This article first appeared in the May/June 2008 issue of Dogs Life.
Many pet owners enjoy exercising with their dogs to keep fit and healthy, but Sue Moses brings up a few matters to consider before hitting the pavement together.
There is no greater incentive to exercise than to go with your best, four-legged friend. And if you exercise at a regular time, it wont be long before your dog is enthusiastically reminding you its time to go, whether it be for a jog, swim, bike ride or walk alongside the stroller.
While its great to be able to exercise yourself and your pet at the same time, several things need to be taken into consideration. Is your dog capable, obedient and fit enough? The age, breed and physical condition of your dog are all considerations, as are environmental factors, such as weather and terrain.
It is also important to consider the safety of your dog and others, especially if you expect your pet to be off-leash. Veterinarian Dr Glen Hastie tells Dogs Life that providing a dog with plenty of exercise has endless advantages.
Dogs that are fit live longer, Hastie says. Overweight dogs live about two years less then those that aren’t. Owners of overweight dogs often struggle with reducing food intake, but increased exercise can provide the answer to weight loss.
Hastie says fit dogs also have better muscling and soft-tissue support around joints. And they are less prone to a number of diseases, he adds. Well-exercised dogs are less inclined to have vices arising from boredom, such as barking, digging, restlessness and annoying people and other dogs.
Hastie adds that some of his happiest and healthiest clients are Malamutes used for sledding. These are very happy dogs, he says.
Another client has a Cattle Dog, a chronic tail chaser. We worked out that if the dog was given a 5km run daily, the problem ceased, he added.
However, Hastie warns that exercise is not without its problems, particularly in the brachycephalic (short-nosed) breeds. Remember, dogs pant rather than sweat to shed excess heat.
For the short-nosed breeds, the harder they pant, the more difficult it becomes to get the air in and out because of crowding in the back of their throat. Their breathing becomes noisy, with a vibration-like sound that can nearly sound like snoring, he says. Owners need to look for signs of distress, including the dog wanting to sit down, and positions, such as extending their head and neck out to open the air passage. Bluish tongue and gums indicate cyanosis or not enough oxygen in the blood stream. As with any heat-stressed dog, there is the risk of faint or collapse.
Hastie warns that not all big dogs are necessarily suited to excessive amounts of exercise either. Some of the larger and heavier breeds are prone to hip and elbow problems, and while exercise is important for these breeds as well, excessive exercise can take its toll of their joints. He says the working breeds tend to be structurally sound and well suited to running for extended periods.
Hastie advises puppies less than six months of age to only be given lead walking and playtime in the house and yard, to allow time for their bone structure to develop.
From six to 12 months, the exercise can increase, but still needs to be restricted, as the bone growth is not complete until the dog reaches about 12 months of age, he says. From then on, fitness levels need to be gradually built up, just like for people. Dogs will just go and go and go, as they love to get out and do things with their owners, and they get cramps and muscle soreness just like people. Cyclists need to be particularly mindful, as long distances can be covered in a short time and can be very taxing on the dog trying to keep up.
Preparation and training
Bendigo Dog Obedience Club trainer, Linda Adams, tells Dogs Life that most of the clubs members join so they can enjoy their dog and obtain the appropriate level of obedience to do so. This includes being able to take their dog out in public, whether it be for a walk to the local shops or for a run. I cannot stress enough the importance of socialising your dog, Adams says. And the earlier you can begin, the better.
The club allows pups from eight weeks of age, as long as they have started a course of vaccination. Adams explains that dogs can be quite breedist if not socialised.
They know what their mother and littermates look like, but they need to get used to dogs of all looks in order to feel comfortable with them, she says. Our puppy classes include letting the puppies play in an enclosed area, and then incorporating basic obedience.
Dogs also need to become familiar with a range of surroundings and environments, and socialise with lots of people and other dogs. It is never too late to socialise a dog, but the longer it is left, the longer it takes, says Adams. Nervous and aggressive behaviour may then need to be dealt with.
Adams advises people to think about the type of dog they wish to purchase before making a decision. For instance, a person who is very athletic may be best with a dog like a Dalmatian, Kelpie or Border Collie, if they embark on more strenuous exercise, she says.
How do you train your dog to exercise with you off-leash, such as running while you cycle or jog? Positive-reinforcement training methods are particularly useful, Adams says, as most of the training is performed without a collar or leash and, in fact, without having to touch the dog at all – provided the dog is in a secure area.
Food rewards are also very helpful. People who put in a lot of time can expect great results in as little as four weeks, Adams says.
