Exercise is key to having a calm dog

Canine bodies are designed to keep moving

By Joan Klucha, Special to North Shore News February 5, 2012 10:03 AM

WHENEVER I talk about the importance of exercising a dog I always feel like it is a redundant conversation.

I mean, who doesn’t know that providing exercise for your dog is one of the responsibilities of being a good dog owner?

Unlike humans, dogs enjoy exercising.

In fact, they are designed for it.

Having four legs moving in perfect balance and rhythm instead of walking upright on two allows them to move with ease across the ground covering great distances effortlessly.

Exercise provides them with not only the same benefits as it does for humans, such as a healthy heart and a lean, fit body, but it is also an outlet to expel pent-up energy, which creates a calm dog.

An under-exercised dog is often at the root of many undesirable behaviours, and I have always said a tired dog is a good dog.

How much exercise is enough? A general rule of thumb for a young, active, healthy dog of any size is at least an hour of cardiovascular activity every day. This could mean an hour-long hike, a power walk around the neighbourhood, or a good wrestle session with a canine buddy.

Canine wrestling is akin to a pilates class. As the dogs wrestle, twist, jump and turn, they work their fine motor skills and their core to keep them balanced throughout all the twists and turns of the game. It is also a great mental stimulant as the dogs have to try to outwit each other during the game.

Wrestle sessions also help keep canine social bonds and interactions healthy. Like many outdoor enthusiasts, I love trekking through local trails with my dogs. If the trails allow it, they are off-leash, but always within a few feet of me so they do not bother other trail users. They trot along, stop and sniff, and investigate the areas around the trails, which provides for lots of mental and physical stimulation.

At seven and nine years of age they are both still healthy and active, and have not slowed down their pace along the hikes, so neither have I. But when we get home, they are more often looking for an old bone to chew on their beds rather than a toy in the toy box. That is when I know they have had a good workout: when their comfy beds call them instead of their squeaky toys.

As dogs age, their exercise needs change as well. A senior dog showing signs of arthritis might need to have its walks split into two sessions throughout the day. Instead of a one-hour power hike, it may be two 30-or 45-minute walks.

Dogs with compromised breathing apparatus, such as pugs, bulldogs, boxers and Boston terriers, should really be monitored when on walks. If their cardiovascular system is challenged by raising their heart rate, they will naturally be breathing harder, and since their breathing apparatus (nasal passages, throat and mouth) are compromised by their flat-faced design they will have trouble getting oxygen to their lungs. So make sure they do not over-exert themselves during exercise.

There are also some really great canine activities that not only stimulate a dog physically, but mentally as well. Tracking was always one of my favourite classes to teach, as well as do with my dogs. Not only is it ridiculously cool to watch your dog follow a scent through the woods, but a 30-minute track is like a two-hour hike for your dog, they come home after a tracking session completely exhausted.

Rally O is growing in popularity. It is similar to combining an obedience class with an agility class, in which the dogs have to manoeuver around turns, obstacles and jumps while still maintaining focused attention. It’s another brain-drain activity for those high-energy dogs.

Getting both you and your dog off the couch and regularly exercising will help ensure that the whole pack lives a long and healthy life together.



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