Our 2008 Pooch Workout Program
If you're like most Americans, you've made at least one New Year's resolution. And according to health provider Kaiser Permanente's "New Year's and Health Issues Survey," nearly 60 percent of these resolutions are health and fitness-based. As pet lovers, most of us consider our dogs to be almost human, as well as an integral part of the family. So, while watching the ball drop on December 31st, consider making a resolution to improve the quality of your canine's health, as well.
Exercise programs that involve more than just a leisurely sniff-and-stroll around the block can get your pup's heart pounding, diffusing all of that excess energy, ultimately making it less hyper and much healthier overall. But before starting your dog off on a workout regime, here are some things to consider.
- Get the checkup Have a veterinarian examine your dog first, says pet expert Arden Moore, author of Healthy Dog: The Ultimate Fitness Guide for You and Your Dog (BowTie Press). You'll want to know if your dog has health issues that could affect its ability to exercise. Of course, if you plan on working out with your dog, you should visit your doctor as well.
- Know your dog A walk around the block will give you an indication of your dog's condition, but the type and intensity of exercise you undertake also will depend on your dog's breed. Toy breeds and dogs with what Moore calls affectionately "hunched-in faces," such as pugs or bulldogs, won't be suited to long-distance running. Short-legged, stocky dogs, such as corgis or dachshunds, can manage short bursts of energy and steady-paced walks, while long-legged, light-framed dogs make fine jogging partners.
- Read the signs Be aware of when your dog has had enough. "Don't be excited because the dog is going to keep going,'' cautions Moore. "You don't want to risk injury." A drooping tongue, rapid panting and a hesitation to respond are all indications your dog is done for the day. The TV test also works, says Moore. If you're watching TV at night, relaxing, and your dog is trying to distract you, the exercise probably wasn't challenging enough. If your dog is snoozing on the floor, barely moving a muscle, it was too intense. If your dog is snoozing lightly, happy and content to be with you, you probably hit the right note.
With those cues in mind, here's a look at some exercise routines for dogs at three points on the fitness spectrum:
The Beginners Plan
First, practice patience, says Jonathan Rudinger, founder and president of PetMessage Health and Fitness Center in Toledo, Ohio. Build endurance and speed slowly. You might have your dog walk on a treadmill for 10 minutes at three miles per hour three times a week, suggests Rudinger. While dog treadmills are available, Rudinger says any treadmill can work. He modifies a treadmill, blocking off the sides to make a chute, using PVC pipe and the sides from a dog crate.
The first time or two, you'll want to straddle the dog, with your feet outside the moving mat, making sure the leash stays wrapped around the crossbar and the dog feels safe. Never leave a dog unattended on a treadmill, he advises. "We don't want them to be like weekend warriors who get injured if they're put into a physical stress situation too quickly."
If you're walking your dog outside, build from a block-long walk to a two mile jaunt over the period of several months, says Moore. If you want to make the walk purposeful rather than an amble, you'll need to keep your dog's attention by changing pace on a regular basis and varying the walk routine.
The Intermediate Plan
If your dog has been conditioning for a while and has the propensity for more intense exercise, it should be able to handle a 20 to 25-minute run at four and a half to five miles per hour on a treadmill, says Rudinger. Again, you want to do this routine about three times a week, allowing for rest. Outside, your dog should be capable of 20 to 40 minutes of fast walking, jogging or games of catch and tag. If you're housebound by weather, consider a game of hide-and-seek.
The Advanced Plan
An advanced dog should be able to handle the same treadmill workout as an intermediate dog, but with more frequency, perhaps four to five times a week. A highly conditioned dog might be able to handle an hour or two of purposeful movement outside, says Moore. Varying the type of exercise is useful, perhaps adding a weekend hike or a 15-minute swim in a safe location. Don't forget water breaks. And your dog benefits from a stretch and a warm up, says Rudinger.
For any fitness level, the most important thing is to develop a routine. Commit to your dog's exercise, dedicating sufficient time for it on a regular basis and remembering that you are your dog's greatest motivator.