Happy New Year!
If the New Year means a new fitness program for you and your dog — now’s the time to get started.
Begin with checking in with the vet. (Let’s assume your doc has given you the go-ahead.) What does your dog weigh now? What is his target weight? Hips and joints in good order? Heart healthy enough for exercise?
With a health clearance in hand — what are your goals? Lose weight? Have more fun? Compete in races, shows, or trials? Or just improved stamina and health for both of you?
Simple walking for 30 minutes 3-5 times a week is a good place to start. Over time, you can build up to a daily 3-5 miles, and incorporate some running. You can walk on the street or sidewalk, or head to a local park or hiking trail. Be sure to check leash laws and keep your dog on leash when required. Many dogs prefer a harness to a collar when hiking. Bring a water bottle and portable bowl for water break, as well as poop bags for that inevitable potty break. A dog-walker belt or small pack (check your local indpendent pet retailer for this and other supplies) can hold your poop bags, water bowl, treats, phone, and other items.
In cold and snowy weather, think about paw protection. Paw wax gives some relief from ice and snow balls and keeps the pads more resilient. Boots are an option if your dog will tolerate them. Short coated dogs may need a sweater or windbreaker coat. If you are in a warmer climate, be sure to offer water breaks when you stop for a breather.
In addition to walking, running, and hiking, core exercises for dogs include jumping up on rocks and logs, running along fallen logs, or even balancing on a wooden guardrail plank. Incorporate the natural obstacles along your trail to make it all more fun for the dog and a total body workout. Don’t forget the treats and praise when your dog accomplishes a new feat.
If the weather is too ugly for outdoor exercise, retreat indoors for a workout. Controlled stair climbing and descent builds muscle and stamina. Balancing on exercise balls or wobble boards is good for core development. While canine-specific exercise equipment is available, many times human equipment can be modified with the addition of a non-slip surface. Cones and poles can be used to make small jumps or cavaletti grids in the basement or garage if you can provide a nonslip, resilient surface. Jumping skills can increase a dog’s coordination and muscle tone and are fun for them as well.
Make a commitment to yourself and your dog to get out there as often as possible. It’s good for both of you! Have a happy and healthy 2016!