Exercising Your Dog

Love Dog

 In This Chapter

  • Figuring out how much exercise your dog needs
  • Finding fun activities to do with your dog
Dogs are extreme athletes. They require exercise to remain healthy and happy. Few are natural couch potatoes — but they become couch potatoes after living with humans for a while. Some breeds don’t require much exercise, but the majority of breeds do.
Your mixed-breed dog probably has at least some ancestors who had a drive to work, hunt, or herd. Your dog may not be a purebred hunting, working, or herding dog, but that doesn’t mean that his drive to go out and chase rabbits or herd cows has disappeared. Your job is to find exercise activities that can help your dog satisfy his natural instincts.
In this chapter, I fill you in on how much exercise your dog needs and give you some suggestions for activities to try with your dog.

Tip

Regardless of how you give your dog his exercise, you can be certain he’ll have the most fun if you share the activities with him.

Knowing How Much Exercise Your Dog Needs

A dog’s exercise requirements depend on many factors, including his age, breed combination, and size. For example, dogs who have Herding blood need to run and exercise a lot every day, because they were designed to help farmers, while dogs with Sporting blood generally won’t need more than a couple of good long games of fetch, because their jobs traditionally were to aid hunters in locating and returning game.

Puppies

Your puppy will go through several stages of development that will affect his level of energy. Some studies suggest that a dog matures the equivalent of 21 human years within his first year of life and 5 years each year thereafter. If you consider the behavioral stages of people (and puppies), this is a good assumption. Imagine taking a child all the way from infancy to the legal drinking age in one year — that’s what you have when you bring home a puppy!
Physically, the puppy grows from a little, short legged, roly-poly, round-faced cutie into a dog with a sleek, more angular physique. After the first year, your dog won’t change much physically.

Tip

Here’s an overview of what kind of energy levels (and exercise requirements) you can expect from your pup in the first year of his life:

Four weeks to three months: Between the ages of 4 weeks and 3 months, pups tend to sleep most of the time. They have short little bursts of energy but they quickly tire out. A few minutes outside and they’re beat.

Three to four months: When a pup is about 3 to 4 months old, his energy level changes a bit. He’ll play more and for longer periods of time. This is when your pup begins testing his position in the pack — he’ll display dominance when he plays with you or other dogs. He’ll get into tug-of-war games in earnest. Fetch becomes a fantastic idea. Chasing butterflies is also very exciting. On average, a dog of this age requires a half-hour of exercise at least five times a day.

Five to seven months: At the age of 5 to 7 months, your puppy will be at the peak of adolescence. This is the period when he’ll need more exercise than he will at any other time in his life. Not only will he be testing his pack position, but he’ll be very easily distracted and want to do a zillion things at once (just like the typical teenager). At this age, your puppy needs loads of exercise! An adolescent dog requires at least several hours of exercise each day; if your dog is a mixture of the Herding, Sporting, or Terrier breeds, I recommend even more. Your dog will need the freedom to run in a safely fenced area. Play with other dogs is the best means of blowing off steam. Though your pup will quickly tire during training sessions, these aren’t enough to rid him of the zoomies.

Eight to ten months: Between 8 and 10 months, your young dog is still full of energy, but he’s able to channel it a bit better. If you offer him regular activities, he’ll be happy to participate. He’ll also begin showing signs of maturity, with a better understanding of the house rules. He’ll have more moments of lying at your feet than in the previous three months. An older adolescent dog still needs lots of exercise time; I suggest two to three hours each day. His exercise can be a combination of play with other dogs and a regulated activity such as a training session.

Ten months to one year: Between 10 and 12 months, your dog has become an adult. Don’t worry — he’ll still be playful and energetic. In fact, many dogs are energetic well into old age. If you give appropriate exercise outlets, you’ll have a happy, healthy, easy-to-manage companion. Your dog will require a regular exercise regimen, but his activity can be more concentrated, such as training time, hiking, biking, or jogging. The zoomies are gone.

Warning!

Growing dogs need lots of exercise. Confining them daily for extended periods of time is detrimental to their physical and mental development. Young dogs need to stretch their legs and minds as they mature. You’ll need to discover the proper balance in order to train your dog the house rules, as well as allow him to “be a dog.” Though you should confine him in a safe area when you can’t be with him, be sure to observe him closely at play when you’re home. Make sure to follow an exercise regimen with your dog. If you exercise with him, it can be great for bonding — and for your own health as well as his.

