Getting Physical: Exercising Your Beagle

Love Dog
In This Chapter
  • Understanding how exercise benefits your Beagle (and you)
  • Incorporating exercise into everyday activities
  • Discovering dog sports
  • Exercising your older Beagle

For most of my life, I was an intermittent exerciser. Workouts weren’t part of my thinking, much less my schedule. Every time I read an article by some buff expert extolling the benefits of exercising for at least 30 minutes three times a week, I’d mutter to myself, “Yeah, and who’s got the time? Not me.”

Then I went on a cruise to the Caribbean, and to rid myself of the guilt that I felt after I ate way too much delicious food, I headed to the ship’s gym to put in some time on the treadmill and exercise machines. To my considerable surprise, I enjoyed myself — and to my supreme relief, my clothes still fit me at the end of the cruise. Those results sold me, and when I returned to dry land, I joined a nearby gym. Today, my clothes still fit me, I’ve toned up, and I deal with stress a heck of a lot better than I did before I joined the gym.

The same benefits that we get from exercise our dogs also get, if we take the time to make sure they get their daily workouts. This chapter explains how exercise not only benefits your Beagle, but also you. In addition, I list a bunch of sports that can keep your Beagle trim and toned well into his golden years, not to mention mentally sharp and much better behaved than might otherwise be the case.

Keep Him Moving, Keep Yourself Happy

Dog trainers constantly tell their human clients that a tired dog is a happy dog — and for good reason. The pooch who has had the chance to flex his muscles and use his brainpower is generally too pooped to get into mischief such as unwinding toilet paper, pilfering laundry, and engaging in other activities that don’t please his people. Put another way, a dog who stays out of mischief results in a happy dog owner — and that generally leads full circle to a happy dog.
Plus, getting and staying in shape feels just as good to your Beagle as it does to you. Regular exercise not only prevents the boredom that gets him into hot water with you — it also does wonderful things for his body and overall health. The Beagle who stays in shape has a healthier heart and lungs, less fat on his body, greater mobility, and fewer aches and pains than his couch-potato counterpart. Those health advantages will become increasingly important to your Beagle as he ages.
Finally, exercise gives your Beagle a chance to be with the individual who matters (or should matter) more to him than anyone else: you. That’s because Snoopy-dogs are social creatures, and they’re not likely to exert themselves to any great extent unless their people are there to do it with them. They need their people not only to show them the moves that will keep them in shape, but also just to keep them company.
And isn’t your Beagle’s company the reason that you added him to your life in the first place? He’s a delightful little guy, and having the chance to do stuff with him gives you opportunities to enjoy him for the unique individual that he is. Helping your Beagle stay in shape keeps your relationship with him in shape, too. Doing so need not take a whole lot of time: A couple of brisk 15- to 20-minute walks per day may be all he needs. Of course, your Beagle may be such wonderful company that you may need and want a whole lot more time with him than that!

Trying Everyday Exercises

You don’t have to join a doggy gym or invest in fancy equipment to give your Beagle a good workout. The stuff you do every day can, with a little tweaking, become part of great exercise routine for any dog. Here are some ideas.

Walk on the wild side

In all likelihood, you’ll be walking your Beagle anyway, simply to take him to his outdoor potty. But why not go beyond the thricedaily bathroom break, and go for a stroll with your little guy?
And if you’re a couch potato by nature, take heart. A leisurely stroll for you can be a brisk walk for a Beagle, whose little legs have to move at a quick pace to keep up with your relatively long-limbed strides. A 20-minute walk around a couple of blocks gets your Beagle buddy moving and gives the two of you some quality time together. And a daily stroll is especially good for a senior dog, because walking provides gentle exercise that’s kind to an older pooch’s joints, muscles, and ligaments.
Chapter Schooling Your Beagle explains how to teach your dog to walk politely when he’s on a leash. When you and he are out and about, though, keep the following safety precautions in mind:

Keep it cool. Black-topped pavement heated to furnace-level temperatures by the summer sun is very unkind to a Beagle’s tender paw pads. Avoid walking on such surfaces during the summer so your dog’s feet don’t burn.

Avoid extremes. If the weather’s too hot or too cold for you to take a long hike, the same is true for your Beagle. Keep the walks short during summer heat waves and winter deep-freezes.

Heed your dog. If your Beagle limps, lags, or otherwise can’t keep up with you, stop to rest, or at least slow your pace. If your normally energetic Beagle suddenly can’t keep up with you during walks, have your veterinarian check him out. A sudden loss of energy may signal the onset of a serious illness.

