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Making exercise fun!

We all benefit from variety in our day to day lives and while dogs do love “routine” it is also important to mix things up to keep our four-legged friends mentally stimulated too! Below are some ideas on how you can deviate from the daily trip to the local park to offer your dog something a little more exciting! However, it is important to remember that different forms of exercise will have different impacts and your dog’s age and breed should be considered before you dive into something new.

Lead walking – generally dogs can have more lead walking as long as it is controlled. Pulling on the lead can be dangerous for all dogs, especially young ones, so if your dog is a strong puller then consider a no pull headcollar or harness. If it’s a change of your dog’s routine to be doing longer walks on streets and pavements, then just be aware and monitor as hard surfaces will have greater impact on your dog’s joints and may also cause sore pads – especially in the heat!

Sniff and stroll walks – these walks are the safest for your dog’s health and can provide a lot of mental stimulation. Simply allowing your dog to wander along and sniff is a great way for them to enjoy the outdoors. You can further add to their enjoyment by laying trails of small treats or kibble from their daily allowance for them to follow and gobble up.

Free running with your dog – lots of dogs enjoy running but if your dog is new to this form of exercise it should be built up gradually and done in short sessions with younger dogs. For running it is recommended to use a dog harness and bungee style lead to reduce any jolts for you or your dog. This type of exercise is not suitable for puppies.

Playing with other dogs – whilst some dogs do enjoy playing with others they may not always know when to stop and games can quickly get over the top. Interrupt games frequently to calm them down and ensure all participants are having fun! Try to limit free games to 10/15 minutes and ensure your dog has some calmer time out between play sessions.

Interactive play – if you have a safe space to have your dog off lead, then playing some games with your dog can be a great form of exercise. However, for dogs it can also be a common cause of injury, particularly if dogs are repeatedly performing high impact jumps, turns or dead stops. Make sure your dog has ‘warmed up’ by walking for 10/15 minutes before starting any ball games and try to minimise jumps and turns. Puppies should not be exercised in this way, at most pups should have the ball rolled slowly along the ground for them to chase.

At home – you can supplement your dog’s daily walk by adding some additional play routines. Activities such as scent games, hide and seek, trick training, a simple agility course or doggie circuit training!  Again, start gently with any more active exercises at home so your dog can build up their fitness and avoid injury. Jumping and climbing should be avoided for puppies under 12 months.

Chasing balls, frisbees etc – whilst chasing toys can be a great form of exercise, it can also be a common cause of injury, particularly if dogs are repeatedly performing high impact jumps, turns or dead stops; make sure your dog has ‘warmed up’ by walking for 10/15 minutes before starting any ball games and try to minimise jumps and turns. Puppies should not be exercised in this way. For puppies, the ball should be rolled slowly along the ground for them to chase.

Swimming – is a great way of keeping your dog fit and is particularly useful for overweight dogs as it is low impact on the joints. Whilst free swimming in streams and rivers maybe safe for fit and strong swimmers, it is best to start your dog’s swimming in a specialist hydrotherapy pool where your dog can build up confidence and fitness in a safe controlled environment. Our Canvas Training Dummy floats on water and provide a fun challenge for your dog!

Agility, flyball, hoopers and cannicross– are all popular dog sports (to name but a few) that will keep your dog (and you) fit, healthy and mentally stimulated. Contact your local dog trainer for details on which are best for your dog.

If you are thinking of changing your exercise routine, we highly recommend you take advice from your vet first.

Fiona Whelan ~ Pet Behaviourist

Fiona has been working at the Training and Behaviour Centre as a behaviour specialist since 2002, and previously ran her own training and behaviour establishment in Lincolnshire for seven years so has a wealth of experience as a behaviour counsellor.