Jogging and Walking with Dogs

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By Laura Pakis, Certified Professional Dog Trainer and Blogger,

There are many high-energy activities for keeping dogs physically and mentally fit, such as ball fetching, jogging, agility training, frisbee, flyball, tracking, lure coursing (with plastic bags, therapy visits and obedience competition.  This blog will focus on jogging and walking with your dog.

While some dogs need much more exercise than others, all dogs of any age benefit from daily activity. One way to ensure you both get enough exercise is to exercise together.

How much exercise?

  • Monitor the individual dog to determine how much exercise and what kinds of exercise she needs. A 15-minute walk twice a day may be enough for some dogs. Others need at least two 30-minute walks.
  • Age is a key consideration. An adolescent dog might have the energy to outrun you, whereas an older dog, as much as he’d like to keep pace with his person, should not be subjected to rigorous workouts.
  • If your dog shows no signs of exertion and/or shows signs of pent-up energy when you return from your walks, she is not getting enough exercise. The solutions range from longer walks to jogging to more interactive playtime indoors.

Breed considerations:

Keep your dog’s breed in mind when planning your exercise routine.

  • Small dogs with short legs usually don’t need to … or should not …be walked or jogged as long as larger dogs.
  • Breeds with short noses may have trouble breathing when exercised vigorously. Short-snouters range from little pugs to bulldogs to boxers and many others.
  • Don’t assume that racing breeds such as Greyhounds and whippets can run marathons. While they are built to run, they were not breed to run for long distances.
  • And for young pups and big breeds of any age, sustained jogging or running is too hard on their joints.

First things first:

Before engaging in a high-energy exercise program with your dog, have your veterinarian check him out — heart, lungs, joints, ligaments, weight — and assess his fitness level.

  • If your dog is overweight, put her on a diet in addition to giving her more exercise.
  • Make sure you teach your dog how to heel. Keeping your dog at your side while jogging is essential. If your dog lurches ahead or drags behind you when you walk at a leisurely pace, imagine the problems that can cause when you’re moving at higher speed. Constantly pulling on the dog can damage the animal’s throat as well as throw you off balance.
  • Teach your dog to sit and sit-stay. This is essential for those times you need to stop at intersections and at the approach of bicyclists, dogs, other joggers, darting squirrels and any other potential distractions along narrow jogging trails and other bottleneck-type areas.

Work up … and warm up:

  • Gradually increase the duration and intensity of exercise of the course of a few weeks, as you would with yourself.
  • Be consistent and committed. This means a daily, not just a weekend, exercise routine. This approach will enable your dog — and you — to gradually build up stamina. This is particularly important for puppies, senior dogs, overweight dogs and dogs with any health condition.
  • As you begin each exercise session, warm up with a steady walk to get the muscles working and ready before launching into more vigorous activity. Allow at least five minutes to warm up, and an equal period of time to cool down at the end of your exercise session.
  • Humans are better suited to jogging or running for long periods nonstop than are canines, who tend to engage in short, intense bursts of running with intermittent stops to sniff around, piddle and absorb the scenery.
  • Don’t assume that because your dog (or you) is a weekend athlete that she can engage full-bore into an intense exercise activity without working up gradually to that level of intensity. Pace yourselves! And remember to always warm up the muscles when you begin any exercise session.

A few words about potty and sniff breaks:

  • Is your dog used to being able to sniff the ground as you go on your daily walks? He’ll naturally want to keep doing this even when you jog. Don’t get frustrated. Teach him to pay attention to you during your jogs. And before you set off running, let your dog have ample time to relieve himself as well as sniff around. Then later, after you finish your jog and are in the cool-down phase, give him another chance to potty and to sniff around before bringing him inside.
  • A smart tip from Steve Dale that you can use to help your dog differentiate going for a walk from going for a run: use a special leash for jogging. “Your dog will see the different leash and soon understand that the special leash is meant for serious running – no stopping to smell the flowers.”

Avoid overexertion:

  • Remember, dogs will usually try to keep up with their people just because it is their nature to do so. This can mask fatigue and overshadow signs that the dog is overdoing it. So be vigilant and do not push your dog too hard.
  • If your dog tries to stop, it’s usually best to let him, since that is often a clear message that he’s being pushed beyond his capacity. If the dog is panting heavily or is listing from side to side … or his gait otherwise becomes uneven … slow down to a slow walk, or stop for a water and rest break. It may be time to go home.

