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When getting fit, don't forget about Fido

Posted: Sunday, February 13, 2011

If getting more exercise was on your New Year's Resolution list again this year, ensure your success by including your canine companion. Your dog is not only a great motivator, but exercise provides mental and physical benefits for both of you.

Before you get going, take a few minutes to research information about your dog's breed. Some breeds are more tolerant to heavy exercise than others. As a general guideline, consider what your dog was bred to do. Companion breeds, like shih tzus and chihuahuas, will have lower exercise needs than hunting breeds, such as a Labrador retrievers or poodles.

Age and current health conditions are also important considerations when determining the intensity and duration of your activities with your dog. Older dogs or those with joint conditions usually do better with lower-impact activities, such as swimming.

While puppies seem to have endless energy, be careful not to introduce vigorous activity too quickly to a young pup. Their growing bones are not yet developed enough to endure very intense exercise. As always, consult your veterinarian for any questions or concerns.

Here are some exercise suggestions to keep both you and your furry friend in great shape:

Jogging or brisk walking

What you need:

6-foot nylon leash

Poop bags (just in case!)

Water (for longer distances)

As with any new exercise plan, begin slowly. Just like humans, dogs need time to build up their endurance. As you gradually increase your distance, be sure to incorporate rest stops and pack water for both you and your pooch.

When you boost the intensity of your jog, you may find that holding a leash is cumbersome. If your dog is good at staying right by your side during exercise, try tying the leash around your waist, leaving a close but comfortable distance between you and your ret. Invite buddies to share in the fun.

Flirt pole

What you need:

1-inch PVC pipe, bamboo, or other sturdy stick (4-to-8-feet long, depending on size of your dog)

1/8 inch nylon cord (8-to-14-feet long, depending on length of pole)

Toy or piece of leather

A flirt pole is an easy way to exercise, entertain, and train your dog all at the same time. Similar in design to a fishing pole, a flirt pole allows you to swing and manipulate a toy with a flick of your wrist.

Drill a hole in both ends of your PVC pipe, about a 1/2 inch in from each end. Thread the nylon cord through one end, tying it off with a knot big enough to anchor the cord. Feed the cord down the pipe, poking it through the other drilled hole. You should have several feet of cord hanging from one end of your pipe. Secure your dog's favorite toy to the very end of the hanging cord.

Have fun with the flirt pole, swinging it up and down, side to side, and in circles around yourself. Partake in the exercise by running with it, as well.

Hide and seek

What you need:

1 dog toy

Duck scent (available at hunting stores) or other pungent smelling material, such as peanut butter or vanilla extract

Set up several solid objects around your yard to use as hiding spots (i.e. chairs, flower pots). Rub the scent on the toy. Let your dog pick up the scent and associate it with a word like "Find". Have someone distract your dog while you hide the toy. Make the first couple of rounds easy by placing the toy in a visible spot, and help them to learn the word "Find" with this easy introduction.

Next, try hiding the toy behind one of your hiding spots, out of sight. This is a great exercise for hunter or retriever breeds, as it will stimulate the mind.

Frisbee

What you need:

A Frisbee (plastic or flexible canvas)

A large enclosed or fenced-in space

Some dogs will catch on to the game of Frisbee more quickly than others. Start by rolling the Frisbee toward your pup like a wheel in the grass. Practice letting the dog catch it and bring it back to you.

Gradually introduce throwing the Frisbee a safe distance away from your dog so the Frisbee hits the ground before the dog reaches it. If you accidentally hit your dog with the Frisbee before he's ready, he may develop a fear of the game, so be careful with initial tosses.

Eventually, your dog will get the hang of it and may be able to catch the Frisbee mid-air. Just give it some time and give your dog a lot of positive encouragement.

Swimming

What you need:

A pool, safe lake, or beach with very mild waves (Never let your dog into a whirlpool spa, Jacuzzi or hot tub.)

Canine flotation device (optional)

Swimming is especially good for overweight dogs or those with joint problems. Do a little research on your dog's breed and consult your veterinarian to make sure your pooch will do well in water. Canine floatation devices can be a good solution for dogs that are not natural swimmers.

If your dog has never been in water, let them watch you swim first. Then invite your dog to get his paws wet. Always supervise your dog swimming and make sure they never get close to drains.

Whatever exercises you choose for your dog, always keep an eye out for any signs of injury. It's often difficult to detect injury, as dogs don't make a habit of showing pain. Warning signs may include a subtle limp, resistance to activities usually enjoyed, or even a sudden increase in aggression.

Exercise is rewarding for all involved. You'll find that exercising will strengthen the bond between you and your canine companion and help keep you motivated to stick with your exercise routine this year.

Eric Abbey is NaturallySavvy's Healthy Pet expert. NaturallySavvy.com is a website that educates people on the benefits of living a natural, organic and green lifestyle. For more information and to sign up for their newsletter, visit www.NaturallySavvy.com.



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