Use the leash. The Beagle’s reputation for wandering off in whatever direction his nose takes him means that you must — absolutely must — keep him on the leash unless you’re in an area that’s enclosed by a secure fence.

Jog your memory (or at least your feet)

For the relatively fit Beagle, a jog with his favorite person can prove even more beneficial than a walk. The aerobic benefits multiply, and the Beagle expends considerably more calories than he does when walking. Jogging also tires out your little hound faster than a walk does, which could prove helpful if he must spend time on his own later. (A Beagle who’s had a good jog will be too tired to get into any mischief!) Jogging also delivers many benefits to your body — but that’s a subject for another book.
The same guidelines for walking apply to jogging with two additions.

– If your dog shows any signs of discomfort (such as limping), don’t jog him at all.

– Try not to jog on concrete — for the sake of his knees and yours. Instead, opt for a softer surface such as a jogging trail, bike trail shoulder, or even grass if it’s not slippery.

Get in the swim

Doggy-style swimming is one of the best exercises your Beagle can engage in. A dip in a pond or pool gives your dog’s joints, ligaments, and muscles a terrific workout without causing the strain that weight-bearing exercises such as walking and jogging may entail — a benefit that’s especially helpful for dogs who are overweight, arthritic, or recovering from surgery or injury.
Your local pond or nearby creek can serve as a puppy pool. You can also find an honest-to-goodness heated pool (but probably not your local public pool) for your Beagle to execute his water ballet moves in: Just log onto any Internet search engine and type dog hydrotherapy and United States. You’ll come up with plenty of results. (Some places require referral from a veterinarian.)
But no matter where you take your Beagle to swim, make sure that the experience is positive for him. Swimming is great for any dog, including a Beagle — but some dogs take longer than others to appreciate this activity. If your Snoopy-dog is a skittish swimmer, give him time to get used to the pool or pond. Have him wear a doggy life jacket to help him stay afloat, and throw floatable treats such as oyster crackers into the pool to give him a reason to start paddling. In a pond or creek, go in ahead of him, and use a treat or toy to coax him to come to you and into the water.

Great Sports for You and Your Beagle

Wanna go beyond everyday athletics with your Beagle? This section’s for you. Here are descriptions of all kinds of doggy sports and other activities that you and your little hound might enjoy participating in together.

Goin’ to the show

The oldest and best known of the organized dog sports is the dog show, which is known more formally as conformation. That formal term makes a great deal of sense, because dog shows measure how well each dog conforms to the standard of his breed — that blueprint for a perfect Beagle or other dog breed that I describe in Chapter The Incredible, Lovable Beagle.
Does your dog have what it takes to excel in the show ring? Maybe yes, maybe no. If you’re a dog-show novice, take your Beagle to a reputable breeder and have her evaluate him. She can examine your little hound and tell you how he stacks up against the Beagle breed standard. Attend a few local dog shows, too, and get a feeling for how they work. (Flip to the color section to see Beagles participating in a dog show.)

Tip

If you’ve already spayed or neutered your Beagle, forget about showing him. The American Kennel Club, which sponsors many dog shows, does not permit the exhibition of a dog who has been snipped.

If your Beagle does have the stuff — and if you haven’t neutered him yet (or spayed your female) — you can read up on the dogshow world. Two books to start with are Dog Showing for Beginners by Lynn Hall (Howell Book House) and The Absolute Beginner’s Guide to Showing Your Dog by Cheryl S. Smith (Three Rivers Press). The resources section at the end of this book lists magazines that can help you pilot your Beagle’s show-dog career, or just decide whether you want to start it in the first place.

Stay the (agility) course

Does your Beagle like to race around the house, jump atop the couch, or burrow underneath it? Can he turn corners on a dime while barely slowing down? Then your dog may be a fine candidate for the increasingly popular, exciting canine sport of agility.
In agility, a human handler directs her dog through an obstacle course that consists of tunnels (under-the-couch burrowers should find these a cinch to navigate), teeter-totters, hurdles, weave poles, A-frames, and balance beams. Almost any breed can learn this sport, but you may find it tough to teach your dog yourself. Not to worry, though. Plenty of professional dog trainers hold classes in beginning agility. (To get an idea of an obstacle your Beagle may encounter on an agility course, check out the photo in the color section.) And if you plan on competing your dog, plan on getting yourself in shape, too. At the competition level, agility is strenuous exercise for both dog and handler.
You can also supplement your class work with reading. If you think you may want to enter your Beagle in agility competitions, check out All About Agility by Jacqueline O’Neil (Howell Book House). If, however, you think you just want your Beagle to do agility for kicks, browse through Having Fun with Agility by Margaret H. Bonham (Howell Book House). You can get even more info about agility from the American Kennel Club (www.akc.org); the North American Dog Agility Council (www.nadac.com); and the United States Dog Agility Association (www.usdaa.com).