When jogging, you can take your dog on a shortish lead by your side or an extended lead, which will allow your dog to pee and then catch up or run ahead while you keep going.
For advice on how to train your dog for off-leash or on-leash exercise, speak to your local dog-training club or dog-obedience trainer. Also, check with your council for areas that allow your dog to exercise off-leash.
Out in the bush
Sharon Velo enjoys nothing better than to go horse riding in the bush with her Border Collie, Clyde, and Border Collie cross, Bear. However, she is mindful of the weather, as both dogs have heavy coats.
Bear suffers in the heat, so he is clipped in summer and on hot days I make sure we go early morning and always choose a ride where I know there are dams or creeks along the way for the dogs to drink and swim, Velo tells Dogs Life.
Velo says the dogs needed a decent level of obedience and she avoids busy roads. Another factor for country dogs was to make sure they could be recalled should they encounter wildlife or stock along the way.
The dogs love going for a ride; they jump straight into the car the moment they see me pick up the saddle to load into the car, she says. Neither are young, so both dogs have regular anti-arthritis medication and vet checks. Taking the dogs means perhaps not riding over such long distances.
Mother of four and fitness fanatic Annie Horton tells Dogs Life her dog had always been a regular partner any time she ventured out of the house. Horton owned German Shepherds Kimba and later Indi, and said the loyal and wonderful companions (now both deceased) were easily trained to become her jogging and cycling partners in preparation for triathlons and other sporting events.
They would come jogging and cycling, and once the children came along, they adapted to jogging along as I pushed the pram. Cycling is a challenge, as it can’t really be done on a lead without getting tangled up with the dog, she says.
When asking how she knew each dogs limits, Annie laughs. I could never match their endurance, no matter how fit I was! Naturally, I didnt train in the hottest part of the day.
However, Horton says both dogs had slowed down remarkably by about age eight. She attended dog-obedience training, and Kimba and Indi were successful trial dogs and achieved their open title.
The latest addition to the family is Border Collie Bella, now eight months. Training at a dog club is already underway and Bella is quick to learn the ropes, accompanying the Horton family on walks.
Visit a pet shop and obtain advice on the most suitable lead and collar for your activity, including special harnesses that you can wear to leave your hands free to run, push a pram etc. Remember that a certain level of dog training will be required.
Carry water with you. Bottles and material bowls can be attached to your belt.
Running a dog on hot surfaces, such as bitumen, can cause burned pads. The pad tissue can actually die and come away a large raw area and a very lame dog.
If you are concerned about skin cancer from too much exposure to the sun, speak to your vet about sun protection. Dogs are less likely to get skin cancer on their face, but more so on their belly due to sunburn by lying on their back. White dogs are more prone to get skin cancer on the belly than darker breeds.
A regular vet check provides an opportunity for advice on your dogs health and capability for exercise, which will change throughout a dogs life.
Dogs should not be given strenuous exercise until their growth plates close at around 14 months.
How do you teach your dog to move next to a bike? Dogs Life resident dog trainer Karin Bridge explains how:
Get your dog to move next to a bike by first walking the bike around with your dog on a lead by your left side.
Practise turns big turn to the right this way and little turn to left steady.
Have a treat by your left side.
Lead should be short enough to not allow your dog to get in front of the front wheel.
When you get on the bike, start in a big oval or similar and try big figure-eights so your dog gets used to turns and being on the inside and outside of a circle.
Praise your dog for not pulling!
Be careful of ticks when running in the bush, as a tick bite can be deadly to your four-legged companion!
Paralysis tick is deadly, and can be found not only in bush and scrub areas, but also in suburbia or a local footpath. After a walk in the bush, rub your hands all over your pet, feeling for any little bumps – especially around the neck, collar and the ears, as most ticks (75 per cent) attach to the front of the animal as it pushes through the foliage. Hind-limb paralysis can occur first, but the front legs can be affected too.
If the tick is not a paralysis tick, your dog will usually show no reaction. Signs of a paralysis tick are heavy breathing, coughing, change of bark, loss of appetite or worst of all, wobbling in the back legs if this is the case, get to the vet immediately. If in doubt at all, take the tick and your dog to the vet for checking.
Tick removers are available at veterinary clinics, but its best to take your pet to the vet for evaluation first in any case. Removing the tick (with tweezers etc) may incite the tick to inject more toxin, and you may leave the head behind, which will continue to poison your pet. The tick toxin continues to act even when the tick is removed, so take your dog to your local vet immediately.
Advice from Dogs Life veterinary advisor Dr Graham Swinney, from the Australian Small Animal Veterinary Association (ASAVA)