Adult dogs

How much exercise an adult dog needs depends in large part on his breed. Even if you don’t know exactly which breeds make up your mixed-breed dog’s family tree, you can probably make a good guess about which general breed groups he’s a part of. For example, you can generally tell a hound from a terrier. If you’re just not sure about your dog, talk to your vet — she’ll probably be able to steer you in the right direction.

Table 9-1 shows some general recommendations for the amount of exercise different dogs need based on their breed group. If you know your dog has the genetics of one of these breed groups, you’ll have a fairly good idea of how much exercise your dog will need.

Table 9-1
Breed Group Exercise Requirements
Breed Group
Energy Level
Minimum Hours of Exercise Per Day
Sporting
High
3
Hound
Medium
2
Working
Medium
2
Terrier
High
2
Toy
Medium to low
1
Non-Sporting
Varies Greatly
1 – 3
Herding
Very high
4

Remember

Table 9-1 lists the minimum amount of exercise the dog needs every day. If you have a hound and you want to exercise him more than one hour a day, your dog won’t have any problems (as long as you increase the amount of exercise gradually, just as you’d do yourself). But if you have a Herding dog and you only give him an hour of exercise a day, the results could be disastrous. If you’re not giving your dog enough exercise, he’ll find all kinds of creative ways to burn calories on his own — by chewing and digging holes and doing all sorts of things that’ll drive you crazy.

If you have a high-energy dog who needs three to four hours of exercise each day, don’t panic. There are ways to work this into your lifestyle. You don’t have to take your dog on one long three-or four-hour run. In fact, it’s healthier for your dog if the exercise is broken up throughout the day. You can take him out for a long walk first thing in the morning, play tag or fetch with him in the afternoon, and take him for another long walk or training session in the evening. Let him blow off some steam playing with other dogs, too.

Remember

If you exercise your dog and give him a structured lifestyle, he’ll be a great companion.

Although allowing your dog to run in a large fenced area is nice, it isn’t as fulfilling to your dog as taking him for a walk around the neighborhood or hiking in the woods. Your dog wants to exercise with you. If you can’t do this on a regular basis, you should have more than one dog — dogs will play with each other if you can’t be there to participate. However, they still would prefer to involve you in the games.

Remember

Dogs are athletes. They need to use their energy in a positive manner. Participating in activities with your dog will fill this need, while improving the bond you have with your mixed-breed dog.

Older dogs

As your dog gets older, his energy level won’t be what it was when he was a pup. But he still needs exercise — not as much as when he was younger, but definitely a good hour per day.

Tip

The trick to exercising your older dog is to break up that hour throughout the day instead of trying to do it all at once. Most older dogs receive plenty of exercise through two to three 20-minute walks each day.

So how do you know if your dog is old? The concept of age is relative to the dog’s breed mixture and size. The giant breeds, such as Great Danes and Mastiffs, rarely live more than 9 years, on average. The Retriever and Setter breeds average 10 to 12 years. Large Hounds 10 years, smaller Hounds 12 to 14 years. Spaniel breeds often live 13 to 14 years, but Terrier breeds can live 14 to 16 years. There is a bit of a theme to this that you can apply to your mixed-breed dog: Smaller dogs tend to live longer — they don’t age as quickly as larger dogs.
So the age of your dog depends largely on his size, not necessarily the breeds that constitute his genetics, though there are many exceptions to this generalization. For example, English Bulldogs, a mid-sized breed, don’t live much beyond 10 years, while other midsized breeds, such as Cocker Spaniels, have a lifespan upwards of 14 years.

Remember

Whether your mixed-breed dog just entered middle age or has become geriatric, he still needs exercise in order to remain healthy. As dogs age, arthritis and other physical ailments begin to degenerate their skeletal structure. Regular walks help maintain the muscle tone around their joints, improving their overall ability to move.

Finding an Activity Your Dog Enjoys

Actually, maybe I should’ve called this section “Finding an Activity That You Enjoy Doing with Your Dog.” Dogs like almost any activity, as long as it’s active. And they like any activity that you do with them. In the following sections, I cover some basic activities that you can do with your dog to exercise him, as well as some activities that are a little more out of the ordinary. Take your pick — the more variety you give your dog, the happier he’ll be!

