When many of us think about exercising our companion dogs beyond walking or playing a good game of fetch, we may imagine elaborate agility courses with tunnels, seesaws and hurdles. You may think to yourself, “Yeah, I don’t have the time, money or patience for all that. Let alone, Sparky doesn’t have the attention span.” We understand.
Never fear, there are simple exercises in between walking and agility that are beneficial to your companion dog’s physical and mental health that you can do at home.
Why Do More Than Walking
We definitely encourage everyone to walk their companion dogs on a leash. Walking is great endurance training if you maintain a steady clip at your dog’s pace and without overexertion for around 20 minutes. Now, we know companion dogs need to “check their surroundings”. If you leave sniff time for the end of the walk, many dogs will learn this and realize their “treat” is coming.
But, why do more than walking?
- Decreases likelihood of injuries
- Improves balance
- Increases mobility
- Improves flexibility
- Improves coordination
- Reduces likelihood of osteoarthritis
- Gains a sense of body awareness (proprioceptive feedback)
- Reduces back problems
- Improves mental and behavioral health
Types of Exercising
- Endurance – Endurance training, such as walking, helps condition the heart and lungs.
- Strength – Strength training is similar to high-intensity-interval-training, according to the dog exercise experts. It involves short and intense exercises. You may not realize it, but a good game of fetch would probably fit the bill.
- Balance and Core – These are possibly some of the most important exercises for dogs, yet are often the most overlooked. In fact, these exercises help cover the majority of the list above.
- Check with your veterinarian
- Choose exercises appropriate for your companion dog’s fitness level
- Safety, Safety, Safety
- There is a lot of information on the web that can be shifted through. If you are inclined, you may be able to find a certified canine fitness trainer that will give virtual, yet personalized classes, to help you teach your dog safely and appropriately.
Core Training Tips
Yes; just like at your gym or house, there are wobble boards, balance pads and balance discs made just for companion dogs with instability that can improve stability and core strength. Before you run out and purchase these, check with your veterinarian or certified canine fitness trainer as to the best choice for your dog’s fitness level.
As most of our readers know, we at Hemopet love repurposing everyday household items or using items we can find at local shops. Three exercises that fit the bill and would probably work for dogs of many fitness levels are Figure 8’s, Cavalettis and Leg Lifts.
Many experts distinguish between Cone Weaving and Figure 8’s. Starting out with Figure 8’s can be best done with traffic cones or trash cans. Begin with two of them several feet apart and have your companion dog go around in a Figure 8 pattern. Eventually, you can add more cones and/or tighten the space between the cones as your dog improves.
Cavalettis are basically walking over hurdles that are low to the ground and spaced apart. You can use anything from 2” x 4” boards to broomsticks. Space about 6-8 of them one body length apart and have your dog walk over them.
Many of us have taught our companion dogs “paw” or “shake”. Do you realize they usually always use one paw and not the other paw? Well, Leg Lifts have a similar concept. With these basic exercises, all you have to do is have your dog stand on a non-skid and flat surface, while you lift each paw. At first, don’t overdo it and just try it for a few seconds at a time, but strive to get up to 20 or 30 seconds and 10-20 repetitions.
Now, many of you might be thinking this is such a minor exercise, will it even matter? Well, one of Hemopet’s employees tried this with her dog. She lifted his hind leg and gently put her ear on his spine. The results: she heard and felt vibrations because his body was trying to gain stability. When she put his leg down, she didn’t hear or feel anything.
Below are references that we believe cut through the enormous amount of information about dog exercising and give you the benefits and basics on how to get started.