Chirobics: For Fitness and Fun

Love Dog
In This Chapter
  • Exercising and bonding with your Chi
  • Teaching your petite player new games
  • Seniorcizing with your mature dog

Although Chihuahuas are small enough critters to get a good workout in a one-room apartment, many become obese because their owners don’t encourage them to be active. Poor owners (and Chis). They don’t know how much fun they’re missing! Sure, exercise is essential to your Chi’s health, but it can also be a great bonding experience for you both — and tons of fun. Exercise doesn’t have to feel like work. In this chapter, I tell you how to make your Chihuahua’s bodybuilding breaks so much fun that you’ll find yourself looking forward to them, too. I also include some advice for exercising senior Chis, because they need activity, too!

Make Exercise a Happy Habit

Make exercise a habit for your Chi, even if its form changes from day to day. Otherwise, your puppy may become the pudgy and pooped type. If Chihuahuas were people, you’d find them in the hammock on sunny summer days instead of hiking, canoeing, or swimming. Many Chis become lazy while still young in life.

If your Chi leads a moderately active life, instead of becoming a couch puppy, she’ll look much better and live longer. The muscles rippling beneath her coat aren’t the only ones that exercise strengthens and tones. Her heart is almost entirely muscle, and even her intestine contains muscle tissue. Regular exercise keeps a healthy supply of blood circulating through these vital muscles. Chances are, if your Chi gets enough exercise, she’ll behave better, too. Simply giving a problem puppy more exercise cures countless behavior problems!
What’s the best way to exercise a Chi? A brisk walk, an indoor game, or playing with another Chihuahua all help keep her fit. Note: Although your Chihuahua may play with a variety of small dogs, most Chis prefer their own kind.

Remember

When it comes to exercise, though, variety is best. I know a professional trainer whose motto is, “Never let your body know what you are going to make it do next.” According to her, if you get on an exercise schedule and stick with it day after boring day, your body gets so used to it that the workout stops being as beneficial as it should be. Vary your regimen so your Chi’s body has to stay fit to handle an assortment of activities. Now doesn’t that make exercising your Chi easy? You may try a walk around the block one day (see Figure 8-1) and an indoor game the next. You can even exercise her from your recliner (or lawn chair if you have a fenced yard)! Organized activities like obedience and agility (see Chapter Training Your Chi for Canine Events, Tricks, and for Show

Figure 8-1: When it comes to exercise, nothing beats a brisk walk.
Any form of exercise you and your Chi feel like doing is fine, as long as it keeps her moving and isn’t too much for her. Too much? Yes, you can overdo exercise with a tiny dog. Compare a Chihuahua’s stride to the stride of a Labrador Retriever or other big dog. See the difference? It isn’t that tiny dogs don’t need as much exercise as big dogs — they do — but they can satisfy their exercise needs in much less time, using much less space.
The next time you take your pup for a walk, notice how many strides she takes to keep up with just one of yours. Sure, she can do it, and it’s good for her, too, but within reason. If you stroll too far, or the day is hot and humid, give her a rest in the shade and a drink of water at the halfway point, or simply carry her home.

Remember

Although the type of exercise you give a Chihuahua isn’t important, consistency is. She needs exercise in some form all her life. When she’s young, your Manchita may help you invent games that provide excellent exercise. When she’s a senior, you may have to initiate play. The following sections in this chapter dig deeper into these topics.

Games You and Your Chihuahua Can Play

The time has come to introduce your sweet Chi to some fun games. Some Chihuahua games are so much fun, you forget that their main purpose is your Chi’s health! Most healthy, well-adjusted puppies learn physical games in a jiffy, but adult dogs that have never played take a lot longer to adjust. If your mature Chihuahua isn’t interested in playing games after a week or two of opportunities, don’t give up. First, check your attitude. Perhaps you’re trying too hard and making it look like work rather than fun. Next, check your timing. Was your Chi full from dinner or even sleeping when you tried to excite her? A change of attitude or timing may be all it takes to turn her into an avid game player (see Figure 8-2).

Tip

When playing games with your pup, treat her like the healthy animal she is, but don’t overwhelm her with your physical superiority. Because food is a reward in many games, play before her mealtime so she wants to earn a tasty tidbit. Is she a little chunky? Give her a smaller supper if she eats several treats during playtime.

The games I describe in the following sections are fun for Toy dogs of all ages. Show your Chi how to play these games when you’re in a good mood, and always stop playing before she wants to. No matter how much fun a game is, it will feel like work if you keep at it until she’s bored or tired. But if you quit while your Chihuahua is still having fun, she’ll always be eager for the next round.
Figure 8-2: Cricket’s owners encourage her to exercise by playing games with her and providing her with soft toys to play-kill.

 Warning!

Tile and other hard, slippery floor surfaces make maneuvering difficult for dogs. Exercise your Chi on flooring with good traction, on the rug, or in the grass. And participate with her. Even if you have a Chihuahua-safe fenced-in yard, putting your dog outside for an hour or so during nice weather doesn’t guarantee her a good workout. Chihuahuas don’t like to exercise alone any more than most people do. Indoors or out, a Chi won’t get active without a companion. And that companion is you, unless you have more than one dog!

