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Natural Awakenings Twin Cities

Stay-Healthy Tips for Dogs and Their People

Dec 27, 2012 01:04PM ● By Lynne Willeke

Just like people, dogs need regular exercise and stimulation to keep them in tip-top shape, both physically and mentally. And since dogs crave human companionship, who better to choose as exercise partners than our pooches?

Frequent activity positively affects dogs’ health in many ways, benefiting their muscles, bones, digestion, sleep, circulation and general attitude. The bond between canine and human also encourages humans to exercise more frequently and lose more weight than most nationally known diet plans. A key reason for the better results is that dog walkers stay with the program because of their emotional connection to their dogs.

Tips to get started

Exercise needs vary from dog to dog, depending on the dog’s breed, age, weight and other factors. Therefore, it’s important to consult with a vet before starting an exercise program with a dog—and people need to consult with their own physicians about the right program for them.

  • Take things slowly at first. Begin with short sessions at a slow speed, then gradually increase the time, speed and distance.
  • Dogs’ paw pads will need time to toughen, so begin walking or running on soft surfaces such as dirt, sand or grass.
  • Avoid exercising dogs immediately before or after mealtimes. A dog’s full stomach may cause digestive upsets. Provide only small amounts of water before and directly after exercise.

Keep things interesting

Just letting a dog out in the backyard is not enough; most dogs do not exercise themselves. Likewise, a brief daily walk may not be enough either. However, dogs can be kept both physically and mentally active on daily walks by varying the approach.

  • Change the pace. Intermittently walk fast and slow, and stop occasionally. Dogs will come to see this as a game and will find the activity fun and stimulating.
  • Change directions frequently. Go left, then right, turn in front of the dog and reverse direction. Each time there is a change in direction, give a gentle flick of the leash to alert the dog that a change is coming.
  • Give obedience commands along the way. Stop and ask the dog to sit, lie down and heel.

Be sensible

No matter how fit a dog is, his enthusiasm may overcome his common sense to know when to rest.

  • Stop the games if the dog seems to be getting overly tired.
  • Be sure he has access to fresh drinking water, but prevent stomach upset by limiting his intake if he is heavily panting.
  • Take disposable bags to clean up after the dog.

Watch the weather

In winter:

  • Watch for signs of frostbite or hypothermia.
  • Dress a short-coated dog in a doggie coat or sweater to keep him warm.
  • After a romp in the snow, wipe the dog’s paw pads and between the toes to remove any snow, ice or road salts that may have accumulated there.

In summer:

  • Exercise in the cool hours of the morning or late evening.
  • Watch for signs of heat stroke.
  • Beware of hot asphalt, which can damage a dog’s paw pads.

Exercise his mind

Exercise is good for a dog’s brain, too. Just 15 minutes once or twice a day of teaching basic obedience can tire a dog in a different way that is just as essential to his overall health and happiness. Review or teach the basics such as sit, stay, come and walking on a leash to energize the lethargic dog and tire out the hyper dog.

With some practice, any dog owner can establish the leadership required for a satisfying stroll with their dogs so that everyone, pets and humans alike, can reap the benefits of good health, fitness and a happy emotional bond. Remember, a tired dog is a happy dog!

Lynne Willeke, of Minneapolis, is a dog behavioral therapist and trainer with Bark Busters, the world’s largest dog training company. For more information, call 877-500-BARK(2275) or visit

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