We all now know the importance of keeping fit and active as humans, but what about canines? As it happens, exercise and mental stimulation is just as important to our four-legged friends and their overall well-being as it is to us humans.
April is National Canine Fitness Month and National Active Dog Month so we asked our friends at Barbells For Bullies to share some of the benefits of exercising and keeping your pup fit.
Before you even consider taking Fido for a walk or ratcheting up their fitness regimen, make sure you have them vetted and up to date on all their shots. Some dogs, especially older ones, may have unseen issues – like heart murmurs or arthritis– that can be complicated by exercise. But don’t worry, just like humans, there are exercises you can still do with your pup that are low impact – like swimming.
Also, keep in mind that not all dogs are cut out for long walks, runs, or intense bouts of exercise. For instance, bulldogs and other brachycephalic (aka flat-faced or short-faced breeds) do not do very well with heat or intense exercise, so keep your jaunts around the block to a minimum and only when it’s cool out. These breeds are especially susceptible to heat stroke because they can’t pant efficiently.
Also, always be mindful of the weather. If it’s hot out for you, it’s definitely hot out for your pup, so make sure you have some extra water and a collapsible bowl or even a piece of Tupperware that you can fill. Signs of dehydrations include excessive panting, confusion, weakness or in extreme cases collapse. Make sure you stop often and offer your exercise buddy some water. Additionally, be sure to check the temperature of the pavement if you are walking your pup on blacktop. If you can’t hold the back of your hand on the pavement for five second, it’s too hot for your pup’s paws.
Some dogs thrive on exercise and need it more than others. Sporting dogs like Huskies, Weimaraners, Pointers, and other working breeds love to burn off some energy, and you will have a more well-behaved dog for it!
Unfortunately, the obesity epidemic in America isn’t just related to humans. While over two-thirds of humans are overweight or obese, over 50% of dogs are overweight or obese in the US! And just like with us humans, obesity causes a myriad of health issues like arthritis, bladder/urinary tract disease, liver disease, torn ligaments, diabetes and more. Pet obesity has been shown to not only shorten lives but leads to more instances of cancer.
But don’t worry, if your pal is looking a little thicker than usual, you can help. Again, like people, it’s all about burning more calories than you consume. Get your pup on a high-quality food, check with your vet to make sure nothing else is going on (like hypothyroidism – which is easily treated, by the way) and start incorporating more exercise; whether it’s a quick game of fetch or going for a stroll around the block.
You should be able to see at least some of their ribs and a distinct “waist” on most dogs when they’re a healthy weight.
Going for walks is one of the easiest and most common ways to exercise with your pup and keep them healthy. This helps with joint health and helps stave off arthritis. It also aids in digestive and urinary health, in that most dogs “do their business” on a walk – which helps prevent constipation or bladder infections.
What’s more, going for walks like this helps your dog bond with you. After all, dogs are pack animals and roaming around the neighborhood with you – their pack leader – makes them feel more at ease and scratches a deeply embedded evolutionary itch. They also get some mental exercise by sniffing and observing things around them. Walking can also help regulate and lower blood pressure, increase the strength of their heart, and even lowers risks for depressions in both humans and canines alike!
Most dogs – and people – should get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day at least 5 days a week. Make it a routine, have a schedule, and try your best to stick to it.h
Mental & Emotional Health:
If you are reading this, chances are you know how emotive and sensitive dogs can be. They have distinct personalities and emotions. A neuroscientist at Emory University – Dr. Gregory Berns – has written several papers and even a book on this very topic. Going for a walk, hike, playing fetch, or getting exercise with your dog is a great way to help deepen your bond with them, but also help them burn off excess energy which can lead to destructive behaviors. A tired dog is a happy dog, as the saying goes. Taking your pup to new places, walking on an unfamiliar path, and stopping to sniff things briefly are great ways to mentally stimulate your dog and get them to be better behaved, sleep better at night, and increase your bond with them.
More Than Walking:
If you have a high energy dog or are an active person yourself, just going for a jaunt around the neighborhood might not do it for you. Many dogs love to do other, more dynamic things that can keep their owners on their toes too.
Jogging is great for sporting breeds that really need to burn off energy and love to run; frisbee and agility courses are outstanding modes of exercise for innately acrobatic breeds like Border Collies, for instance. Many retrievers were bred to swim, but all types of dogs may love going for a dip in a local lake (make sure you know the water quality, understand the wildlife in the area and make sure there are no water snakes, of course). In fact, swimming is a great low-impact exercise for older dogs or pups with arthritis.
And if your area offers hiking trails, even better. Most pups adore going out into the woods and finding new smells, seeing other animals, and most importantly, spending time with their human. Make sure your pup is always on a leash to keep them safe (Fi Collar or not) and always check them for ticks after a jaunt in the woods. If possible, ask your vet about a flea and tick preventative too!
In closing, exercise is important to your dog’s overall physical, mental, and emotional wellbeing. There are plenty of ways to give them the exercise they need and reap the benefits that come from it – like a better bond, a more well-adjusted pup with a stronger heart, healthier joints, and better quality of life. So, grab a leash, get out there, and go on an adventure.
About Barbells For Bullies:
Barbells For Bullies® is a 100% volunteer run 501(c)3 non-profit that hosts fitness competitions, weightlifting, strongman, and powerlifting events all over the US, and donates all net proceeds from these events to help local animal rescues and advocacy groups.
Founded by a husband and wife with a bunch of rescue pups, Barbells for Bullies is on a mission to help As Many Rescues As Possible®. Since 2016, Barbells For Bullies has hosted over 35 events, donated almost $150,000 to local rescues, and personally sponsored over 100 dogs in dire need of assistance via The Underdog Fund! You can learn more about the amazing work they do on their Instagram, @barbellsforbullies, Facebook, and their website, www.barbellsforbullies.org.