WHY EXERCISE WITH YOUR DOG?
You both need it! Lack of activity is a fact of modern life for humans and canines. Nature designed us both for constant activity. Even today, primitive peoples – and primitive dogs like wolves – are constantly on the move. The search for food and shelter works their bodies nearly every waking moment. Those unable to endure simply perish.
Success has replaced the strain with stress. We no longer toil long hours tilling the soil by hand. Dinner now waits in the microwave. Our companion dogs no longer spend the day running down wild animals for food magically appears in the bowl. Life was hard, but simple for our ancestors. All could be answered with one of a pair of solutions: fight or flight. Uninhibited effort was always the answer. Early man could, literally, run away from his problems. This is obvious with the threat or fear of attack, but even starvation was generally avoided through migration.
The solutions to contemporary problems are not so simple. Both people and dogs are constantly subjected to a bombardment of noise, pollution, and lack of space. This bundle of trouble is stress – problems that society forces us to bear. Figuratively we are not allowed to run away from our problems. Luckily, literally running and other forms of exercise can give us a release from the prison of the world. We escape from listlessness and distraction to the energy and concentration that we can achieve.
The lack of physical effort lets our bodies, both canine and human, grow soft and weak. Poor condition leaves us unable to handle the the demands of life. An overwhelming number of afflictions for both people and dogs may be prevented by proper diet and exercise. Adult onset diabetes, heart disease, strokes, back ailments, and osteoporosis are often not just bad breaks. These and many other ailments can often be averted by regular exercise.
Exercise leads to longer life. Increased strength, endurance and flexibility directly give us the the ability to better deal with modern times. The effort invested in exercise pays dividends. Research has proven that, within limits, we get back two hours in increased life span for every hour spent working out. As mentioned, as always, there is an end to a good thing — nobody has managed immortality through exercise! Not only the quantity but also the quality of life is improved. Physical discipline provides many psychological rewards. Most experience a heightened sense of well being during training. This has been described as the “runners’ high.” Other athletes report similar sensations. An exercise regime promotes a positive attitude towards life in general. Of course, physical activity provides weight control and muscle tone. An improved appearance never hurt anybody’s feelings!
Exercise helps both people and dogs to lose weight in a number of ways. An enormous number of calories are burned while working out. Exercise engenders a faster metabolism so that fat is being burnt up even during rest. Also, muscle tissue uses more calories than fat tissue. Since muscle grows with exercise, the loss of fat is compounded yet again.
Today few dogs have even the benefit of a yard for running. Most are indoors all the time. Crate training is a reliable method of housebreaking and instilling good habits. This training method works by restricting the dog’s freedom. This is not cruel as long as the dog is given the opportunity for strenuous exercise. To see a dog, particularly a breed developed for some demanding task, cooped up in what amounts to solitary confinement, is very sad. Pets kept in small apartments are hardly better off.
Many dog owners complain about their pet’s behavioral problems. Dog trainers and `pet therapists’ do a booming business correcting bad habits like constant barking and destructive chewing. Some people make the mistake of thinking that the dog is misbehaving to get even for being left alone. Dogs are not capable of this sort of thinking. The true root of the problem is the dog’s boredom resulting from lack of exercise. Canine metabolism is geared for field work, pulling sleds, or some other vigorous task. All this pent up energy demands an outlet. It is up to the responsible dog caregiver to channel this energy constructively through exercise.
The majority of dogs are overweight. Though much of the problem is due to poor quality food, pure inactivity certainly does not help. Changing your dog over to a balanced diet and giving him an opportunity for regular exercise, will add years to his life span. You will be further rewarded with lower bills from the veterinarian, since your pet will be much healthier. The show dog gets special benefits from exercise. A well-muscled specimen always has an edge in the show ring. This is especially important with breeds that were originally developed for work or sport.
We humans have been given our own versions of crates. They are called offices, cars, and subways! Though few people resort to chewing up the furniture, the pressures of modern life do exact a penalty. Lack of energy, headaches, eating disorders and an inability to rationally deal with small vexations are the human reactions to being deprived of physical activity. Just as with our dog friends, physical conditioning results in a better mental condition. The new athlete will be joyously surprised to discover that many problems that are generally accepted as part and parcel of aging are simply symptoms of an out of shape body. These problems include lack of energy in the afternoon and poor sleeping habits. If you are being reminded of yourself, read on!
Unless you make a concrete, conscious resolution to exercise, muscles and bones grow weaker and breath shorter with each passing day. A generation ago, when most people were engaged in hard labor, rest was required from work. Now, with power tools and heavy machinery, even construction workers often have to work out after work.
