Anne Stein, M.S.
Sports & Fitness Journalist/Author
Looking for an exercise partner to keep you company? Grab the leash and let your dog join in, and you’ll both reap the physical and mental benefits of getting fit. An added bonus: You’ll strengthen the bond between you and your pooch.
Exercising with your pet has a lot of plusses. For one thing, explains Dr. Susan Nelson, a veterinarian and assistant professor at Kansas State University, obesity is a big problem among animals and exercising with your dog can help both of you keep extra weight in check or get back to a healthier size.
Doggie Fit Guidelines
Just as exercise programs vary between humans depending on age, fitness and health conditions, so does the amount and type of exercise your dog should undertake. Nelson offers the following general guidelines for your pet:
- Larger and working dogs generally need more exercise than smaller breeds.
- Dogs should ideally exercise twice a day for 15-60 minutes, depending on the dog’s health, age and fitness level.
- Backyard romping usually isn’t enough. Exercise should be continuous with few breaks. If your dog has a partner (you or another pet) and romps continuously in the backyard that can suffice.
- Medium and large dogs generally are better long-distance partners than smaller dogs, which are better for shorter distance runs or walks.
- Playing frisbee is fun, but keep your tosses low so your pet avoids injury from high-flying leaps and landings.
- Consider agility training, which is a great physical and mental challenge for dogs and fun for you as well.
- Swimming is great for hot months and helps your dog avoid the stress high impact activities can cause on joints.
Easy on the Dogs
When we start a new exercise program, we must build up gradually to longer distances and times. This same rule applies to dogs: Don’t do a long or intense workout until your dog’s ready to handle it.
To keep their dog safe and healthy, Nelson says owners should also be aware of the following:
- If your dog’s only been exposed to walking or romping on grass, let him acclimate to gravel or concrete to avoid tearing his pads. Hot asphalt can also burn the pads.
- Especially on hot/humid days, dogs are at risk for overheating. Dark-haired and long-coated dogs are at higher risk, as are breeds with short noses who can’t cool themselves as efficiently. Make sure your dog has access to frequent water breaks and shade. If your dog seems lethargic, is panting excessively, has thick saliva or a thick/dark red tongue, stop and get him out of the sun and cooled down with water.
- Early mornings and later evenings when it’s cool out can be much safer exercise times to avoid overheating.
- Young dogs and particularly large breed puppies shouldn’t go on long runs until ages 12-15 months. Prolonged pounding on hard surfaces can cause joint damage while the bones are still growing.
- Don’t feed your dog an hour before or after intense exercise because it could cause the stomach to twist or bloat, especially in large breed and deep-chested dogs.
- In cold weather your dog – just like you – can suffer from frostbite (feet, nose and ears are possible, says Nelson), as well as irritation from salt and chemical ice melts. Booties can protect dog feet and a jacket may be necessary for shorter-haired and/or smaller breeds.