Even more so than human beings, dogs need exercise to stay healthy, happy, and out of mischief. If your dog is elderly, out of condition, or stricken with arthritis or hip dysplasia, consult your veterinarian about the amount of exercise that is right for him.
Always start slowly, and take frequent breaks to allow your dog to drink water. You can even purchase made-for-dogs sport refreshment drinks, which help keep electrolytes at a proper level. Exercising your dog regularly tires him out in a positive way, so he will be less inclined to destructive behaviors. It also produces serotonin, which helps prevent anxiety and depression. Before embarking on any canine activity, your dog should be reliable on several commands—come, sit, and stay at the very least—and should also be fairly immune to distractions.
Activities for You and Your Dog
Many dogs love to tag along while their owners ride. Since it can be dangerous to allow your dog to run free, you can buy bicycle attachments that attach the dog to the bike while preventing him from running too close behind and getting hurt. Don’t get carried away during your ride, however. Stop frequently for breathers, and don’t go too fast or too far. Dogs will exert every ounce of energy to keep up with you, and more than one has died of heat stroke or exhaustion in his gallant efforts. Remember that dogs suffer more from heat than we do, and can wilt at temperatures we find quite pleasant.
If you’d like to take your dog camping, you can buy a real “pup” tent—a portable, lightweight “crate.” Like human tents, they can be staked into the ground. I wouldn’t use one of these for inveterate diggers or chewers, but for the well-behaved camping dog, they are ideal. They can be purchased through many pet supply stores.
A real boon for urban dwellers is the dog park. Dog parks allow formerly leash-bound animals to romp and play in the open air not only with their owners but also with other dogs. As long as the park is filled with well-socialized dogs and dog-savvy owners, it’s a real blessing. The best parks are large enough to allow unlimited running, but are also strongly fenced, for overexcited dogs can run off, even if previously recall-perfect. However, the park can be disappointing (and unhealthy) if owners do not pick up after or watch over their charges carefully. Many do provide poop bags! For a partial list of parks around the country, visit the Nylabone dog park locator. Dog Park Etiquette:
- Make sure that your dog is healthy and current on all vaccinations and has any licenses required.
- Don’t bring more dogs than you can handle.
- Don’t allow your dog to engage in inappropriate behaviors, such as bullying/aggressive play, jumping on people, or excessive barking. If you are unable to control these behaviors, you and your dog should leave.
- Use your best judgment when it comes to other dogs. If you or your dog feel uncomfortable with another dog in the park, leave.
- Do not bring a female dog in heat. If you have an intact male, be sure that he is social and nonaggressive before bringing him to the park.
- Always clean up after your dog.
Most dogs get fun and enjoyment out of a simple game of fetch. (Hounds and certain other breeds typically aren’t wild about it—too proud to fetch—but every dog is an individual.) Fetch has a triple function, actually; it gives your dog needed exercise, it helps strengthen the bond between you, and it gets him into the habit of returning to you.
For the more athletically inclined, dogs can be wonderful running partners—if he is in the same condition as you are! (Mismatches can be exhausting for both of you.) Be sure you have a dog whose type and temperament make him suitable as a running partner. Consult a vet before starting. For the best running experience, do not use a regular leash, unless you enjoy getting your arm pulled out of the socket. Buy or make a hands-free running leash that ties securely around your waist. Commercial types have a 360-degree range of motion so they can swivel all around your body. Some have a bungee section, too, and some are reflective for night jogging. One great advantage of such a device is that it lets keep your regular running form.
Swimming is another great exercise for dogs. It’s low-impact, so it doesn’t stress the joints of older or arthritic animals. It also works many muscles at the same time. While not all dogs are natural swimmers, most can learn to enjoy it. By the way, it’s perfectly fine for dogs to swim in chlorinated pools, just as you do—just make sure they are supervised. The chlorine may do a number on their fur, just as it does with your hair, but you can just bathe the dog afterwards. It won’t hurt them to drink the stuff either (remember, pool water is designed not to make children who accidentally swallow it ill). The ocean is a different matter. I would never allow a dog in the ocean. It’s full of jellyfish, riptides, and sharks, all of which are lying in wait for your pooch.
Walking and Hiking
Walking is a great exercise for both you and your dog, as long as you walk together. Use a leash unless you’re in a safe, fenced-in area. Remember—if you are attached to your Poodle, keep your Poodle attached to you. If you’re a hiker, consider getting a lightweight nylon backpack for your larger dog. That way your dog can haul his own food and water. On the other hand, if you have a toy dog, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to get a special pack to carry him in. For nighttime strolling, you can buy a leash with a combination retractable lead and flashlight. For more information about hiking with your dog, visit: Hike With Your Dog (www.hikewithyourdog.com), the American Hiking Society (www.americanhiking.org), or the Partnership for Animal Welfare ( www.pawrescue.org/PAW/PETTIPS/DogTip_Hiking.php).