Establish a routine:

  • Being a weekend athlete isn’t enough to sustain health for humans or canines. Make exercise part of your daily routine. Customize your exercise plan to your schedule so you can stick with it … and then stick to it.
  • Devise alternative exercise plans for bad weather. Remember, you can exercise outdoors even when it’s cold or it rains, as long as you have the right gear and towels to dry your dog off upon your return home.

Environmental considerations:

While you probably don’t want to be just a fair-weather exerciser, realize that weather conditions can affect your dog’s energy level and endurance.

  • Be aware of the terrain – for trip and slip hazards as well as the possible impact on your dog’s paws and body.
  • Keep your dog’s nails trimmed to reduce the chance of them splitting during your vigorous jogs.
  • Check out your dog’s footpads after you return from jogging … and during your jog if the dog shows any change in gait or pace. Some surfaces, such as gravel and rock, can be very hard on dogs’ feet. Watch the pads for cracking or wear. Watch out for glass shards and debris; remember, you have footwear but your canine does not.
  • During hot weather, exercise in morning or evening, not during the heat of the day, which is hard on a dog’s health … plus hot pavement will hurt his paws.
  • During cold and snowy weather check for, and remove, ice on the footpads and between toes.
  • Check your dog’s coat, ears, eyes and paws for burrs, ticks, and other unwanted stuff that might be picked up along the way.

Stay hydrated:

For lengthy walks or jogs … or any exercise sessions during warm weather … bring water for yourself and your dog. It is usually smart to bring some healthy tidbits for your dog too. These can do more than energize your dog; they can be invaluable in regaining his attention if he is distracted or disturbed by something or someone he sees along your exercise route.

Safety tips:

  • Be aware of where your dog is positioned at all times. It is your responsibility to your dog, yourself and others to maintain control of your dog.
  • Jog with only one dog at a time. You might be able to walk two dogs at once, but you really need maximum control when moving at higher speed. Plus, if a problem arises with one dog, even if one dog simply becomes fatigued, you might wind up far from home with two dogs who can’t move along at the same pace.
  • Continually survey the landscape for trip hazards such as broken pavement, slip hazards such as dew-slick leaves and prey animals the sight of which could fire your dog into power drive.
  • Use a leash. When exercising outdoors, keep your dog on leash for his safety and the safety of others. By using the leash, you stay in control, even if you encounter a surprise on the hiker-biker trail. This applies to wilderness areas too; your dog could head for the hills upon spying a strange wild animal.
  • Do not tie the leash to your wrist.Hands-free leashes: while some people like the Dog Jogger and other hands-free leashes that attach or wrap around the waist, others find that they are frequently thrown off balance when using these devices. It’s best to keep leash firmly in hand.
  • Carry a stick or bone to throw if approached by unleashed dog or other animal.
  • Be visible: Buy and use reflective bands on yourself, reflective collars on your dog. There are a variety of handy reflectors and blinking tags available.
  • Remember to make sure your dog is wearing identification and is properly vaccinated for rabies. Although you’re using a leash, you want to be prepared in case you drop the leash, the leash or collar buckle fails, or for any other unforeseen problem.
  • Remember to bring water, especially on long run and during warm weather. More health and safety tips are below.
  • Skating, Biking or Motoring to Exercise A Dog. It can be very dangerous to bike, skate or skateboard with your dog. The leash can get caught up on something, the dog could run into you or you could run into the dog, the dog could lurch out in traffic, the dog could get loose, get scared and run off. Another potential hazard of biking, blading and skating with dogs: there have been reports of dogs’ paws and tails getting run over by wheels and caught in wheel spokes.

As the saying goes, a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. Indeed, making sure your dog gets enough exercise each day is an effective way to prevent dogs from developing and engaging in destructive or hyper behaviors. And as you can guess, exercise offers the same benefits to canines as it does for people: tones muscles, helps prevent obesity, strengthens the cardiovascular system, strengthens bones, improves sleep, improves mood, provides mood-stabilizing benefits, enhances mental alertness and promotes health.

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