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“The dog is the god of frolic,” Henry Ward Beecher proclaimed in the 1880s. He was — and still is — right. Today, we’re fortunate to share a long list of frolic-filled opportunities with our pets. The easy part is inviting your four-legged pal to join in the fun. The hard part? Deciding on which out of a long list of outdoor activities to choose.
Heading out to your backyard or local park with your best friend isn’t just about fun — it’s about exercise, too, which your dog needs to stay healthy. Exercise can help support your pup's joint, muscle and heart health; help him maintain or lose weight; and stimulate his mind. Consider your dog’s favorite activities and skills to help decide on the sport he will most enjoy when the two of you head outside for some physical fun.
As with all activities, safety comes first. Before you start a new activity with your animal, he should have a veterinary checkup to make sure he doesn't have any underlying medical conditions that could prevent him from working out.
Take your time introducing new activities to your pet. Ease your dog in slowly with very basic activities first, like carrying around a flying disc or walking over flattened jumps. If your pet sits down or isn't enthusiastic about the activity, listen to him and stop for the day.
Pets may be sore the next day or two after a vigorous workout, so consider dialing back the intensity of the workout or alternating your new activity with days of rest. Remember, you’re supposed to be enjoying yourselves, not overexerting. A good obedience program, a thorough checkup by your veterinarian and a healthy dose of common sense can help keep things fun and safe for you and your canine companion.
If your dog is big and physically powerful, a sedate game of fetch might not be stimulating enough. Consider a sport that harnesses your pet’s energy — literally. For those who live in cold climates, skijoring — where you cross-country ski and your dog leaps through the snow with you — can keep you both busy for hours in the winter and provide both of you with a good workout. Before you begin such strenuous activities, check with your veterinarian to make sure your dog is physically able to tackle these new sports. Remember, safety is of the utmost importance.
If long days indoors have your dog literally bouncing off the walls, focus on his leaping potential and get outdoors for some active fun. Agility courses, set up by local dog organizations, feature timed canine obstacle courses, which can be a fantastic way to let your dog employ all the great doggy skills he loves to do: running, jumping and even barking. Playing catch with a flying disc is fun for the high-energy dog, too, but activities with a lot of leaping can be hard on the joints and are best avoided for dogs with orthopedic problems, such as arthritis.
If your pet dreams of nothing but balls, nothing beats a good old game of catch in the backyard. Make sure you use a ball that’s made especially for dogs — tennis balls meant for human play can be abrasive to dog teeth, and your pet could choke on them. If a game of catch is not exciting enough, check out flyball opportunities in your area. In this event, teams of dogs race over a series of hurdles, catch a ball and return. For dogs who love the water, consider water fetch with a floating article. Again, ask your veterinarian if your dog is healthy enough for swimming and make sure he wears an appropriate life vest if he will be in deep water or near strong currents.
If your dog’s ambition is simply to be by your side unconditionally, consider activities that allow you to share time in quiet connectedness. Long hikes or backwoods camping provide great opportunities, but make sure your dog stays on a leash at all times, take along plenty of water for long hikes, and use flea and tick control products as needed. Competitions at your local obedience school offer another chance for the two of you to work as a team.
Dancing with dogs? Sure. Musical freestyle allows you and your pet to show off your style and creativity as you perform tricks and move together in this fun competition. Check with local obedience schools to see if there are any doggy dancing classes in your area, and you just might become the Fred and Ginger of the canine set.
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