Walking the Dog: Pairing Up for Exercise

July 16th, 2013 posted by Mike Anders

Here’s yet another health benefit of pet ownership — physical fitness! Actually, unless you count waving your arms and running full tilt to chase the cat from the bird feeder, dogs are the only ones that can engage in fitness routines with their owners, and the right canine can keep any owner on the go. Read on to find out how to get moving with your dog, no matter which one of you would rather slouch on the couch.

Right Size for Exercise

If you want to move fast — say, you want to take up brisk walking, jogging, or in-line skating — don’t plan to include a small dog or toy breed because she won’t be able to keep up. But you can count on little pups for short walks or swims in the lake. You might even consider carrying a toy breed on a walk with you, leashed. That way, she gets an outing, you get some exercise, and you both get to bond.

Born to Run

Some breeds are more disposed to be active — for example, retrievers and German shepherds — than others. But any medium to large breed can be conditioned for walking, and most can swim. Just get in the habit as early in the pet’s life as you can. And always start slow and work up to a faster pace or longer distance so that the dog can build endurance.

Let the Guilt Get You Going

If you won’t exercise for yourself, let your concern for your animal’s health be your motivation. He needs regular exercise to prevent heart disease and obesity.

Before You Climb Every Mountain…

Always consult your doctor before starting an exercise plan of any sort. If your dog is more than six years old, is obese, or has a history of heart trouble, consult your veterinarian as well.

Walk the Walk

If you don’t regularly exercise with your pet already, start with a walk of a couple blocks (or the approximate length of two football fields, or one-quarter mile around a track) and work up from there. Your goal should be at least 20 minutes of continuous walking three times a week for low-impact, inexpensive, heart-healthy, stress-relieving aerobic exercise. Cross-training, by adding a session or two a week of free weights and another of a sport such as tennis or volleyball — without your pet — will improve your overall fitness. If you work your way up to five 20-minute walks per week, you can expect to lose a bit of weight and definitely some inches. And the pet you exercise with will certainly be healthier than in his couch potato days.

Gee, That Felt Like Ten Miles

Go for a drive and measure the distance you have walked or plan to walk. Or use a pedometer to track how far you’ve gone. It’s just human nature to think you’ve covered more territory than you really have.

Downtime Doesn’t Count

If your dog needs to do her “business” on the walk, work in some extra time and distance. Fits and starts don’t count toward the continuous pace you’ll need to increase your heart rate.

No Need for Doggy Antiperspirant

Keep in mind that dogs can’t cool off by sweating — they don’t have the glands. That’s why you’ll need to watch the temperature and make sure to offer your pup at least 12 ounces of water before and after a workout. If the temperature is topping 70 degrees F and you’re out for more than 30 minutes, be sure to give your pet a drink during the outing as well.

Keep Fido Away from the Fountain

If you’re driving the car to an off-site walk or run, always carry water with you in the car, in a plastic bottle such as a two-liter soda bottle. Also bring a plastic water dish. If the park has a water fountain, you may forgo the water, but not the dish. Dogs should not drink out of water fountains, even when no one is looking. Allowing them to do so risks spreading roundworms to humans who drink from the same fountain. This is also a sensitivity issue. The humans who are next in line may be uncomfortable drinking from a fountain after a dog has used it, and it’s common courtesy to consider their feelings.

The Grass Is Always Softer…

The ideal route to seek is one where you can walk on a path or sidewalk and the dog can walk on grass.

City Sidewalks, Brutal Sidewalks

If city or sidewalk trotting will be the norm, build up distance slowly to let your dog’s foot pads get conditioned. Don’t worry if your dog’s paws get a little scraped or bloody from an outing. Just take a break for a couple of days. The scrapes will heal quickly, and your pet will eventually get the necessary calluses.

I See a Pattern Developing

If you’re trying to make walking a weekday or daily habit, consider planning your walks for the same time each day. That conditions your dog to expect an outing, and his enthusiastic reminder at that time of day may overcome your inertia. Choose a time when a walk really appeals to you. If you’re a night person, don’t think you have to walk in the morning.

Try the Buddy System

For a little extra motivation, buddy up with another dog walker. If you don’t have a dog-owning friend or neighbor, talk with someone who frequently walks a pet about the same time and in the same place you do and see if that person wants to make it more official. So no one thinks you’re making an inappropriate overture, simply say, “I noticed you walk your dog here about the same time I do every day. It might make me more motivated if I knew you were expecting me to show up. Could we meet here at 8:00 a.m. and walk together?” The worst that can happen is that the other person will say no.

Take Some Baby Steps

Invite a friend who walks a baby — or might want to — to get in the walking habit with you. But keep in mind that the stroller, even an all-terrain stroller, will require a smooth walkway. And never try to hold the stroller and your dog’s leash at the same time unless you’re walking far from both automotive traffic and foot traffic. If anything startles the dog, you’ll have a hard time keeping both her and the baby vehicle under control.

How Come Bowser Gets to Stay Up Late?

Respect your neighbors and never take a walk after a reasonable bedtime hour (say, about 10:00 p.m.). Even if you live in the safest of neighborhoods and are escorted by a Doberman pinscher, your trek will remind the neighborhood dogs that Bowser is out, and they’ll alert their sleeping owners.

Run Away from It All

Just as it does for humans, running instead of walking places more stress on a dog’s joints, muscles, and heart. But it is good exercise, so if it appeals to you — and if your doctor and vet give their blessings — start out with short distances (say, one-quarter to one-half mile) and monitor your dog’s paws for wear and tear. If you overdo it at the outset, you’re much less likely to go again.

Tennis, Anyone?

Going out to hit a few tennis balls by yourself? If the park or tennis court allows dogs, take along a pup that likes to fetch and serve to him. Pack a few more aged balls than you might otherwise bring and count on losing some to slobber.

Get Things Rolling

If you plan to make in-line skating a habit, it’s worth the trouble to train an active dog to be your companion. You need to learn the ropes of the sport first. Then once you’re riding smoothly, practice with the dog on a six-foot leash, in the driveway or during a very slow time at the park.

The Fallout Could Be Dangerous

If you’re just going out for an occasional frolic on your in-line skates, leave Rover at home. A dog, even a calm one, tends to get tangled among skaters and can cause falls. If you’re not worried about yourself or fellow skaters, worry about a skater falling on the pooch. Such an incident can result in serious injuries.

Let’s Take a Dip

If a dog wants to swim in your household pool, take care to brush loose hairs off her first (assuming she asks permission before she takes the plunge). Also, be sure to clean the drains often so that they don’t get clogged with pet hair.

Having a dog accompany you while you swim laps at a home pool or in calm water at a lake is great fun, but swim at least a body length away from a large dog. Paddling hind paws can really whack you.

You’re on Lifeguard Duty

Always monitor dogs that brave the waves at the beach, and don’t let your animal swim unless you can swim also. Dogs are just as susceptible to undertows, cold water, and rough waves as humans are.

Mike Anders (3 Posts)

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Cindy Rowe (7 Posts)

Cindy Rowe is the owner/editor of Crazylou Creations blog. On the blog, you will find a little bit of crazy, and a whole lot of fun! As a FT working mother, she still finds time to create crafts, play around in the kitchen, plan parties and exercise. You'll find all of this and more on her blog!

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