I’m starting a new series called “Dog Care – Beyond the Basics” with the hope of providing potential and new dog owners with useful information. Everyone over the age of five knows that you have to feed a dog, give it water and you’re supposed to take it for a walk once in a while. In my experience, some people stall out after that point, but there is so much more to dog care.
First and foremost, don’t look at it as a chore. I choose to look at dog care as a chance to spend time with my friends. Because at the end of the day, I count my dogs among my very best of friends.
I’m starting with exercise because that’s one of the easier aspects of dog care, yet also one of the most important. First, you need to determine the type and level of exercise that’s right for you and your dog. Walking should be one part of every dog’s exercise regimen. You can also add other activities based on what your dog likes to do. Some fun ideas include swimming, frisbee, fetching tennis balls, agility courses and so forth.
Next, you need to purchase supplies. For a walk, you will need a collar and leash or other means of attaching your dog to you. You can try a harness, but I don’t recommend this for large or strong dogs – you are literally harnessing their pulling power. If your dog has a problem with pulling, try a Halti Collar or similar halter-like device. I personally don’t recommend choke- or pinch-style collars, but some people report good results with them. You will also need doo-doo bags. Responsible dog owners clean up after their pets. No one wants to step in your dog’s crap. I have a special pouch that I take on walks; it contains doo-doo bags, hand sanitizer and tissue, just in case. If you will be walking after dark, look for reflective or light-up collars, leashes and vests to improve visibility.
There are tons of toys and accessories you can get to add fun activities to your dog’s exercise routine. My dogs are retrievers, so LOTS of tennis balls and a very sturdy throwing disc (I use the Kong brand) are a must. I also recently purchased a tennis ball flinger. It may be due to operator error, but so far I am not a big fan. Your mileage may vary. Small, indoor dogs may appreciate a laser pointer. Mocha enjoyed chasing one when she was a puppy. There are also lots of water toys and accessories if you have access to a safe place for your dog to swim and retrieve. I get most of my dog toys and accessories at Petsmart or Tractor Supply.
Now that you’re all set, you need to scope out good places to exercise. Dog parks are the obvious choice, but not all of us have access to one. Check with your local parks and rec department to find out what parks and trails in your area permit dogs. Keep in mind that dog parks and some other places require that your dog be up to date on vaccinations before entering the facilities.
If you know of an accessible field or meadow, this can be a good opportunity to try some off-leash activities. Make sure you trust your dog’s obedience level before letting her off the leash!
Not all exercise has to take place away from home. If you have a sizeable yard, you can play fetch or set up an agility course. If you live in an apartment and have a smaller dog, you can interact and play indoors.
Keep in mind that not all dogs have the stamina for long exercise sessions. Young puppies, old dogs, obese dogs and dogs in poor health should be evaluated by a vet before starting a new exercise routine. Also, some brachycephalic breeds (dogs with short noses) such as pugs and bulldogs can easily overheat.
Make sure your dog has access to plenty of fresh water, and give her a rest every little bit. You want exercise sessions to be fun, not torture.
Finally, a word on why exercise is so important. For starters, it helps maintain a healthy weight, which reduces the chance of future problems such as diabetes, arthritis and heart disease. It keeps your dog healthy and in shape, which is important because a fit dog can recover from injury or illness more easily than a dog that’s not physically fit. Last but not least, exercise presents a great opportunity to strengthen the bond between you and your dog. It reiterates training and lessons and helps develop trust. Exercise should be a mutually enjoyable and beneficial activity for you and your dog.