Its common knowledge, exercise is vital for humans. It is recommended by the Ministry of Health (New Zealand) that adults should do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity at least 5 days a week. Fitting exercise in is a lifestyle choice that we have to commit to each day to ensure we make time in our busy schedules. Juggling work, family, friends, appointments, it can be very busy. But prioritizing the time to exercise each day is essential. Not only is it important for our physical condition, but it also does wonders for our mental condition too.
Like humans, exercise is equally important for our K9 companions! It is important to ensure that they get the right amounts and the right kinds of exercise to keep them in tip top shape. We often forget this, but dogs are actually born to work! They have been working alongside us for hundreds of years! Hunting wild prey, herding livestock, or providing protection for their pack – and they love it! They get such purpose out of it.
In fact, the dog’s wild ancestors spent most of their waking hour’s busy hunting and scavenging for their next meal, using both their bodies and their brains to problem solve the best approach to kill their prey! The typical dog today is confined mostly indoors and spends most of its day sleeping. Dogs have come a long way from their ‘wild and free ancestors’. We understand that our domestic dogs today cannot run unrestricted all day, this is not realistic in today’s lifestyle. But there can be a happy balance that is achievable if we put in the effort to prioritize exercise for our dogs and understand the reasons why it’s so important.
The benefits (to list a few)
Joint and mobility – Regular exercise will keep your dog limber and agile for longer into their adult lives. If your dog does have poor joint mobility, exercise will help improve joint function and strengthen muscles.
Helps with digestion and constipation – Waste is able to move more freely through the bowels through frequent exercise and is proven to improve digestion in the gut.
Weight control – You may have heard the saying “energy in, energy out”? The more we eat, the more we need to burn to maintain a healthy weight. Exercise is critical for sustaining a healthy weight for our dogs. Dogs that are within a healthy weight range are much less likely to suffer from serious illnesses such as type 2 diabetes, respiratory and heart disease, osteoarthritis, high blood pressure, and many forms of cancer. That’s got to be worth it, right?
TIP: To tell if your dog is overweight, an easy test you can do from home is placing your hands on their side, if their ribs are hard to feel or even impossible, then it’s likely they are overweight. It should feel like a nice thin sheet covering the ribs – not a thick blanket!
Mental health – Not only is exercise crucial for our dog’s physical condition, it is also important for their intelligence! Dogs that are outside, playing, sniffing, investigating, problem solving, are getting so many positive endorphins – Small things make dogs happy!
Sleepy – Instead of our dogs sleeping only because they are bored and restless, they will sleep because they are actually tired and need to rest. That’s got to be a good thing!
Build up confidence – Dogs that get out and about and that are familiar with foreign environments are much less nervous. Meeting other dogs and humans in the park is also great for their socialization skills.
Behavioural problems – Often behavioural problems are resolved when dogs receive more frequent exercise because you are giving them an outlet to use their surplus energy constructively. This is particularly important for puppies that seem to have a boundless supply of energy!
Bonding – Just like any relationship, the more effort we put in the more we get out of it. Spending quality 1 on 1 time with our pets, outside, exercising in the fresh air, is further building the special bond which we have with our dogs.
What is the correct amount of exercise? It’s difficult to put each dog into a box and give them a prescription for the right amount of exercise. How much exercise is dependent on your dog’s age, their breed and their current health and fitness. Generally speaking, most dogs need 30 to 60 minutes of exercise a day. If you are concerned that you are over or under exercising then ask your vet – they will be able to talk you through your concerns specific to your dog. We like this saying, “a tired dog is a good dog”. Your dog should be showing natural signs of lagging by the end of the activity. If the dog is still bounding with energy by the end, generally he has not had enough!
Remember You may need to adjust your dog’s diet depending on the amount of exercise they are achieving. For example, an agility dog that is training each day for a couple of hours will require more food than a dog that is only doing 30 minutes of leash walking. The agility dog is burning a significant amount more energy therefore requires more fuel to keep him going! It is also important to remember to give you dog plenty of water when exercising, make sure you carry a bottle with you if you are out for a long hike or run – just like us, he will need a rehydrate! It is also a good idea to consult your vet when you are exercising a pregnant pooch as they will naturally not be able to endure the same amount of physical activity as previously attained.