Fetch that flyball

If your Beagle wants to get in touch with his inner Retriever, you and he may want to take up flyball, a sport that’s as exciting and fast-paced as agility.
Flyball is a relay race that requires each dog on a team to run to a box-shaped ball launcher. The dog presses his paw on a lever that activates a spring inside the box and releases the ball. After the dog catches the ball, he races over hurdles back to the starting point. The next dog in line starts the cycle all over again. The fastest team wins the competition.
The North American Flyball Association sponsors flyball competitions, and its Web site is www.flyball.org. Here you can find general information about the sport. If you’re looking for more specific info, such as where to find a flyball class, log onto the Flyball Home Page at www.flyballdogs.com. There you can find a comprehensive, searchable database of teams from all over the United States — including, in all likelihood, a team that trains in your area. Many of these teams offer classes for prospective flyball pooches and their people.

Opt for obedience

Obedience is exactly what it sounds like: an activity that tests a dog’s ability to obey commands amid numerous distractions (for example, a bunch of other dogs and people nearby). In obedience trials, a judge scores a dog for each command the dog performs. If a dog earns at least 150 out of a possible 200 points in a single match, he earns a leg toward an obedience title. Three legs brings an obedience title. Earn more legs, and the dog earns still more titles, up to the ultimate accolades: Obedience Trial Champion and National Obedience Champion (earned by one dog each year at the AKC National Obedience Invitational).
Not surprisingly, Beagles don’t dominate most lists of top obedience dogs. The independent, easily distracted Snoopy-dog may have more trouble than other breeds when he tries to execute commands precisely or perform mistake-free maneuvers. But so what? Winning isn’t everything. No matter where your Beagle places, obedience can certainly help build the bond between the two of you, and can keep your dog sharp as a tack. Info about the world of competitive obedience is available from the American Kennel Club at www.akc.org/events/obedience.

Rally-ho!

Some people — and probably, their Beagles, too — consider the world of competitive obedience to be incredibly dull. They find the precisely scripted exercises to be too difficult and too yawn-inducing to be any fun. At the same time, though, they find agility too strenuous, particularly if the dog is older or the person doesn’t have the energy to run all over the agility course alongside the dog. They’d love to find a sport that’s more interesting than obedience but less active than agility.
That sport has arrived, and it’s called rally obedience. In this sport, a dog and handler complete a course of 10 to 20 stations that’s been designed by the rally judge. At each station, a sign tells the team what the dog needs to do there. For example, your Beagle may perform a Sit or walk a figure 8 around the sign. The judge scores the team on how well it performs the maneuvers.
Rally obedience is a great activity for a Beagle and his person. Although the Beagle’s independence and distractibility can make this sport more of a challenge for him than for other breeds, he can still do well. In fact, three Beagles accumulated national ranking points during 2005, the most recent year that such information was available when this book was written.
Two organizations — the American Kennel Club and the Association of Pet Dog Trainers — sponsor rally obedience competitions and titles. Information about the AKC Rally program is available at the AKC Web site at www.akc.org/events/rally. To find out more about the Association of Pet Dog Trainers’s Rally Obedience program, log onto www.apdt.com/po/rally.

Dance with me: Canine freestyle

Are you musically inclined? Do you like to trip the light fantastic? Is dancing your idea of heaven? Well, surprisingly, you can dance with a four-footed partner — your Beagle — in the relatively new sport of canine freestyle. In canine freestyle, you and your Beagle perform maneuvers that are set to music. Your dog might circle around you, spin, or perform a flip in response to your signals and in time to the music.
After you and your dog take some classes in canine freestyle and determine whether this sport is for the two of you, check out the info offered by two groups that promote this rhythmic pursuit. The World Canine Freestyle Organization (WCFO) was founded by Patie Ventre, a dog lover who once was a competitive ballroom dancer. The WCFO Web site is www.worldcaninefreestyle.org. The other group is the Canine Freestyle Federation Inc. This group’s Web site includes a list of nationwide organizations that hold canine freestyle classes. Find out more by logging onto www.canine-freestyle.org.

