Regular exercise has been clinically proven to have multiple health benefits but if you’re already a couch potato, starting any sort of regular exercise and developing a healthy habit can be much harder. A dog as your exercise companion can encourage you to get and stay motivated and it’s hard to stay on the sofa when you have those pleading big eyes looking at you and then wanting to go out and get some exercise with their favorite human. A canine exercise buddy is the ultimate accountability partner as exercise is also something a dog needs to stay healthy and agile.
If you and your canine buddy plan to start a fitness program as a team, here are a few things of advice to make sure it’s fun, safe and done properly.
Health Checkups For Everyone
You should always go in for a physical exam yearly and especially before starting an exercise program. A wellness check before making lifestyle changes is required for your dog as well. You not only have to make sure you are healthy enough to embark on an exercise program, but your dog also needs to have an exam and ensure that they are healthy and can do the type of activities you plan to do. You should also make sure your dog is up to date on all their vaccines, even if your exercise will start with going to the dog park every weekend and just taking longer walks where your dog could meet more dogs on the way. Your vet can offer practical advice and suggest exercises that are best suited for you and your dog as a team.
Do What You Find Fun
Exercising need not be a forced march and something that makes you miserable. Being active should not be a chore, it should be fun and something you enjoy and can share with your pet. Playing ball or puzzle games indoors can get you and your dog more active indoors and in cold weather or can be done outdoors even as a way to burn calories and have quality time. If your dog needs to burn off some extra energy, a dog can get a lot of exercise playing fetch or catching a Frisbee. Just by you joining in and running and keeping moving or playing Frisbee as you climb up a hill, a human can get some cardiovascular exercise even if the dog is getting a serious workout. Challenge yourself by moving around and playing fetch actively instead of staying in one place and throwing a ball or disc. If you have a dog that likes the water, playing fetch in the lake or a pool can let you and your dog swim and play together. Most dogs enjoy water once they are used to it and it’s a low impact form of exercise which is gentler to both human and canine joints so is suitable for arthritic dogs and humans who may be feeling a little bit older and less agile as they once were. Combine this with hiking and you’ve got a canine/owner triathlon and a serious diverse and intense exercise day.
Start With a Slow Walk
Particularly for seniors and senior dogs, it’s important to start slow, simple and work your way up to doing more vigorous activities. Start with just making a promise to yourself and your dog to walk for 30 minutes each day. Starting with a 30-minute walk at a leisurely slow pace is how to get your pup and you ready to eventually walk longer or harder. Don’t try running, jogging or anything. Stroll for 30 minutes, let your dog sniff all the flowers and investigate every curb he wants to that’s safe to do so. Our pets can get out of shape or obese as well and they will need to improve their own conditioning as well. If you push yourself or your dog into strenuous exercise too fast, just like with we humans, a dog can get muscle pulls, strains, and injuries, so taking that starting off slow very seriously and make the time to enjoy walking. Eventually, start going on two walks a day and slowly increase the time of the second one from 10 to 15 and then to 30 minutes. Move at a pace you and your dog enjoy and take your time, you’re in no rush. Fitness is a journey and you and your dog should be having a pleasurable walk and quality time together. When and if you’re ready, you can maybe add a short period of jogging but work up to it and pace yourselves as you and your dog don’t need to be 30 minutes from home and barely able to make it back home from over-exertion.
Get Moving Just By Getting Outside
Nature is the best gym. Getting outside, into the sunlight and into nature provides you and your dog with health benefits and added stimuli. According to The New York Times, a number of recent studies have revealed that people who exercise outside exercise more often have lower levels of cortisol and report feeling happier and having more energy. Dogs also love being in the great outdoors so just getting outside and getting moving can make you happier and healthier and reinforce the good habit of exercising.
Prepared and Aware
When starting any outdoor exercise program, it’s important to plan ahead. Always make sure your phone is charged and on you in case of an emergency and you have a route planned if hiking and a map. If you are going into the backcountry or into a remote area, always tell someone where you will be and when you will be back. Weather should also factor into your exercise planning. Use sunscreen, dress appropriately and never exercise in the heat of the day to avoid sunstroke or heat exhaustion for you and your dog. If going out in the winter cold, having a doggie sweater and booties can ensure he stays cozy and isn’t miserable in the cold while you’re wearing thermals and proper footwear for the snow. Most importantly and essential is to always have water with you so you do not risk dehydration and can make sure you and your exercise canine can stay hydrated and replace fluids lost through sweating or exertion as you exercise.
Listen to Your Body and Tune Into Your Dog’s, Too
While it’s easier to know when you’re pushing yourself too hard, if you notice your dog is panting heavily, starting to lag behind and is drooling, he is experiencing fatigue. Your dog has his own pace and sometimes we humans can outpace for dogs. Your dog can be pushing his body too hard even. If your dog is ever limping, acting aggressive and refusing or reluctant to move, your dog is likely in significant pain and exhausted. You need to pay attention to your dog’s responses to your activity as well as yours and your mutual wellbeing is most important. It’s better to not achieve that 3-mile walk if one of you is showing signs of fatigue or discomfort than to push on and injure, get stuck or have a bad experience of another sort by not doing what your body demanded you do which was to stop. If your dog does not recover in a couple of days, they should be taken to the vet for a checkup. You should always take frequent breaks and never push your dog to do anything it seems scared to do or physically unable to do. A dog can pull tendons and ligaments just like we humans and can even have muscle strain are using muscles in ways they normally don’t with a long serious hike. Starting all exercise sessions slowly and stretching and warming up if important. Doga, a type of yoga for humans and dogs can be a great way to warm up and cool down after exercise and help you and your dog become more flexible and less prone to exercise-related injuries.
Changing one’s life and beginning exercising can be challenging and there can be an occasional setback but by being slow and patient and sharing that quality time with a pet exercising to improve both of your lives strengthens you and your pets bond as well as your cardiovascular system and muscles. Always go slow and steady and you and your dog can enjoy some wonderful days and share a longer life together.