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An-Ultimate-Guide

An Ultimate Guide to Dog Health & Fitness

Your dog was made to be active. It might not seem like it when they are stretched out across your sofa or giving you sad puppy dog eyes to try to get a bite of your sandwich. In fact, the entire anatomy of a dog is designed for function and survival in the wild, including chasing down prey for food.

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Dogs Are Physically Built to Be Active

According to Science Daily, “Like most predatory mammals, the dog has powerful muscles, a cardiovascular system that supports both sprinting and endurance, and teeth for catching, holding, and tearing. The dog's ancestral skeleton provided the ability to run and leap. Their legs are designed to propel them forward rapidly, leaping as necessary, to chase and overcome prey. Consequently, they have small, tight feet, walking on their toes; their rear legs are fairly rigid and sturdy; the front legs are loose and flexible, with only muscle attaching them to the torso.”

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A dog’s nose is made so that the nostrils can move and detect scent as they are running. Their dew claws allow for more precise tuning. As they turn the corners, the dew claws dig into the ground to help them balance. Specific breeds have body parts that perform certain functions, like the thick otter tail of the Labrador Retriever that acts as a rudder to help them steer while they are swimming, or their webbed feet that help them be more efficient swimmers.

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The Dog/Human Relationship is Perfect for Being Active Together

Humans were designed to be active, too. This is one of the many reasons that dogs and humans befriended each other over 30,000 years ago. Dogs and humans originally hunted together, protected each other, and kept each other company.

As dogs and humans evolved together, our roles have also evolved, so that today most humans and dogs are together exclusively for companionship. Of course, there are still humans who hunt with their dogs and plenty of dogs who have jobs working side by side with people. But when you have a well-trained dog who loves modern comforts like dog beds and sofas, combined with a busy human who works hard most of the week and just wants to crash after a long workday, it is easy for our relationship to become that of snuggling on the sofa eating snacks together. Fortunately, you can easily implement an exercise program that improves your dog’s health and your own.

Benefits of Exercise for Dogs

Many pet owners struggle with the question of how to keep pets healthy. Ensuring that dogs get regular exercise is an important part of responsible dog ownership. Exercise can help keep your pet happy and healthy, because it affects much more than just their physical condition.

Physical Benefits of Exercise for Dogs

Physical exercise helps promote strong muscles, joints, and bones, a healthy heart, and lower blood pressure. According to VCA Pet Hospitals, physical exercise also benefits a dog’s urinary tract health when the exercise is in the form of walking. Exercise also helps a dog maintain a healthy weight.

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Detoxing Benefits of Exercise for Dogs

According to Animal Wellness Magazine, physical exercise even helps remove toxins from the dog’s body. In an article called The Importance of Exercise for Dogs, they explain, “The lymphatic system is designed to eliminate metabolic by-products and toxins, and it’s pumped by working muscles. Sedentary lifestyles allow this sludge to back up and choke the cells. Physically working muscles literally helps pump toxins out of the body, supporting health and vigor.”

Mental Health Benefits of Exercise for Dogs

Physical exercise also offers mental health benefits for your dog because of the mental stimulation from the sights, sounds, and smells that he or she experiences during the exercise. Additionally, research has shown that in animals and humans, exercises cause an increase in the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin promotes feelings of love and well-being.

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According to Harvard Health Publishing, exercise also reduces stress hormones in the body and stimulates the production of endorphins, which are, “chemicals in the brain that are the body's natural painkillers and mood elevators.” And if you take away all of the scientific studies and research, there is no doubting the joy that your dog feels when you grab their leash or engage them in a game of fetch.

Benefits to Pet Owners of Exercising with Your Pet

When you exercise with your pet, not only does your dog experience the health benefits that we listed, but you experience the same benefits. According to the Center for Disease Control, physical exercise benefits include a reduced risk for cardiovascular disease, reduced risk of diabetes, a reduced risk of developing some types of cancer, stronger bones and muscles, a stronger chance of living longer, and an overall better quality of life.

Having a pet can improve your health because you have a constant companion who not only needs to go outside regularly, but they want to go and do things with you. One recent study found that dog owners get four times more exercise than non-dog owners, and that they spend 300 minutes walking outside each week, compared to non-dog owners who walk for 100 minutes a week. We cannot think of a more fulfilling way to log all of those steps on your own activity tracker. Clearly there is no better accountability partner for ensuring that you get plenty of physical exercise and fresh air than your own dog!

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Fitness Through All of a Dog’s Life Stages

Physical exercise is important for your dog through all of the stages of his or her life. Their exercise needs vary as they progress from puppyhood through adolescence into adulthood, and then into their mature and senior years.

