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Who says that exercise must be limited to sweating at your local gym, fighting for the only unoccupied elliptical machine, or failing to keep pace in a spinning class? You can stay in shape — and have fun — by teaming up with a playful workout partner: your dog.
Regular exercise provides pets and people with physical and mental benefits. Exercise releases endorphins, helps maintain proper weight, improves coordination and balance, and it helps improve strength. Plus, studies show that people are more likely to continue with a weight-loss program if they exercise with their pets.
Before starting an exercise program with your pet, book appointments with your doctor and your pet’s veterinarian for complete physical examinations. Discuss the best workout plan for your pet, based on his health, age, body shape and likes and dislikes. After all, your Basset Hound may surprise you with very Retriever-like behaviors by insisting on fetching a tennis ball again and again. Dr. Marty Becker notes, “Remember to allow a few minutes for you and your dog to warm up, increase exercise gradually as fitness improves and always follow exercise programs recommended by your pet’s veterinarian and your doctor.”
Our experts have identified several terrific options for getting fit with your canine pal:
Walking. Progressively work up to 20 to 45 minutes of walking at a brisk pace with your dog every day, if possible. Vary the route to offer new challenges (and new scents), such as hills, bark-filled paths and sandy beaches. Use this time to reinforce basic obedience commands such as “sit” and “down.” Encourage your dog to walk backward and move in a circle to work various muscles and enhance flexibility. If you notice your pup slowing down or lagging behind, return home and shorten the next session. Your dog should always be out in front of you or beside you — not trailing behind. And, be on the lookout for heavy panting or other signs that your partner is working too hard.
Fetching. For dogs that love to chase, find a safe place for them to be unleashed and let them zoom after their favorite ball or other object. Help prevent injuries to your throwing arm by using a ball tosser that can fling the ball farther than you can on your own. Keep your dog’s interest by flinging the object in different directions and to a variety of distances.
Swimming. Exercising in the water offers a good workout for muscles without the jarring impact that is associated with jogging. Seek a clean pool or body of water free of undertows and currents. Make sure your dog always wears a canine life preserver when he's in the water. When finished, always rinse off your dog with water and a mild dog-safe shampoo.
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