Hide ’n seek

Some physical games are also educational for your Chi. Hide ’n seek is one that may enhance your Chi’s memory and scenting ability. Start playing hide-and-seek by following these steps:
1. Put your pup in another room and close the door.
2. Hide a treat in a different room, perhaps beside a table leg or under a chair (the type she can easily walk under).

3. Open the door, and when she comes into the room, tell her to “Find It” in an excited voice.
Of course, she won’t know what you mean at first, so keep repeating the words while encouraging her toward the treat.
4. Help her locate the goodie, but let her make the actual find.
In other words, she must pick up the treat from the floor, not your hand. When she does, tell her “Goood Dooog” (dogs love words with stretched out sounds) while she eats it — a double reward!
5. Put her back in the other room and place another treat exactly where the first one was.
6. Open the door, say “Find It,” and watch what she does.
You’ll probably have to help her find the treat a few times before she goes straight to it on her own.
7. When she succeeds by herself, repeat the game one more time and then quit for the day. (No, that wasn’t enough action to count as exercise, but later on this game gets lively!)
8. Use the same hiding place for the next few days; soon, she’ll race to the treat all by herself on the first try, with you cheering her on, of course.
9. When she does, throw her a curve. Put the treat in a new hiding place, farther from the starting point, and start over by helping her find it.

Remember

Don’t tell her “No!” when she goes back to the original spot. She’s finding out how to use her memory, and that’s good. Instead, have a treat waiting in the old hiding place every so often (once every five to ten times). Eventually, your Chi will remember several rewarding locations (from one end of the house to the other) and will sprint from room to room until she finds her treats.

10. Continue adding new hiding places (after she’s familiar with all the old ones) as long as she enjoys the game.
Chances are, she may start exercising her sense of smell as well as her body and her memory. Variations of hide ’n seek are easy to create. Adding a second person, perhaps your spouse or child, is one way. Have the person hide behind the drapes or in a closet with the door slightly ajar. Instead of saying “Find It,” ask her “Where’s Tom?” Meanwhile, Tom’s waiting to reward her with a treat.

Catch ’n release

Make yourself a Chihuahua fishing rod and bait it to catch your Chi! Use a piece of string about 5 or 6 feet long and tie one end of it to a stick. Bait the other end by tying on a small stuffed animal or a squeaky toy. Now sit down and start fishing. Puppies usually can’Tip resist little twitches, but try a variety of “casts” to see what movements attract your dog.

Tip

Read your dog and make adjustments for her temperament when teaching and playing games. Some Chihuahuas love to hear you clap and cheer and will play all the harder to keep excitement in the air. Others tend to be more timid, and owners who double as pro cheerleaders may spook them under their couches.

Munchkin in the middle

Munchkin in the middle takes two people and a rubber ball that’Technical Stuff small enough for your Chihuahua to hold in her mouth but too big for her to swallow. Use the ball only for playing games together, and put it away when fun time is over.
To play the game, the partners sit on the floor facing each other, with about 8 feet separating them. From this position, they roll the ball back and forth. You may want to put on a show to entice your Chi to join in at first, so laugh and act like scooping up the ball is a really big deal. If your partner is a child, remind the youngster to roll the ball gently so your Chi doesn’t shy away from it.
Manchita should get curious about all the fun on the floor and try to intercept the ball. When she captures it, clap and cheer her on for a few seconds while she parades her prize (many dogs strut with pride when they capture a ball). Then say “Out,” take the ball from her by trading it for a treat, and start the game over. Gradually increase the distance between the partners so your Chi must run farther when chasing the ball. Be sure to keep her interested by letting her win sometimes (but not all the time!).

Fetching fun

Fetching (retrieving) games are favorites with some Chihuahuas, but others have no interest in them at all. Any number of objects — from sticks, to small balls, to miniature flying discs — are suitable for fetching games, as long as their diameters and weights are compatible with a Chihuahua’s size.

Tiny dogs running free in Aztec palaces!

During the 500 years that the Aztecs ruled Mexico, they had tiny dogs that were pampered by the rich but ignored and sometimes even eaten (according to some historians) by the poor. Montezuma II, last emperor of the Aztec nation, supposedly kept hundreds of Chihuahuas’ ancestors running free in his palace to assure him of a smooth journey after death. Another legend describes an Aztec princess who kept more than a thousand tiny dogs, and each one had its own servant. When a dog died, its servant was slain so he or she could take care of the dog in the next world.
The Techichi’s fortunes fell when the Conquistadors, led by Hernando Cortez, conquered the Aztec nation early in the 16th century. It’s said that the Spanish conquerors used the Indians’ pets and holy dogs for meat. In fact, some historians believe the Conquistadors ate so many Techichis that the tiny dogs nearly became extinct. And for the next 300 years, nothing much is known about Chihuahua history.
When rolling or tossing something to play fetch with your pup, seeing it leave your hand is important for her — especially if she’s a rookie. If she chases the object and brings it all the way back to you, give her a treat and rejoice — she’s a natural! But if the more likely scenario occurs — your Chi chases the object, picks it up, and parades it triumphantly without bringing it back — attach a long leash to her collar before the game begins (see Chapter Welcome Home, Little Amigo for more on this equipment). After she chases and picks up the object, you can gently reel her in while encouraging her in a happy tone. When she brings the object all the way back to you, trade it for a treat. If she drops it long before she reaches you, don’t give her anything, but don’t be upset, either. Many Chihuahuas don’t have a strong retrieving instinct — but that doesn’t mean you should give up. Keep trying occasionally, even if she shows no desire to retrieve. Chis have been known to change their minds a time or two!

