We all know exercise is essential. We need to stay active and healthy, and so do our fur babies. But what is the right amount of exercise? There’s a lot more at play than one might think. In Part One, we talked about the exercise needs by breed, but there’s so much more to know. So, in Part Two, we discussed the importance of exercise, including different types of exercise, for dogs by age and life stage. This brought us to Part Three where we talked about some of the surprising exercise needs for different sized dogs, as well as dogs with specific anatomy features. Now, we’re moving on to our final piece in this series about the basics of activity design for our dog’s health and lifestyle. Before we jump in, let’s just do a quick review of why exercise for dogs is so important.
Exercise is imperative, but so is quality nutrition. Many dogs have trouble accessing the nutrients in commercial food because it can be so difficult for dogs to digest. EcoEats is the closest we can get to a whole food diet without the strain on our time and wallet. Plus, EcoEats is all-natural, grain-free, gluten-free, preservative-free, vet approved, hypoallergenic, is free from by-products, and great for all life stages.
Quick Review: Why Exercise is Important
It’s easy to tell ourselves exercise is important, but sometimes, taking a look at the actual reasons exercise saves lives, can keep our motivation intact.
Lower chance of illness. Lowers the chance of diabetes, heart disease, and other age- or fitness-related illnesses. Obesity is a significant risk factor for both diabetes and heart disease. Heart disease is almost as common in dogs as it is in humans. And a whopping one in 160 dogs will end up with preventable diabetes diagnosis. Lack of exercise and poor nutrition actually reduce our dog’s lifespan. It also causes things like chronic inflammation, digestive problems, skin disorders, and has been linked to cancer. Regular exercise also boosts the immune system, creating a healthier barrier against the environment, stress, and other illness-causing factors.
Better senior life. We know exercise wards off illness and disease. It also extends our lives and the lives of our dogs. By staying in good condition, we lessen the strain on our organs, tissues, and bones. That means we stay stronger and won’t be as likely to suffer from chronic pain, joint problems, and will remain more mobile for much longer. A healthy lifestyle with plenty of activity also helps to prevent arthritis.
Prevent bad behavior. Dogs who go without enough exercise end up bored, less happy, and live a less fulfilled life. Fido needs both, physical and mental stimulation throughout the day. This means making sure he gets playtime several times a day, as well as the right amount of exercise. Sure, some of our dogs have the benefit of a dog door, so they can go outside to get some fresh air and watch the squirrel. Then they can come back in and visit with the family. This is helpful for mental stimulation, but it isn’t exercise. Dogs who are bored or don’t get to burn their excess energy through exercise will fund ways to use that energy, and it almost always ends up developing into bad behaviors like chewing, scratching, excessive barking, destructive habits, and sometimes even aggression. For those of us with dogs who have already developed these behaviors, we need to consider our role in this and look at whether Fido is getting enough exercise for his breed, life stage, health, age, and size.
Bonding and healthy relationships. Dogs who get plenty of outdoor exercise and playtime, such as at dog parks and at doggy daycare, are more well-adjusted and have better social skills. Even dogs who spend more time on walks and hikes will have better social skills with both, dogs and humans, than those who remain at home with their guardians. In addition, playtime and exercise are a great way to bond with our pups. It gives us training opportunities that improve communication between guardians and dogs, it challenges our dog’s minds and bodies, and it brings us closer together because of the quality time we’re spending together.
Exercise Versus Playtime
It can seem like exercise and playtime are the same thing. For many dogs, that’s true. Playing fetch can be a great source of playful fun while getting the exercise an active dog needs. However, there are times guardians mistake one for the other, and it can be surprisingly detrimental for our pup’s health and wellbeing.
Exercise without play? Yes, this is entirely possible, and it can be damaging to Fido’s disposition, mental health, and even negatively affect his behavior. When we mechanically walk our dog around the same route, or if we take our pups for a run without letting them get the olfactory stimulation they need, they miss out on the mental stimulation they need to be healthy and happy. While humans may get the exercise they need on a treadmill or a morning run, dogs need play, interesting smells, and fun, to keep their minds and wellbeing intact.
Play without exercise? This happens more than people realize, but it’s easy to fix. Many people love to play a little fetch in the yard, or a few games in the house. This is awesome for winter weather or dogs who get cabin fever and need a way to stay active. However, playtime alone doesn’t prevent obesity and illness. Our dogs need at least 30 minutes of exercise each day, regardless of age, size, life stage, and breed. They also need playtime and mental stimulation to prevent bad behavior, bond with their humans, and keep their minds sharp.
Basics of Activity Design
Before designing a fitness plan for our pups, a quick annual visit to our vet can help us better understand what our dog really needs, what he’s capable of, and where to begin when it comes to exercise, nutrition, and their personal needs. Then, we need to remember that, just like humans, jumping into an advanced fitness routine will lead to soreness, injury, and even burnout. Start small, and work up to those big ideas and big activities. For example, if the plan initially involves going for a daily walk, being with a few 15-20 minute walks. Even though our pup may want more, if they’ve been sedentary for months, more than 15-20 minutes will leave them feeling a little sore the next day. For older or more frail dogs, they may even end up with an injury. Work up to the minimum of 30-minutes a day. While 30-minutes of walking is great for most breeds, if the goal is to run for 30-minutes, begin with walking, add jogging intervals, and gradually build up to running. This not only prevents injury but will help hyperactive dogs grow more disciplined and relaxed.
Remember that olfactory stimulation is vital for a dog’s health. Dogs have a keen sense of smell, and it’s tied to their other systems. A stimulated sense of smell stimulates their digestive system and promotes quality mental health. We can help by periodically switching up our routes and by occasionally stopping to let them explore and smell the flowers.
Always plan for the weather. Dogs are susceptible to heat stroke and need more water in the summer months. When it’s mid-eighties or higher outside, plan on walks that will be earlier or later in the day, instead of mid-day. Bring water and don’t forget to freshen the water bowl at home. It’s also advisable to break up Fido’s walks into a few fun shorter walks, rather than one long, hot walk. Don’t forget to check the pavement to see if it’s too hot for Fido’s paws. Even though dog paws are built for durability, they aren’t indestructible. When the weather is cold, plan dog-friendly routes. Add a little olive oil to their paws to keep snow and ice from building up, or try booties. For dogs that aren’t built for cold weather, or are older and less resilient to the cold, give them a little sweater. On days that are too cold, hot, or wet for outdoor exercise, there are games and plenty of indoor activities that will at least give them the mental stimulation they need. Plus, many games, depending on the house, will also provide them with the exercise they need for the day.
Dog guardians are up to 34% more likely to reach their own exercise goals when they include their dog in their fitness regimen. Yet, researchers have found many guardians don’t include dog walking in their plans. Be the dog guardian who includes their dog in their lifestyle, rather than keeping a dog as life-decoration. We can all be healthier and happier, together.