All dogs need exercise, whether it’s a daily walk through the neighborhood, a backpacking trip or a fun game of fetch. In fact, many people get dogs simply so that they’re more motivated to get out and be active themselves! As both a dog lover and avid hiker and runner, I certainly chose breeds I knew could keep up with me for miles. But just like people, we need to be careful to make sure we don’t sustain any injuries while exercising. Here are some tips for keeping your pooch safe during activity:
- Acclimate to Hot Weather: It’s hot during summer, and it’s no surprise exercise seems to be a bit more difficult during the heat. Just as we take it easy when we go out the first time, we need to make sure our dogs do too. Not only can they become dehydrated, heat stroke is a very real and serious threat. When we plan to take our dogs out for strenuous activity during the hottest months, it’s important to make sure they’ve been acclimated to the weather. Try to start at the cooler times in early morning or later evenings, and take it slow. Make sure your pup can keep up just on brisk walks before letting him run with you or after a ball.
- Check Feet: While barefoot running is a rather new fad in the people world, our dogs have always been barefoot. When going out on hot surfaces, make sure that your pup’s paw pads don’t get burned. If out on rocky or rough terrain, be sure to check for injuries and make sure that the pads don’t get torn. There are plenty of dog booties and products to put on your dog’s feet to keep them safe. If you’re going to be out in the elements, such as high heat or ice and snow, it’s a good idea to look into ways to keep your pooch’s feet protected. Be sure to check feet and pads after every hike or run to make sure there are no injuries, even if your dog isn’t limping.
- Start Slowly: If you have a young dog or a dog that hasn’t been regular exercised, you’re going to need to start slow. Dogs get out of shape just like people do. So if you’ve got a dog that’s used to daily walks instead of runs, be sure to warm him up, cool him down, and start with a few miles instead of five or ten. Remember that inclines matter as well, and if you’re used to going on strenuous runs and hikes alone, try playing extra games of fetch with your dog to build up his endurance. Young dogs should be kept only moderately active on softer surfaces, as running on concrete or hard trails can cause problems in their underdeveloped joints. Stretches and massages never hurt anyone either, and they can work wonders on your dogs as well!
- Consider Your Dog’s Breed: Some dogs are better suited for heavy activity than others. There’s a reason I chose a Belgian Malinois as a regular hiking and running partner. Most of the working and herding breeds are active dogs, but some can handle heat and activity better. Dogs with short muzzles, such as Boxers, Bulldogs, and Pugs, are more susceptible to breathing problems. They also have a harder time cooling off. While they can still participate in many of the activities a Border Collie or Lab can do, special care must be taken to ensure their safety.
- Stay Hydrated: This is as important for your dog as it is for you. Hydration is essential when it comes to staying safe and healthy during exercise. There are plenty of collapsible water bowls that are easy to carry during activity, and are excellent for instant water access for your pooch. It’s also an excellent idea to keep a few high-calorie treats on hand for some added protein and electrolytes for your pup.
- Obey Leash Laws and Pick Up Your Dog’s Poop! Your dog is probably well-behaved if you’re taking him out constantly for exercise, but leash laws are in place for a reason. Not only is it illegal in most places to have a dog off-leash, it’s dangerous! There is always the chance that your dog will run into the street or meet another aggressive dog or wild animal. Being able to control your dog and keep him near you is of utmost importance. Even if you have the best trained dog in the world, obeying leash laws makes it possible for the rest of us to have fun with our dogs as well. Not only is it rude to let your dog run amok outside, it’s rude not to pick up his poop if he goes! Never, ever leave your dog’s poop on someone’s lawn or on a trail. Sure, you might think there are plenty of animals pooping on that trail, and it’s true. But nobody wants to be on their train run with their new shoes on and step right into your dog’s poop. Obeying leash and clean-up laws are not imperative. There are hundreds of trails that no longer allow dogs because there were complaints about irresponsible owners letting their dogs run everywhere and leaving poop all over the trails. So just remember – if you enjoy going out with your dog, you should also enjoy being responsible and obeying the law.
And the most important tip of all…Have Fun! Exercise should be fun. Whether you are actually looking to lose weight, take some pounds off your dog, or just want to spend some quality time together, exercise is a great way to bond. It’s proven to increase the quality of life for both two- and four-legged beings, and should become a necessary part of your life in no time. So put those sneakers on, grab the leash, and get out there!
About the Author
Katie is a professional dog trainer located in Southern California, with a background of experience as a veterinary assistant as well. She has trained and competed with multiple breeds in AKC Obedience and Rally, agility, herding, Schutzhund/IPO, French Ring and conformation. She has been involved in dogs since she was a child, and specializes in protection dogs, working dogs, and aggression issues. You can visit her website, Katie’s Dog Training, to find out more information about her training and accomplishments. When she’s not helping others and writing, she’s out on the field with her Belgian Malinois and Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
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