“Good things come to those who sweat.” – Anonymous
It’s not exactly a secret that all living beings need exercise to enjoy a healthy life. We train our bodies and brains so that we can maximize enjoyment, avoid sickness, and generally experience that good life we all crave. The same goes for our furry companions. Regular activity should be an integral part of our dog’s routine, and when combined with nutritious food, rest, and lots of love, our pet has the foundation to live its best life.
Regular exercise boosts their bodies – and so much more.
“The most important benefits of exercise, like say a high-intensity workout from a run outdoors or playing with another dog, are improving cardiovascular fitness and getting in resistance to support mobility, and build bone and muscle strength,” says Dr. Candace Croney, an animal behaviour professor and the Director of the Center for Animal Welfare Science at Purdue University. “Ideally, exercising dogs in these ways to the point that tire them (but do not exhaust or physically injure them) should result in less energy to perform those undesirable behaviours, like excessive barking, digging, destructive chewing, and repetitive jumping or pacing.
“But other benefits that people may not think about is that exercise gives dogs the opportunity to relieve boredom and to engage socially with both people and other dogs. This helps them practice social skills. The change of scenery may offer forms of mental enrichment that is important for them.
“Exercising with your dog absolutely helps strengthen your bond with them.”
Many dog owners typically think of exercise as walking. It’s true that a good stroll around the neighbourhood or a more intense hike will get your dog some much-needed activity. The same goes for flinging a Frisbee or tennis ball in the park. But there are so many other ways to get the pooch’s blood pumping. Of course, you should always consider your dog’s current level of health, age, and mobility when trying new exercise methods. Always seek your veterinarian’s advice to ensure the physical activity you are considering is safe for your dog.
Use what you have in your house/apartment, especially during the pandemic. “If you have stairs in your home (not too steep with good traction) and a healthy dog that can navigate them, you can create games that involve running up and down the stairs,” says Dr. Croney.
You can easily design agility or obstacle courses in your yard or even inside the home. If you can get your dog jumping up, over, and racing around things, you not only encourage physical movement but also combine that with excellent social interaction. Caution though! “Some dogs may enjoy this so much that they choose to do these behaviours in home when you don’t want them to,” says Dr. Croney. “Establish clear, consistent cues so dogs know the conditions under which these activities are allowed.”
If you have more than one dog, facilitating social play between them using new toys they can share and work against each other (like tug or flirt poles) can be very beneficial. Dogs can often provide far more physical and behavioural exercise for each other than a human can.
Mix it up
A hike is always great. But how about skijoring or bikejoring? Those two activities involve rigging up your dog, so they are pulling you on either skis or a bike. These are obviously a little more advanced activities and might not be appropriate for every dog (or owner) so use caution. Just do an online search to find some great Canadian retailers that offer this kind of equipment.
Dr. Croney makes it clear that both social and physical interaction are important for a dog’s well-being. Sure, you can let your dog out to roam the backyard, but that may offer only minimal exercise – the connection with a human or another dog can make a massive difference. Training their brains can, as well.
“Mental exercise is totally underrated,” she says. “Teaching dogs new commands and tricks or offering puzzle toys that engage them mentally can be enough to tire them out. Hiding treats and encouraging them to do challenging ‘nose work’ can be fun for both the dog and the owner. It gives a good brain workout.
“You can also try musical canine freestyle, which is dancing with dogs that incorporates training. For both younger and older dogs, this can be useful in developing and maintaining cognitive skills, provided that you tailor the activities to the individual dog’s capabilities, so you don’t accidentally frustrate them.”
Check out these useful links provided by Dr. Croney: