Safe exercise for dogs
5 September 2018
The lifestyles of the average pet dog bears very little resemblance to that of their wild ancestors. Gone are the days when they needed to run and hunt to survive, most simply exercise for fun and enjoy being waited on hand and paw for their food.
One thing hasn’t changed though and that’s their need for exercise, even the smallest of breeds need to exercise both their minds and bodies. Lazy dogs (or lazy owners) don’t just risk weight problems when there’s not enough exercise.
What happens if my dog doesn’t get enough exercise?
- Weight gain
- The most obvious side effect of dogs not getting enough exercise is weight gain but it’s important to remember that as most dogs are a lot smaller than us, a little bit of extra weight can have much more of an impact.
- Not only is extra weight putting extra pressure on their heart, but it’s also putting pressure on their joints. 40% of dogs in Australia are pure breed and an extra 14% are ‘designer breeds’ and these can be more susceptible to joint problems.
- Behavioural problems
- Dogs can be very similar to children (and adults) in that they don’t like being bored. When a dog doesn’t get regular exercise, they can’t tell us they’re bored or have too much pent-up energy, instead they have to show us.
- A dog that doesn’t get enough regular exercise is going to be more likely to become destructive to both their pack members (i.e., you!) and their home. They’re going to chew and destroy your furniture and garden, they’ll jump up more, they’ll be less likely to obey commands and they won’t settle.
- A dog that goes too long without adequate exercise can start to become depressed. It’s not natural for them to be cooped up for long periods of time, they want to run and explore new things, and just like us, they’ll soon start to get very fed up when being confined for too long.
Is there such a thing as too much exercise for dogs?
To a certain extent, yes, dogs can be exercised too much especially in their early years when they’re still developing.
For example, a condition called hip dysplasia can be caused by both genetic and environmental factors. This is where the ball of the femur doesn’t fit as it should in the hip socket and although it’s more common in larger dogs and pure breeds, any dog can find themselves with it.
If younger dogs are over exercised when they’re still growing, they can become more susceptible to developing hip dysplasia as they get older. Some breeds are more pre-disposed to it than others and it’s breeds like German Shepherds, Labradors and Golden Retrievers which are some of Australia’s most popular dog breeds.
What exercise should I do with my dog?
Almost every dog will love a good walk, some fresh air, and sniffs but you can always take things further. Dogs are very territorial animals and can feel comfortable in areas they know well but when their walks are varied, they’re using their brains more to assess their surroundings.
If you find yourself pushed for time occasionally and your usual dog walk needs to be a bit shorter, try walking them somewhere new. They might not have the same physical exercise, but it will be more for their brains to process instead.
If you want to take your dogs exercise to the next level, you need to consider the type of dog you have. Even if it’s a mixed breed, different breeds are naturally suited to different tasks.
- Toy dogs
- Just because you have a smaller dog, it doesn’t mean they don’t still need regular exercise. As their little legs mean they need to take several steps for one human stride, make sure you’re giving them time to keep up and still enjoy the occasional sniff.
- Your Maltese or Shih Tzu might not want to join you on an 8hr hike, but they’re very playful dogs so make sure play time continues at home to keep them entertained and exercised.
- Terriers might be small dogs, but they think big. Bred to hunt vermin that was often bigger than them, they don’t tend to scare easily but they’re also the more independent breeds of the dog world. A game of hide and seek is a great way to appeal to a terrier’s built-in desire to hunt, whether you’re hiding your favourite toy, a tasty treat or yourself.
- Gun dogs
- Gun dogs were developed to assist humans on the hunt and as such, often have a very strong bond with their owners. Golden Retrievers and Labradors are among the most popular dog breeds in Australia because they make ideal family pets, but they can become unruly when not given enough exercise.
Make sure they’re well trained and exercise can include recall training and heelwork to help strengthen their bond with you and keep their brains working.
- Whether sight or sent hound, these dogs were developed to help humans hunt and those predatory instincts will still be there. For scent hounds like Beagles and Dachshunds, they love using their noses so give them something to sniff out. Sighthounds like greyhounds can reach speeds of up to 72km/h so aren’t always the most ideal pet to let off the lead but are usually very docile and enjoy a calm walk.
- Working dogs
- Dogs like Collies and shepherds are designed to be hyper aware of their surroundings and are usually intelligent dogs, but they also have almost endless energy. Working dogs like being given jobs, a game of fetch on a walk means they’re constantly on the go but also must find whatever’s been thrown too. Pet herding dogs can also be very good at agility and fly ball if you want to find a hobby for them.
- Utility dogs
- Utility dogs is the term used by the Australian National Kennel Council Ltd for dogs that don’t automatically fall into one of the other categories. Breeds like the Schnauzer and French Bulldog are often bought as family pets for companionship. As utility dogs come in so many shapes, sizes and origins, there’s no one preferred exercise, but most will love a good walk with plenty to explore.
Every dog is different, and temperaments can vary within the same breed. Never let your dog approach a dog you don’t know without checking with the owner first and always make sure you’re aware of where your dog is and what they’re doing when out and about.
No matter how vigilant you are, accidents can still happen. Your dog can’t tell you if they’ve hurt themselves whilst off exploring so it’s up to you to be aware of their body language to be able to tell if something’s changed. If you’re ever unsure, it’s always advised you talk to your vets.
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