As a pet owner, one of the core responsibilities we have is to ensure that our furry friends get a daily supply of exercise. The health benefits for both you and your dog are no secret. A recent study showed that people who proactively walked their dogs walked about an hour more per week than non-pet owners. But how do you guarantee that your dogs are receiving the similar benefits to their active lifestyle? Is a trip to a local pet-friendly park enough? With these handy tips, you’ll be closer to making the most of your dog’s playtime.
First, as with any exercise program we take on ourselves, it is always recommended to visit your veterinarian before beginning a new exercise routine for your dogs. This quick checkup will help identify any pre-existing issues that might cause troubles with a new exercise program and they may be able to suggest alternatives to help meet your dog’s fitness goals. The age of your dog, the breed, and even the size of your dog are all considerations that need to be addressed when planning an increase in daily activity. Discuss these with your veterinarian before embarking on that weekend hike.
If your dog is up-in-years, sedentary, overweight, or currently has health issues, it is always best to start slowly. Build from a five or ten minute walk and gradually increase the time and distance over the next few weeks. From there, you can add additional challenges, but at the beginning, it is wise to start incorporating longer walks slowly and over time.
The next consideration is that of the interaction you have with your dogs during your walks. The interaction is what separates this quality time with your dogs from just a run-about inside of a gated yard. On-leash walks provide your dogs with everything they are looking for – new sights, stimulating smells, and interactions with you. Take a different route each time so that those positive opportunities to explore are always available. Also, leave your cell phone in your pocket. Your dog has been waiting for this moment all day. Check emails and text messages at another time and give your attention and positive reinforcement to your pets while their energy levels are high.
This walk routine is also a great opportunity to keep your pet’s mind sharp. Using this time to correct common behavior issues such as hyperactivity, barking, snapping, aggressive play, and digging is common, but also consider the benefits of this daily walk on those dogs that might experience “social anxieties.” The confidence they gain in a controlled, fun environment could just be the thing your dogs need if they exhibit behavior issues around other people and their pets. Practice common commands such as “stay,” “heel,” and “come” while setting positive reinforcement with a few of their favorite treats.Try mixing up the pace of your walks with variations to keep it fresh and exciting for your pets. Alternate between a light jog, a brisk walk, and an easy stroll to help keep your dogs focused on your directions and instructions. Add small obstacles along the way such as curbs, benches, stairs, or tree branches to help stimulate muscles and joints. Include different games and goals to keep both you and your dogs engaged and overall keep it fun!
Amy Burkert runs the award-winning pet travel website, GoPetFriendly.com, which makes it easy to plan a trip with your entire family. Her blog, Take Paws, is an encyclopedia of pet travel tips, pet friendly destination advice, and stories of the adventures she and her husband share as they travel full-time in their Winnebago with their dogs, Ty and Buster