Exercising with your dog is a great time saver. A whole host of chores get taken care of while the dog and you are having fun. Instead of just moping about while the dog is taken out, you can be exercising, the dog can be exercising and obedience training can be accomplished all at the same time. Remember, YOUR attention is required! The dog will also be enjoying quality time with you. As dogs are social creatures, you time and attention is as much a need as food and water.
A half-hour a day is plenty of time for a good work out. This should be at least three times a week. It will not hurt to skip a day in case of bad weather, a tight schedule, or some slight illness. Three days a week is OK, but it is the minimum for any health benefits. Every day, if it can be managed, is best.
Having a good training partner really helps to make exercise part of your daily routine. Seeing your dog, tail wagging with excitement and expectation, will encourage you to get your running shoes on and to get out the door. As dogs are creatures of habit, your buddy will work hard to help you keep good resolutions. My own German Shepherd is better than any alarm clock. Every day at five A.M. he wakes me up for his morning run.
Having your dog by your side will make the work out more interesting. If your dog is one of the larger breeds, having him with you makes sense in today’s troubled world. Running is most enjoyable in quiet areas, so many people run early in the morning or in the evening. Secluded trails in parks and woodlands are also popular with runners. Unfortunately, human garbage takes advantage of the lack of witnesses to victimize joggers, especially women. Women runners have been raped and robbed. In the company of a solid dog, you enjoy a large degree of protection. As criminals seek out weakness, a dog is a powerful deterrent.
Exercising with your dog is the natural thing to do. Dogs and people both met as hunters competing against the great cats at least fifty thousand years ago. We both soon learned that we work together better as a team. Humans possess superior sight and intelligence. Dogs have a better sense of smell and the endurance to flush and run down game. Dogs and people have been developing together all this time. As human society has changed, the breeds of dogs have changed. Continuing to serve, dogs became body guards and companions, instead of hunters. Your dog will look forward to his daily romp with you. He will see this as his chance to be useful to humanity, as his ancestors have done for so many thousands of years.
The best reason for exercising with your dog is that you both are going to LOVE it. If you are working out without your dog now, you’re missing half of the FUN!
BEFORE YOU START
The only good way to start is not by exercising your body but by exercising your brain. Just jumping into a rigorous routine is a certain prescription for disappointment, if not tragedy. Objectively and realistically view your personal situation. Those glory days on the high school football team might have been a while back – more so than you may care to admit! How have you spent the intervening years? Are you aware of any health problems?
At this point it is the time to go to your physician for a complete check up. Ask her advice concerning your condition and potential for training. Suffering from an affliction does not necessary preclude physical activity. Each year hear transplant recipient successfully run in marathon races. Anybody with a severe ailment will have to exercise very carefully. They will require careful monitoring by themselves or by an exercise or health care professional. Even if you can’t indulge in some forms of exercise, other types of activity might be fine. For example, somebody with a chronic knee problem might be crippled by running, but enjoy bicycling.
Now take a look at your dog. A breed like a Pekingese or Dachsund has a very limited capacity for exertion. The short legs, long spines, and poorly developed hips simply don’t allow for much exercise. These little guys will love to take a brisk walk with you, but be prepared to carry them most of the way on a long hike. The toy breeds have great spirit, but caregivers must be realistic and considerate of their pet’s limitations.
The hounds, spaniels, terriers, collies, retrievers, pit bulls, and sled breeds have tremendous stamina. This should come as no surprise, since, in the fairly recent past, for the grandparents of these dogs rest, not exercise, was the rare commodity. The hard life of the people simply did not permit the luxury of catering to pets. Dogs had to help the entire family to eke out a living. The Akita is also noted for physical prowess. The sight hounds, like the Greyhound and the Afghan Hound, were born to run
. Special mention must be made of the German Shepherd and the Rotterweiler breeds. Healthy examples will out run all but the most physically fit humans. Unfortunately, these breeds are notoriously prone to hip dysplasia. There are varying degrees of this chronic condition. The milder forms will actually be helped by exercise. More severe cases will only be able to tolerate a mild routine. The worst cases will not be able to stand any prolonged activity. Your dog’s veterinarian will tell you what to expect
. Any kind of dog with a pushed in face, the Bulldog, Boxer, and Mastiffs, for example, have a reduced ability to breathe. This is particularly true in hot weather. If your buddy is a member of one of these breeds, schedule your work outs for the cool time of the morning. Keep your dog in air-conditioning the rest of the day.
