Dogs make phenomenal exercise partners because they’re always enthusiastic and never judgmental. But while your furry friend is always ready for adventure, improper exercise can lead to painful injury or a potential emergency. Here are four Fido-friendly fitness options and some tips for ensuring a safe and fun exercise experience. 

Before you begin: Your dog’s sports physical

A pre-exercise physical exam is important not only for people but also for pets. Ensuring your pet’s physical health at Tamberly Animal Hospital can help avoid pain and injuries caused by inappropriate exercises, pre-existing conditions, or a few extra pounds. Our veterinarians will examine your dog’s body condition, cardiovascular health, and mobility to determine if they can safely handle your intended activity—or they will suggest a low-impact alternative.    

Start and end smart: Your dog’s warm up and cool down

No matter how you and your pooch exercise, plan to spend 5 to 10 minutes gradually warming up and cooling down. These gentle movements help improve your dog’s blood flow and muscle response times, and enhance flexibility.

  • Warm up — Spend a few minutes walking your dog on leash at a consistent speed, and then focus on simplistic movements that are similar to the main activity. This is called active range of motion. Start slowly and gradually increase the speed or intensity. 
  • Cool down — After the main activity, carefully return your dog’s energy, respirations, and heart rate to their baseline. Gradually decelerate the walk, and then encourage your dog to lie down so you can gently stretch their legs or give them a light massage.

Suit up: Assemble the necessary equipment for your dog

You’ve got a new pair of sneakers and some stretchy workout clothes, but what about your four-legged training partner? Start your dog off on the right paw with their own essential attire, including:

  • Leash — Use a four- to six-foot leash made from nylon, rope, or leather. Retractable leashes are not recommended, because they do not provide adequate control, are bulky to hold, and may cause serious injury to you, your dog, or others.
  • Harness — Non-restrictive harnesses protect your dog’s neck and throat and provide even pressure distribution. Many also come with a handle on the back, which allows you to quickly hold or restrain your dog. 
  • Life jacket — All dogs, including strong swimmers, need a life jacket while in water.
  • Reflective gear — Reflective collars, leashes, and patches ensure your pet is always visible.
  • Dog boots — If your dog will be exercising on rugged terrain or hot or frozen surfaces, a pair of dog boots will protect their pads from injury. 

Know their limits: Protect your dog from overexertion

Dogs may be over excited by their new activity and an adrenaline rush can keep them going long after they are physically tired. To avoid fatigue-related injuries, overexertion, and heat-related stress, always start slowly and gradually increase exercise time, frequency, and intensity. Common fatigue signs include:

  • Excessive panting
  • Restlessness
  • Inattention (e.g., no longer responding to commands)
  • Incoordination or loss of form

Get fit with Fido: Four fetchingly fun fitness activities

Exercise is always more fun with a buddy, so try these four activity ideas that will strengthen not only muscles and stamina, but also the bond between you and your dog. 

  • Swimming — Swimming is a phenomenal low-impact activity that improves cardiovascular fitness, core strength, and forelimb musculature. However, swimming can rapidly drain your dog’s energy, so ensure they take frequent breaks and stop before they become overtired.
  • Brisk walks — No more leisurely strolls—it’s time to pound the pavement. Your dog’s walk should elevate their heart rate and stretch their comfort zone. Step out confidently, and talk to your dog to keep them moving rather than sniffing or stopping every five feet. Depending on your dog’s fitness level, begin with 10 to 20 minutes of exercise and add five minutes every week. 
  • Outdoor fitness course — Let the great outdoors be your dog’s agility course. Incorporate fitness stops along a low-impact route, which will encourage your dog to shift their weight, pay attention to their footwork, and engage their abdominal core muscles. Use a treat to encourage and reward your dog when they:
  • Put their front or back paws up — Your dog places their front or rear feet on a low object (e.g., tree stump) and holds the position.
  • High step — Your dog picks up their feet to step over a low barrier (e.g., sticks, poles, or landscape timbers) 
  • Weave walk — You and your dog walk in a serpentine or figure-eight pattern around vertical objects (e.g., park benches, hydrants, trees, or signs).
  • Stand all four feet on … — Ask your dog to jump or step up on a low but stable object with all four feet and hold the position for five seconds. 

Always spot your dog’s positions and use a harness and leash to prevent unnecessary neck pressure or accidental choking.

Learn while you burn: Take a dog sport training class

Modern dog sports go beyond traditional obedience classes, and include more athletic activities that require the handler and the dog to physically participate. For instinct-based training, check out scent sports such as nosework, tracking, or barn hunt. For dogs who enjoy running, try lure coursing, Fast CAT, and joring (i.e., dog-powered) sports. Or, sharpen mental and physical skills with agility, rally obedience, or disc dog.

Time spent with your dog is always time well-spent—more so, when you can spend the time sharing a rewarding, endorphin-releasing, physical activity. To schedule your dog’s physical exam or for local training class recommendations, contact Tamberly Animal Hospital.