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Puppies and Exercise

Puppies are full of energy and seem as if they are ready for endless fun, but they are also experiencing important growth to their bones, joints, and muscles. Too much exercise and roughhousing can cause permanent damage to their bodies.

According to the American Kennel Club, a puppy can safely have 5 minutes of exercise for every month of their age. Using this guideline, an 8-week-old puppy can safely exercise for 10 minutes. This refers to taking them for walks, swimming, or other more intense, prolonged exercise. Most puppies will play with toys, their humans, and other dogs in the house on and off throughout the day.

Adult Dogs and Exercise

Dogs reach adulthood at different ages depending on their size and breed. Typically, small breeds are considered full-grown adult dogs between 10-12 months. Medium breed dogs are usually full-grown by 12-15 months. Large breed dogs are considered full-grown at 18 months, and giant breeds between 18-24 months. Once a dog has reached adulthood, and they are in excellent physical condition, they should be healthy enough for long periods of exercise with you. You can enjoy long walks, hikes, and other activities together for extended periods of time.

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Exercise for Mature and Senior Dogs

Just as dogs reach adulthood at certain ages, they also become senior dogs and geriatric dogs at different ages. Similar to how humans age, some dogs will be capable of long periods of exercise in their senior years and some will slow down at a younger age. One of the benefits of providing dogs with physical exercise throughout their life is that they should experience better health during their senior years. This is why it is so important to keep pets healthy all through their lives.

Signs of a Healthy Dog

A healthy dog should have eyes that are bright and clear without discharge. Their ears should be clean and without redness, irritation, brown or black or smelly discharge, or the distinctive odor that accompanies an ear infection. Their mouth and breath should smell fresh, their nose should be clean and moist without discharge. Their coat should be shiny and thick without an odor, and their poop should be firm and well-formed. They should have a happy, relaxed disposition and not appear to be in physical pain.

Maintaining a Healthy Weight for Your Dog

The perfect weight for a dog will vary from breed to breed. Some breeds, like Greyhounds or Whippets, are extremely lean, while others like the Labrador Retriever will be more solid and filled out even at a healthy weight. Once again, your breeder or veterinarian can help you understand how to ensure that your specific dog is at a healthy weight.

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Typically, a dog is at a healthy weight when you can see an outline of their ribs without seeing individual ribs. They should have a visible waist when you view them from above, and a slight tuck behind their rib cage when viewed from the side. If you can see a dog’s ribs and hip bones, the dog is underweight. If you cannot see their waist, the dog may be overweight. If your dog has a fluffy or dense coat, you will need to run your hands over your dog’s abdomen to determine if you can feel their ribs and if they have a defined waist.

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It is important to maintain a healthy weight for your dog. Dogs who are underweight are likely to be hungry, which is not fair to the dog. Additionally, they may lack nutrients to keep them healthy, which can result in a weakened immune system and susceptibility to infections and illnesses. Carrying too much weight can lead to high blood pressure, joint problems, heart disease, diabetes, and other medical problems.

Starting a Pet Fitness Program

As humans, it is always recommended that we check in with a physician before starting an exercise program. With our dogs, it is even more important to consult a veterinarian before starting a new physical activity because dogs cannot talk and tell us how they are feeling. While we can tell a lot about a dog’s level of comfort or pain from their body language, dogs are also a hearty species and will sometimes throw themselves in a fun situation with puppy-like enthusiasm even though they are in pain. A good veterinarian is able to take information from small cues in a dog’s demeanor when they perform a physical exam. These are things that we as pet owners cannot see or feel.

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Fitness for Pets Should Always be Fun

Let’s face it, we humans do not always love the idea of climbing out of our warm beds and hitting the gym. Like we said at the start of this guide, though, our dogs are made to move and be on the go. Although some dogs love to laze around the house more than others, physical exercise should always be in the form of something that is fun for your pet. Fortunately, dogs love simple pleasures like going for walks, playing games of fetch, and running around sniffing new scents. They are also happy to learn more elaborate forms of exercise like many dog sports offers.

Using a Pet Fitness Monitor

A pet fitness monitor like ours Furbit Lite can help you track your pet’s activity. You can measure the steps that they walked and the distance traveled. You can also set customized activity goals for your pet. You can review your pet’s information in a mobile application, including the number of Kcals that they burned, and how long they were active on a given day.

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Additionally, the Furbit Lite is waterproof so you can monitor your water loving dog’s adventures without worrying about the tracker. The Furbit Lite also has a long battery life so that you do not have to interrupt your day to find a charger. It works on both Bluetooth and wireless data, so that you can continue to get valuable information about your pet wherever your adventures take you.