Walking

Most dog owners get their dogs so that they’ll have someone to accompany them on long walks. And most dogs are very happy to fill this role.
Regardless of where you live, taking a walk with your dog is fun, healthy, and a great means of developing and maintaining a bond with your canine.

Jogging and running

Jogging or running is probably the best way of ensuring that both you and your dog are getting enough exercise. Most runners are consistent — they go on their daily runs regardless of weather or schedule. This consistency is the best thing for your mixed-breed dog.
Running with your dog has many benefits.

– It’s excellent exercise.

– Your dog learns to stay at your side regardless of distractions.

– If you run on a hard surface, your dog’s nails won’t have to be trimmed often (or at all), because the pavement will naturally file them for you.

– It’s a great way of bonding with your dog.

Tip

Though you may run 3 miles or more when you exercise, don’t start your mixed-breed dog at this rate. He needs to gradually build up tolerance to this distance. Begin him at 1 mile and over a period of two weeks gradually increase his exercise tolerance to match yours.

Warning!

Don’t feed your dog within an hour before or after strenuous exercise. Some dogs are prone to bloat (a twisting of the stomach due to gaseous intake).

Biking

Biking, and having your dog run by your side, is another great way for your dog to burn off his excess energy.

Warning!

If you decide to give biking a try, take several precautions because you, and your dog, can easily be injured:

Acclimate your dog to your bicycle. Some dogs would rather chase bikes than run alongside them. Utilize the heeling exercises in Chapter Hup, Two, Three, Four: Good Manners and Basic Training, and apply them to this situation as follows:

  1. Have your dog heel with you as you push your bicycle.
  2. When he’s working well, get on your bike, but keep your feet on the ground to move it.
  3. When your dog is walking nicely at your side, get on the bike and pedal slowly.
  4. Gradually increase the speed as your dog performs well moving with you.

Make sure your dog stays on the side of you that is away from the road. This will prevent his being hit by a car if he suddenly lunges outward. You can buy a product that will safely tether your dog to your bike. It’s a metal bar that attaches to the bike with a hook on the other end to affix your dog’s leash. This will keep your dog with you, while also keeping him a safe enough distance from the wheels.

Remember

There isn’t a product available that will keep your dog watching you instead of wanting to socialize with the neighbors’ dog as you go by. Your mixed-breed dog must learn to remain with you regardless of distractions. This takes obedience training (see Chapter Hup, Two, Three, Four: Good Manners and Basic Training). You might want to begin with walking and running prior to bike riding, to prepare your dog for remaining with you regardless of your pace.

Tip

While you ride your bike or run on a hard surface, your dog is running on that surface — barefoot! Without the benefit of booties your dog might injure his pads. I highly recommend a pad conditioner (just a cream that you can rub on your dog’s pads) along with some type of pad protection.

Fetch

Many dogs enjoy this game, and it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort on your part. When you develop a routine of playing fetch, you can teach your mixed-breed dog a variety of themes on the game. Here are a few suggestions:
  • Fetch a specific toy.
  • Find and fetch a toy.
  • Go find a person.
  • Fetch a toy and place it in a box.
  • Fetch two toys at the same time.
If your dog is not into fetching, you can entice him into it. Any dog can learn to point out something, if it has positive benefits. The following steps teach your dog how to target (touch something with his nose):

1. Take your dog’s favorite toy and place a treat on it.

2. When he goes to get his treat, make a specific noise, such as clicking a clicker, or saying “Yes!” in an enthusiastic tone of voice.

3. Repeat Steps 1 and 2 three times.

Now your dog knows something good comes from touching that toy. He’ll go touch it without your having to put a treat on it.

4. When your dog goes to touch the toy, the moment your dog touches the toy make the same noise as before and give him a reward.

5. Repeat Step 4 three times.

6. Move the toy to a new location and repeat these prior steps.

You can play this game with any number of objects and can even turn into a retrieving game. It’s merely a matter of gradually increasing your criteria prior to giving your dog his reward. For example, you reward him for touching, and he quickly understands that concept. Next you hold out for him to actually put his mouth on the object before making that specific noise and rewarding him. Follow this with not rewarding until he actually picks up the object. In small steps, you can easily teach most dogs to accomplish any behavior you want. And your dog will love the challenge of learning to do what you’re asking.