Join the hunt: Field trials

The Beagle’s original reason for being was to hunt rabbits and other small animals — and today’s dog still has the stuff needed to do just that. And although you may not need your little hound to help you hunt your own food, you can still give him a chance to tap into his deepest instincts by introducing him to field trials.

Technical Stuff

The American Kennel Club has devised field trials for almost every type of hunting dog or hound dog. For example, Golden Retrievers, Labrador Retrievers, and other retriever breeds can participate in events that test their ability to bring water fowl back to their handlers under various conditions. Other breeds, such as the Dachshund, the Basset Hound, as well as all Spaniels and Pointers, have similar opportunities to get back in touch with their roots.

Field trials for Beagles measure the dogs’ abilities to track and trail rabbits and other small game. These events have many forms:

Brace: Determines the hunting ability of a pair of Beagles

Small pack: Measures the talent of a group of as many as nine Beagles

Large pack: Rates the performance of between 30 and 60 dogs

Gun dog brace: Ascertains how a pair of dogs reacts to the sound of gunfire

Field trials for Beagles are classified by height and gender. Thirteen-inch Beagles run only with other 13-inch Beagles; the same is true with 15-inchers. Dogs also are separated by sex — no co-ed field trials for Snoopy-dogs! Female dogs in heat may not participate (just think of how distracted all those male dogs would be!). Spayed or neutered dogs may not participate, either, because field trials, like conformation (see the “Goin’ to the Show” section in this chapter), aim to showcase the best breeding stock.
The event starts with the flushing out of a rabbit. When a rabbit is sighted, the cry “Tallyho!” is sounded. The dogs are expected to pick up the scent of the rabbit and bark, at which point they’re let off leash to track the bunny. Judges assess each participant’s tracking ability, determination, and intensity. Certain mistakes, such as going the wrong way and quitting altogether, result in a dog’s elimination from its pack until a winner eventually emerges.
More info on Beagle field trials is available from the American Kennel Club at www.akc.org/events/field_trials/beagles.Another place to find out more is at the American Rabbit Hound Association, which you can find on the World Wide Web at www.arha.com.

Get on the right track

Although Beagles were built to hunt rabbits and hares, their incredibly sensitive noses allow them to find just about anything. To harness this ability without involving those sweet little bunnies, Beagle owners may find competing in tracking events to be a worthwhile pursuit. Unlike field trials, tracking events are open to all breeds. The objective is to measure a dog’s ability to recognize and follow a human scent until the person is found.
The American Kennel Club offers three tracking titles:

Tracking Dog (TD): For following a track of up to 440 to 500 yards with several turns

Tracking Dog Excellent (TDX): For following an older track of up to 1,000 yards with more turns

Variable Surface Tracking (VST): For tracking a scent for up to 800 yards over at least three different surfaces A dog who earns all three titles is awarded the title of Champion Tracker (CT). More information about tracking is available from the American Kennel Club at www.akc.org/events/tracking.

Adjusting for Age

Exercise is as good for senior Beagles as it is for their younger counterparts, but that doesn’t mean that they should conduct their workouts the same way that youthful hounds do. Older dogs are more likely to have special health issues that can limit their endurance or their ability to engage in certain activities. And even senior Snoopy-dogs who don’t have specific health issues need to adjust their physical activities to fit the limitations that aging may impose. Here are some ways to do just that:

Go softer. If you and your Beagle have always jogged on sidewalks or streets, move to softer terrain that will be easier on his hips and joints. Grass is good as long as it’s not wet (and slippery); so are roadside or trailside shoulders.

Limber up. A warm-up (such as a slow walk before beginning to jog) will help keep your senior dog from getting injured or overworking his muscles and joints.

Have water at the ready. Your Beagle needs water to prevent dehydration. Bring some along with you.

Work out regularly. Regular exercise is the key to minimizing your senior fitness fanatic’s pain and strain. Plan to work out with him at least three to four times every week.

Adjust for the weather. An older dog feels warmth or cold more keenly than a young one does, so don’t exercise your senior when the weather is either very hot or very cold.

Watch your Beagle. Let your dog tell you when he’s had enough exercise for now. If he’s lagging behind, slowing his pace, and panting heavily, it’s time for him to quit.

Lots more information on living with and loving an older Beagle appears in Chapter Dealing with Health Issues.

by Susan McCullough

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