The coat of the dog is also a consideration. Dogs with extremely sparse coats will not tolerate cold or bright sun very well. The thicker the fur, the less the dog will want to exert himself under conditions of heat and humidity. Consult your groomer or veterinarian before shaving a long- haired dog during the summer. The skin of these shaggy guys is often very delicate. A baldy will leave them unable to deal with the sun, insect bites, fungal infections, and mite infestations. Your poor dog could wind up looking like the canine equivalent of Job!
The giants like the Great Dane and Saint Bernard have an extremely long period of growth. These dogs are not completely mature until they are at least eighteen months old. Forcing them to work too hard before then can actually permanently damage bones and joints. Even as adults these jumbos, because of their weight, have a limited ability for vigorous activity. They are also troubled by heat and humidity. The great bulk gets hot quickly, but takes a long time to cool down.
No dog should be subjected to a really demanding training routine until growth is completed. For most dogs, this is between nine and twelve months, and at least eighteen months for the giants, as noted above. This does not mean that your puppy should not be allowed to enjoy himself – just use good judgement.
Remember always when working out with a dog of any age or breed that the most important thing in your dog’s life is being with you and pleasing you. You must be the on to decide what is enough exercise for your own dog. You can injure him by forcing over-exertion. If your dog wants to stop, slow down, or turn back, LET HIM DO SO! This does not apply to a dog that is just learning to exercise. A `newby’ dog will be nervous just because he is involved in a new and little-understood activity. For the rookie pup, just be firm, but loving, in directing him into physical activity. But, if your dog regularly accompanies you and one day simply stops in the middle of the road, assume that your dog has suffered some sort of an injury, like a muscle pull. Also, check for a cut foot pad.
Before any dog starts exercising, a visit to the veterinarian is in order for an examination. Do be sure that your pet is checked for heart worms. These little monsters can make any effort impossible for your pet. You certainly need to be certain that all vaccinations are up to date. Since more time will be spent outside, a rabies shot is of the utmost importance.
Keep your dog leashed at all times. Unless you can be sure that your dog will unhesitatingly obey any command, you are gambling with his life by letting him run free. Another dog, or even a cat, rabbit, or squirrel could send your dog off, never to be seen again, or to be buried after being struck by a car.
The dog struck and instantly killed by an vehicle can be the lucky one. Many lost pets die horrible deaths in laboratories. Other lost pets starve or die of exposure. Some form packs and try to hunt, becoming dangerous pests.
Someone I know in Pennsylvania, at least once a week has to spend an hour shooting abandoned dogs. The feral dogs attack and kill the deer in his fields. At sunset he climbs on top of his barn and eliminates the pack with a high-powered rifle. No joy is taken in this task. The irresponsible dog owners are the ones to be berated.
One lost Beagle so loved people that it avoided the pack and came right to the farmer’s door. He put out food and water for the little guy. The Beagle disappeared. A week later it returned, head packed with porcupine spines. Dogs find porcupines irresistible, with painful result. The Beagle had to be euthanized.
Yes, your dog will want to run free, but your dog has no ability to reason. Hopefully, you are capable of logical thought, so you must do the thinking for your dog. Also, unless you are on private property, it is almost inevitably illegal to allow a dog off leash.
If your community requires dogs to be licensed, be sure that the tags are up to date and firmly attached to your dog’s collar. For both you comfort and the dog’s, you will want the dog to have at least mastered the heel command. Don’t expect any real progress with obedience training, until the dog is at least four months old, if not six. There are exceptions, but expecting strict attention from a young puppy is a lot like trying to force a young, human child to be a concert pianist. Disappointment, frustration, and resentment will be the most likely result, all around, in both cases. Let the puppy just get used to the idea of a regular leather or nylon collar. Be satisfied with the little guy tagging along in your general direction.
At around five months, after your dog is used to walking with you, fit him with an obedience collar. The obedience collar can be either the chain loop or the pinch kind. Though the pinch, also called prong, looks like an instrument of torture from the Dark Ages, it is actually not cruel at all. Try putting one of these collars on your forearm and delivering a tug. You will feel a distinct pinch, but the skin will not be torn or disfigured. Obedience training is much easier with the pinch collar.
