favorite activities:
Backyard ball. This is a good exercise for dogs in a limited space such as a fenced backyard. Engaging in a game of catch helps satisfy your dog’s natural instinct to chase and retrieve “prey.” If you’re not blessed with a major league throwing arm, or your if shoulder gets tired before your fetch-happy dog does, use a tennis racket or rubber tubing to launch the ball.
Teamwork tug-of-war. This game burns energy and provides a great exercise outlet for both of you. But be careful. Nip any signs of possible aggression or dominance issues in your dog by clearly establishing the ground rules from the start. Rule #1: You—and only you—should initiate the game of tug. Rule #2: Your dog should release the toy on your command. If his teeth touch your hand, even accidentally, yell “ouch” in a high-pitched voice. End the game immediately, and put the tug toy away.
Tag, you’re it! Convert this child’s game into a fun training exercise for your dog. Start the game with your dog on a leash, in an enclosed room, or in a fenced-in yard. Yell “Tag, you’re it” and run away from your dog. Then kneel down. Heap on the praise when your dog bounds after you and sits or lies down in front of you. Repeat a few times until your dog gets the hang of it. This game may come in handy if your dog should get loose. Rather than chase after him, you can yell “Tag, you’re it” and sprint the opposite direction to entice him to stop and go toward you.
On the run. Jogging offers a quick and easy way to burn calories. Alisa Bauman of Emmaus, Pennsylvania, and a contributing editor for Runner’s World, frequently jogs with Rhodes, her red Doberman, and offers the following first-hand advice:
- Warm up and cool down with a walk. Start s-l-o-w-l-y. Recognize that it takes time for the two of you to get into a running rhythm and to build endurance.
- Always carry a baggie with you to scoop your dog’s “deposits,” bring water, and outfit your dog with a bright, reflective vest to make him visible to motorists. Use a leather leash. It is easier to hold and won’t cut your hand like a nylon leash will if your dog suddenly decides to dart or lunge. Once your dog consistently matches you stride for stride, you may try a hands-free leash that fits around your waist.
- Choose your routes carefully. Start out on grass so your dog’s paws won’t get hurt on pavement. Avoid sidewalks that sizzle in the summer or are ice-laden with salt in the winter. Always check your dog’s pads for any cuts or injuries. Look for signs of dehydration or overheating in your dog (a slower pace, excessive panting, and dried out tongue). When you stop for water, also give some to your dog.
“It took me quite a while to run well with Rhodes, but now he seems to bond with me during a run,” says Bauman.
“I even entered him in a local race. We started in the back, but as we started to pick up our pace, all the runners we passed said, ‘Oh, cute doggy.’”
Lap it up. Treat your water-loving dog to a swim. Swimming gives all your dog’s muscles a good workout without the jarring impact common with jogging. Select a clean pool or a body of water free of undertows and currents. Before heading to the water, I recommend fitting your dog with a floating device. There are a lot of good doggy life preservers available today in various sizes that will meet your dog’s needs.
Some dogs, especially Labradors, love playing fetch in the water. Select a toy that floats and is a size that can be easily mouthed by your dog without risk of swallowing. When swim time is over, always rinse off your dog with warm water and a mild shampoo to reduce his risk of bacterial infections.
Take a hike. Take your adventure-seeking dog on a day hike and gradually build his endurance for perhaps a weekend camping trek. Even if you plan only a one-hour hike, always pack a water bottle and a lightweight collapsible water bowl in case your hike goes longer than you anticipate. And honor the first rule of hiking: obey any leash requirements or trail laws.
For longer hikes, always pack a first aid kit, cell phone, water, food, insect repellent, and sunblock. Wear sturdy hiking boots and comfy clothes and consider outfitting your dog with a set of booties to protect his footpads. Make sure your dog sports an ID tag. After a hike, carefully check your dog’s body for any ticks, burrs, foxtails, or cuts.
Finally, know the limits of both you and your dog. Short-legged dogs may have trouble navigating some trail conditions or keeping pace with you; short-muzzled dogs are prone to overheating.