Thursday, July 11, 2013

How to Develop a Safe and Effective Exercise Plan for you Dog (Part 1 of a 2 Part Series) By Donna Gleason CPDT, CDBC, MA

You have decided to begin exercising your dog regularly.  Good for you!!  According to current research; dogs who have opportunities for daily exercise are typically healthier, present fewer behavioral issues, and have a deeper bond with their owners.  There are many ways we can exercise our dogs - hiking, loose leash walking, swimming, going to the dog park, attending a training class, organized sport competitions and playing games...the list is endless.  With so many possibilities available, what do owners need take into consideration so that the program they design is individual and sustainable?  

The first step is to consult with your veterinarian and have your dog’s current level of fitness evaluated with a thorough medical examination.  This assessment will help you figure out which activities may or may not be appropriate for your dog.  Once you have an understanding of your dog’s medical status, the next step is to look at your dog’s age, breed and temperament as each may influence your decisions.  Finally, and perhaps the most importantly, develop your program so that you are able follow through on a regular basis.   

Let’s take a look at how your dog’s age, breed, temperament and ability to “Stick With It” can influence your exercising options:
  • Older dogs can sometimes develop medical conditions which can be aggravated by overexertion.  This may mean that marathon hikes in the woods may need to be replaced with leisurely walks in town.    
  • Younger dogs need to be exercised regularly, but did you know that too much exercise can cause damage to their bones and joints?  According to the ASPCA - Exercise can be a great activity for energetic young dogs, but sustained jogging or running is not recommended for dogs under 18 months, as damage could be done to their still developing bones.
Note:  When introducing an exercise program to an older dog or puppy it’s important to always build up their stamina gradually.    

  • Breeds that are prone to bloat that is, deep-chested, narrow-bodied breeds, such as German Shepherd dogs, Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes should not be exercised right before or after meals.
  • Small or short-legged dogs usually don’t need as much walking as larger dogs.
  • Breeds with short or flat noses (brachycephalic breeds) can have trouble breathing when exercised vigorously.  
  • Large dogs who are more prone to cruciate ligament injuries, arthritis and hip dysplasia should not engage in sustained jogging or running  as it can be hard on their joints and bones.
  • Sighthounds, like greyhounds and whippets, are built for short-distance sprinting, not long-distance runs.
  • (Courtesy of WebMD)

When determining which exercise plan is best for your dog in terms of temperament, here are some questions you should think about:

  • Does my dog like to be in a group of dogs/people or like to be alone?
  • Does my dog get along with people or other dogs?
  • Does my dog have high energy or is my dog more of a couch potato?
  • Does my dog like to participate in organized activities, such as training classes or sport competitions?
  • Does my dog appear to be more  “high strung” or “relaxed” when introduced to a new or  different environment?  

“Stick With It” Factor
The final piece when developing an exercise program for your dog is to make sure you can be committed and consistent to the plan on a daily basis.  It’s important to have alternative exercise options for your dog when the weather might not be so cooperative.  Here are some suggestions:  teach your dog to use the treadmill, visit and train in stores that are dog friendly, and take time to step up on your dog’s basic obedience skills within the home.  According to Mary Oquendo,  nationally recognized Pet First Aid and Reiki Master, dogs who receive daily doses of exercise as opposed to being weekend warriors tend to be more physically sound and emotionally balanced.  

Bottom Line:  Being mindful of your dog’s medical status, age, breed and temperament when developing a exercise plan are all important to the plan’s success.  However, the most important factor, is that you as the owner can follow through with the plan each and every day.

Donna Gleason - TLC Dog Trainer resides in Sherman, CT.  She is a certified professional dog trainer and canine behavioral consultant with a Masters in Behavior Modification.  She offers professional in-home dog training (specializing in puppy education, basic obedience and behavior modification) as well as group puppy/basic obedience classes at New Fairfield Animal Hospital.  Donna is a member of APDT, Pet Partners, Shelter Animal Reiki Association, and consulting trainer for Paw-Safe Animal Rescue.  To reach Donna call 203.241.4449 or visit her website @

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