The holidays are in full swing, which means you’ll probably be hanging with family, eating lots of delicious food, and warming your toes by the fire. But with those homemade comforts and sedentary snow days comes an even greater chance of packing on a pound (or ten). And, believe it or not, the same goes for your dog, too! A nibble of ham here, a discovered blob of mashed potatoes there, and your pup might end up resembling the stuffed turkey you serve for holiday dinner.
Fortunately, a new year is around the corner, which means it’s almost resolution time. While you may never be able to convince your best friend to wake up for an early morning jog three times a week, there is one being in your life you can count on, and that’s your dog! Yes, dogs make the best workout partners. They’re always down for a walk, like to try new things, and never say “no” to a little physical fun.
Maybe you’re new to dog ownership, or you’ve never attempted anything with your dog other than a walk (which is still totally great, by the way), so we’ve created this easy-to-follow guide for trying different kinds of exercises with your dog that are beneficial to you both. Not only that, but we’ve enlisted the help of our friend, Jo Lopez, who is a Certified Canine Fitness Trainer, FitPAWS Master Trainer, and the owner of FidoFit in Vancouver.
Your dog needs exercise, just like you. Lopez insists, “Exercising with your dog is good for physical and mental health. It is also a great way to spend quality time together and strengthen your bond.” But the amount and frequency of physical and mental activity is highly dependent on your dog’s breed.
“Some dogs need a lot more physical exercise,” says Lopez, “and others, like working breeds, need a lot more mental activity.” Therefore, she recommends your dog get at least some sort of daily exercise. “Some dogs are happy with three 15-minute walks a day, where others may need a daily run and a ‘job’ to keep them physically and mentally fit.”
If you’re not sure where your dog falls on the exercise spectrum, then meeting with a qualified trainer, like Lopez, can help you assess your dog’s physical fitness level and needs prior to getting started. Oh, and don’t forget to measure your own exercise thresholds. The last thing you need is to be an hour into your nature hike and unable to make it back to your starting point. This is why Lopez strongly suggests that both you and your dog pay a visit to your respective doctors before venturing into strenuous exercise territory. That, and it’s “also important to always warm up and cool down yourself and your dog, as cold muscles get injured easily,” notes Lopez.
And, last but not least, remember that variety is almost as important as the exercise itself. “Just like people, dogs need variety,” Lopez says. “Walking the same route every day is boring for your dog, and does not provide them with much needed enrichment. Doing the same game of fetch, or the same trick routine daily will also be boring.”
Feeling stuck in a rut? Take a tip from Lopez, and pre-plan your activities. “When I create an exercise program for a dog, I keep it varied from day to day so it stays enjoyable for both the dogs and their people.”
From a game of fetch, to a stroll along a wooded trail, the possibilities for exercising outdoors with your dog are seemingly endless. Remember that some of these suggestions may be physically taxing, require extensive stamina, and perhaps best accomplished with a dog who has above average manners and socialization.
- Walking – Although it might seem routine to some, this basic activity is often skipped, despite being very beneficial to your health and the health of your dog. Lopez adds, “Walking is important for circulation and heart health and provides your dog with enrichment, as they are sniffing and exploring the world around them.” Mix things up by varying the location, duration, and speed of your walk.
- Hiking – Lopez suggests that driving your dog to a forest is a great way to break out of an exercise rut. Try a nature hike with your dog and let him explore the scents, sights, and sounds. If you are not an expert outdoorsman or woman, adhere to the trails and protect yourself and your dog from dangers, like wildlife and poisonous plants.
- Running – A jog or run is a great way to vary your everyday walk. However, this can be hard on the joints, so a warm-up is crucial. For well-exercised dogs and their humans, try entering a 5k with your pooch. Be sure to bring plenty of water for you both.
- Dog Park – Whether you incorporate a little agility, a game of fetch, a jog, or just focus on free play with your pup at one of the many off leash dog parks, you’ll both have a blast. Just be sure your dog is the social type, is up to date on vaccines, and is not in heat.
- Swimming – For a simple, low-impact workout, scope out a nearby dog-friendly beach or swimming area. Bring along your dog’s favourite ball or floating toy and play a game of water fetch, or swim a few laps side-by-side.
- Agility – One enjoyable, but highly challenging, activity involves agility sports, including disk dogs (Frisbee) and flyball. However, Lopez cautions that these types of activities usually require both the dog and human be physically fit. “Agility would be the most active sport, as the handler has to run and maneuver around the course with their dog. Disc requires a lot of human strength when you start doing tricks like stalls, and it requires a lot of hand-eye coordination to throw the discs accurately,” informs Lopez. As for flyball, Lopez says, “Flyball involves running and jumping over hurdles to retrieve a tennis ball from a box and bring it back to the handler. It is run as a relay race and is very fast paced!”
Let’s face it, aside from a brief potty break, sometimes going outdoors for a walk in the elements just isn’t feasible. Be it rain or snow, you may face some setbacks in your workout routine. However, you can compensate by participating in some of the indoor exercise ideas we’ve offered below.
- Yoga – Lopez’s favourite rainy day exercise, she believes “yoga provides a great combination of balance, strength and flexibility and leaves you feeling rejuvenated and relaxed.” Help your dog get in on the floor activities with you. “As most of the exercises can be done inside, it is the perfect way to keep your dog busy yet dry,” she adds.
- Fitness Classes – A great way to spend your snow day is indoors at FidoFit. Lopez points out, “A group class is affordable and will give you and your dog new things to try at home together. Fitness foundations, tricks, and agility classes are just a few you can try.”
- Indoor Dog Park – In an effort to keep her cold-weather-hating dog out of the elements, Alana Petursson opened an indoor dog park in New Westminster, B.C., by the name of Gus’ Indoor Dog Park & Daycare. Here, visitors can tune into hockey games while their dogs socialize with their canine compadres. Cheering on your team totally counts as human exercise, right?
- Trick Routine – Get your dog’s mind and body working, while also getting yourself off the sofa, by teaching him some new tricks. him some new tricks. Recommended by Lopez, she says she likes “teaching new tricks on rainy days to keep my dogs’ brains active.”
Do you exercise with your dog? Share your favourite activities with us in the comments below!