Tip

If your Chihuahua loves chasing the object but won’t retrieve it, play ball with three or four balls at a time. Roll one in a straight line. Roll the next one sideways so it rebounds off the wall. Toss the next one so it bounces gently. You get the picture. Soon your Chi will run in all directions.

Remember

Always roll the object away from (never toward) your Chi. You want to awaken her chasing instinct, not spook her into thinking that a strange object is heading for her. Make your tosses short at first, and increase the distance gradually as she catches on.

If retrieving excites your Chi, keep her in that state of mind by limiting the number of times you play to four or five in a row, which is plenty. After that, play something else. If she becomes a fetching fanatic, add variations to the game by rolling the ball a little faster and a lot farther; rolling it so it rebounds off a wall; or throwing it (not hard) so it bounces (instead of rolls) away from her.
Note: If your Chi learns to fetch well — bringing her ball all the way back to you every time — you’ll be able to exercise her the lazy way: right from your recliner!

Technical Stuff

The word retriever is part of some dogs’ breed names. The Labrador Retriever, the Golden Retriever, the Chesapeake Bay Retriever, and the Flat-Coated Retriever are just some of the breeds that are born with the inclination to retrieve. And even they need training to hone their natural talents!

Play-killing a critter

Play-killing a squeaky toy is good exercise, and most Chihuahuas love this sport. If your Chi starts playing this game as a pup, she’ll always get excited when you bring out her mousie, hedgehog, or whatever critter she loves to “kill.” But if you acquired her as an adult and she never learned to play, she may be clueless about what to do with her new critter.

Tip

First, give your Chihuahua time to settle into her new home and actively seek out your attention. When she begins to trust you, it’Technical Stuff time to uncover her sense of humor. To do it, you need to set an example by acting silly first (try it, you’ll like it!) and encouraging her to follow suit.

Choose an exciting squeaky toy with plenty of appendages so her small mouth can easily grip it. Play with the toy yourself while she watches. Throw it, catch it, drop it, and chase it, amid plenty of laughter. That should get her attention.
As she watches you enjoy the toy, occasionally, and only briefly, tease her with it, but don’t give it to her. If another family member joins in, you can roll the toy to each other, squeak it, and shake it — but don’t get wild enough to frighten an insecure dog. After two or three minutes of fun, “accidentally” drop the toy near her to see if she shows interest in it. If she ignores it, pick it up and continue playing for another minute. Then put the toy away until another day.

The first time your Chi takes the toy, allow her to play with it without interference for about 20 seconds. At that point, trade it for a treat, play with it yourself for a few seconds, and then put it away.

Soon, she’ll want a longer turn, so she’ll probably amuse you by tossing and pouncing on the toy and shaking it as hard as she can. Let her play huntress for awhile and then trade the toy for a treat and put it away. Bring the toy out only for this special game, because toys with squeakers aren’t suitable for everyday use.

Warning!

It isn’t a good idea to play tug of war with your dog because it teaches her to compete with you for ownership of objects. Not cool when the object happens to be the cuff of your pants! And dogs just don’t understand the difference between safe tug objects and off-limits tug objects.

Exercising Your Super Senior

One of the wonderful things about dogs is that deep down inside, they’ll always be puppies. They don’t outgrow their toys or become too serious to act silly. Your dog needs exercise all her life. An old dog may amble rather than trot, and that’s just fine. But most senior Chihuahuas retain their sense of humor and their desire to participate in activities.
The same games puppies play appeal to Chihuahuas of all ages — especially when a treat is involved. Many sassy seniors still playkill their mousies, and hide ’n seek is a perennial favorite. Watch your golden oldie’s weight, though, and reduce the size of her dinner if she already downed several treats.

Tip

Keep your mature Chi interested by varying the routine — a nice, slightly-longer-than-usual walk one day and an indoor game the next. Daily physical activity — even a mild activity such as walking — will help keep your senior’s muscles strong and her weight down.

Warning!

If your old dog suddenly ignores her favorite toy, refuses to play the games she’s always loved, or doesn’t get excited about going for a walk, see your veterinarian (see Chapter Visiting the Vet). Something may be very wrong.

by Jacqueline O’Neil

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