Your dog, in all things, strictly follows the rule of “Lead!, Follow!, or Get out of the way!” It is your job to let him know who is boss. That is the function of the obedience collars. The dog will be at your left side. The handle of the leash will be in your right hand. Your left hand will be taking up the slack of the leash. As you are walking, when the dog pulls forward, if you are using the pinch collar, lightly, yet firmly tug with your left hand. At the same time in a firm tone of voice say, “Heel!” Repeat this every time the dog lurches forward. With the pinch collar you must never try to forcefully drag the dog. Exert just enough pressure for the dog to feel the pinch. As he walks right at your side, praise him. Tell him what a good boy he is. Very quickly the dog will be exactly matching your stride. In a week or two your dog will be perfectly trained to walk at your heel. You will then be able to walk slowly or quickly. In any event the dog will not be putting any pressure on his neck, the leash, or your arms. It will then take no effort or strain to take the dog out for a walk.
If you are using the regular chain loop choke collar, the technique is slightly different. Again the dog is at your left side. You are holding the handle of the leash in your right hand. Your left hand is taking up the slack of the leash. In this case when the dog tries to pull you, give a strong jerk with your left hand, actually jerking the dog back into line. If the dog is large it may be necessary, with the choke collar, to simultaneously take a step backwards with your right leg. Since your hips are your center of gravity, in this way the slightest person can handle the burliest dog. What you are doing is applying the force of the weight of your entire body to the dog’s neck. Again, repeat the command, “Heel!”, every time the dog tries to pull you.
In either case the dog will quickly associate “Heel!” with the reprimand. Soon only the command will be needed, not the physical reproach.
Your dog should be neutered. The only exception is an outstanding specimen. There is no other good reason to allow a dog to remain sexually active. The unneutered bitch will stain your carpets and attract hordes of stray males. The whole male dog is often constantly suffering from sexual frustration. Children and furniture will become the objects of desire. Neutered dogs are much happier, for their lives are complete. And for those that say that `fixed’ dogs are fat, lazy, and no good as a watch dog, come on over and try to go a few rounds with my neutered male German Shepherd! He lives (with me) in one of the worst areas of Jersey City. Rocky is notorious among the aspiring young hoods as, “One BAD dog!”
As always strive to be a good neighbor. If someone in a public place is upset by your dog, no matter how irrational their fear is, the truth is that the person has more of a right to be there than your dog. Do them and yourself a favor, just go someplace else. When running on a track, run counter-clockwise on the innermost track, so that the other runners are not forced to deal with your dog. Carry some plastic bags with you so that you can clean up if your dog is forced to relieve himself. Don’t ruin it for yourself and everybody else.
Cartoons to the contrary, wild animals are just that. They have no need or desire to socialize with you or your dog. If you spot any animal acting playful or drunk, get your dog away as soon as possible. You are probably witnessing a poor creature in the last, and highly contagious, stages of rabies. At the age of eight I was bitten by a rabid bat that I had collected. I required dozens of injections over a two week period. Since I was allergic to the serum, my parents were told by the doctors that I would be dead in a few weeks. Lucky for me, my Polish-Jewish-Irish-American Indian constitution was too tough for rabies! The purpose of this little story is to impress on you that rabies is for real and it is no fun an it can very easily be very permanent. It is a serious matter. Take it seriously.
Keeping your dog on a leash will minimize the chance of any sort of problem with animals. Keep in mind, with real estate development chewing up the landscape, raccoon and opossums may be encountered anywhere.
CARING FOR THE ACTIVE DOG
Just as a sports car needs premium gas to operate, your dog needs premium food to handle those extra miles. Ask your pet shop professional, groomer, or veterinarian about the good dog foods that are available. Scientific research has produced foods that are highly digestible and provide balanced nutrition. These foods might seem more expensive, but they are actually cheaper in the long run. Your dog will be eating a lot less for the better foods are more concentrated. As the months progress, a dog that is eating properly will have a much better appearance. Your pets coat will glow after a few weeks on a proper diet.
Special performance foods are available for the dog that spends the day hunting, pulling sleds, or that live outdoors in cold climates. These extra calorie foods are not needed for most active dogs.
Custom rain slicks and coats are designed for the athletic dog. This canine gear is treated with GORE TEX. This space age material will keep you dog warm and dry. It is a good idea to get a rain coat with a lining. This way you can adjust it according to the temeprature.
Excellent expandable-retractable leashes are a lot of fun and give your dog room to kick up his heels. A wide variety of toys are available for your dog to play fetch with you.
If your dog still wants to exercise after you are dog-tired, consider an outdoor trolley. This neat item lets your dog run up to one hundred feet.
If the pads of the dog’s feet get torn or irritated, look into a set of rubber boots. The boots will give the dog’s feet a chance to heal, but will still allow your friend to continue romping with you.