Fun and Healthy Pet Fitness Ideas for Dogs and Humans to do Together

In order for both you and your dog to have fun, work your muscles, and burn calories, here are some fun ideas for humans and dogs to do together.

Walking

Going for a walk around your neighborhood is the easiest and most basic way for you and your dog to exercise together. It requires minimal equipment and preparation, and is something your dog will definitely enjoy. If your dog needs a refresher in loose-leash walking, you can find local dog trainers and loose-leash walking classes by searching the Association of Professional Dog Trainers website. Walking is an easy and very effective way for both humans and dogs to get regular aerobic exercise. It is not as hard on a person or dog’s joints as other forms of exercise, and offers the same health benefits as more rigorous activities.

Walking

Although the walks are physical exercise, they also offer a lot of mental stimulation for dogs. Taking a walk around the neighborhood is a dog’s version by checking the daily news. As your dog sniffs the ground as you walk, they learn precise information about all of the dogs who walked there before them, including the other dogs’ genders, if they are healthy, and even what they ate.

Hiking

Hiking

Hiking is essentially walking on outdoor trails. When hiking with your dog, look for wide, well-groomed, and frequently maintained trails, that do not require climbing over jagged rocks or boulders. Hiking trails for beginners are safe for dogs. Avoid trails that put your dog at risk for falling from heights, and be aware of how to handle local wildlife in your specific area that could threaten you and your dog like bears, mountain lions, and poisonous snakes. Check out alltrails, traillink, or hikingproject to research the best trails for beginner hiking trails suitable for hiking with your dog.

Running

Running is a sport that is not for every dog. It is extremely important to consider your dog’s physical condition and whether or not he or she will enjoy running with you. Always check with your veterinarian before starting to run with your dog. Even with your vet’s approval, always remember that you will need to work on building your dog’s endurance and stamina. You can find information on the American Kennel Club website or on popular running sites like Runtastic.

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Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing

Snowshoeing is another sport for dogs that are in extremely good physical condition. Walking through deep snow is extremely physically and tiring, and wearing snow shoes gives humans an advantage that dogs do not have. However, winter loving breeds in peak physical condition can have fun and get an intense workout going Snowshoeing with their humans. Once you have the ok from your vet to get started, this article from Snowshoe Magazine can help you decide if this sport is right for you and your dog: The Dog Days of Winter, Tips for Snowshoeing with Pets.

Skijoring

Another fun winter sport that provides an intense workout for dogs is called skijoring. Skijoring is a winter sport in which cross-country skiers are pulled by a dog or horse. Like many of the sports listed here, it is important that your dog is in excellent physical health before starting this sport. Training is extremely important since you are physically attached to your dog with a harness and a long lead. The lead is attached to your waist, so it is critical that your dog listen to you so that the sport is safe and fun for both of you.

Skijoring

There are a variety of websites and Skijoring clubs that you can utilize when researching this sport. Although many people participate at a competitive level, you can also take your dog on a more leisurely skijoring adventure on a snowy weekend afternoon. Check out Skijor USA, the Pacific Sled Dog and Skijor Association, and The Midwest Skijors Club for information on getting started. Also check out The American Kennel Club for information on this sport.

Dog-Agility

Dog Agility

Canine agility is a sport in which a handler directs their dog through a course of obstacles. Dogs and handlers are judged on timing and accuracy. This sport looks like the dog is the one doing most of the physical activity, but this is also a workout for the handler, who must follow along as they guide and direct their dogs through the agility obstacles. Agility is popular across the world because it is open to all breeds and mixed breeds. Because this sport can be extremely hard on the joints of both the dogs and the handlers, it is very important that you find an agility trainer who will help you develop your dog’s skills and their physical fitness.

The best agility training programs start with a substantial amount of pre-work to ensure that your dog is running the course in a way that will cause the least damage to his or her joints. For basic information about dog agility, check out this page from The American Kennel Club. You can also find information on the website for the United States Dog Agility Assocation and the North American Dog Agility Council.

Additional Cardio Exercises for Your Dog

Depending on the breed of your dog and your abilities as a trainer, there are additional sports and activities that you can enjoy with your dog. In this guide we have provided the ones that also offer exercise for you, the dog owners. Check out our blog, Cardio Exercises for Your Dog for additional suggestions on fun and rewarding ways to spend time with your dog while burning calories and building strong muscles. No matter what sport or activity you and your dog find as your favorites, the most important thing is that you are both having fun and spending time together.

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