Hiking

Hiking is similar to walking, but unlike a walk, where you’re likely in your neighborhood, on a hike, you and your dog head out into the woods or mountains. You may not be able to count on hiking every day, depending on where you live and what your schedule is like, but it can be a great addition to your dog’s exercise routine.

Tip

Before you leave for your hike, make sure you’re familiar with the canine-related rules for the area. Most state parks require dogs to be leashed. Regardless of where you go, always have a leash with you in case your dog becomes unruly or more interested in chasing squirrels than listening to you.

A couple more items you’ll want to pack are a collapsible water bowl and a bottle of fresh water. When dogs exercise — and you can be sure your dog will be getting a lot of that while hiking with you — they need to drink lots of water. Many lakes, streams, and rivers are contaminated with bacteria, so you want to make certain that your mixed breed isn’t drinking from them. If you give him a fresh water supply before, during, and after your hike, you shouldn’t have to worry about him looking for water elsewhere.
Carry a few treats with you so that every time your dog looks and/or returns to you of his own accord, he gets a reward for doing so. This will tend to keep him closer to you and less likely to run after other hikers.
If you’ve been hiking for some time and your dog is just starting to go with you, you’ll need to gradually increase his tolerance to the exercise. Dogs will keep going until they drop, so be aware of signs showing that he’s getting tired. These include
  • Heavy panting
  • Lying down whenever you pause
  • Droopy eyes and ears
  • A slow pace
Be sure to check his pads when you take a break. He doesn’t have the benefit of hiking boots like you do, and you may be crossing rocky terrain that can easily slice his pads. Have a small first-aid pack handy (see Chapter Not Just for Purebreds: Showing Off with Your Mixed Breed), just in case.

Swimming

Most dogs love to swim and can do so naturally. Even those who don’t enjoy bathing, may still like wading in a creek or along the shore of a lake or ocean. If your mixed breed reliably listens to you off-leash, he can safely go swimming. You can make it even more enjoyable by throwing some floating toys into the water for fetching games. Remember: Your dog will prefer to play games with you rather than just swim around.

Tip

Swimming can be a great way for older dogs with arthritis to get exercise. They get a workout without the impact that walking brings with it. Some vets even recommend water therapy for dogs who are arthritic. All the more reason to get your young dog interested in the water — that way, as he ages, you can make swimming an even bigger part of his exercise routine.

Ahoy, matie! Boating with your mixed-breed dog

Few dogs wouldn’t like to sit at the bow of a boat with their noses to the wind. Watersports are very popular and lots of fun if your mixed breed can participate. Several kinds of watersports can be dangerous for your dog, so take the appropriate precautions. Some people like to ride with their dogs on Jet Skis. Although it looks like a lot of fun, there’s no safety net at all, and you can’t concentrate the way you should if you’re worried about your dog falling off. Another activity to be wary of is sailboating. Because sailboats usually tilt on their sides when the wind hits the sails, a dog can easily slide off and into the water.
Regardless of the type of boating you do, make sure your dog is wearing a flotation device. Dogs are usually good swimmers, but strong currents, waves, the wake of other watercraft, and undertow can all be dangerous for your dog — a canine life vest is essential in case of emergency. And because you never know when an emergency may strike, put the vest on your dog while you’re still on dry land, and keep it on him until he’s safely back.
When you can’t have your hands on your dog, he should be securely contained either below deck or within a seating area where he can’t get his feet up on the side rails or put his nose over the side. He’ll appreciate the wind in his nose, but saltwater won’t be as pleasant.

Horse and hound

Horse and hound is one of my all-time favorite activities — and it’s great exercise for a dog! I love riding horses, and having my dogs with me during our adventures makes them extra special. Horses and hounds have been hunting together for millennia, so there’s no reason why your mixed breed can’t learn how to respect the horse, watch the horse’s leg movements, and listen to your requests at the same time. Dogs are great at multitasking, especially when it means a long run through fields and woods.

Remember

Before taking off in a run, you’ll need to acclimate your dog to horses. Horses are prey animals, and dogs are predators, so you have to teach your dog to control his natural instincts and to listen to you from a distance as well. The guidelines in Chapter Hup, Two, Three, Four: Good Manners and Basic Training will help you train your dog so that participating in horse and hound is fun and safe for both the hound and the horse.

by Miriam Fields-Babineau

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