While dogs are often seen as household companions nowadays, they were originally born and bred to work hard beside their human owners. Depending on the breed, dogs were meant to hunt, herd livestock, provide protection and much more. Wild dogs and their relatives lead very busy lives, hunting for food, protecting their territory, caring for offspring and much more. While domesticated dogs have become accustomed to depending upon their human companions for all their needs, they still need regular exercise and play in order to maintain their physical and mental health. Dogs that don’t participate in stimulating activities may exhibit troublesome behavior, such as:
- Destructive scratching, digging and chewing
- Hyperactivity, including night time hyperactivity
- Unruly behavior
- Rough play, including biting and jumping up
- Excessive whining
Regular exercise and play can help keep dogs healthy, agile and limber, it can help them improve digestive function and build confidence and trust, it can help them relax at bedtime or when their owner is trying to relax, and it can help keep their weight more manageable. This can make one’s dog a much happier and more pleasant companion to have around.
Exercising By Breed
While all dogs will undoubtedly benefit from regular exercise, there are some things to consider when trying to establish an exercise program for your canine companion, including their age, their general health, their size and their breed. Ideally, you want to try and mimic the type of exercise your dog would be getting if they participated in the normal work activities they were bred for, but you also want to be aware of certain limitations that may make exercising uncomfortable for them. Some specific pointers for exercising by breed include:
- Deep-chested, narrow-bodied breeds like German Shepherds, Doberman Pinschers and Great Danes should not be exercised right after eating, as they have a tendency to bloat.
- Small-bodied, short-legged dogs, like Chihuahuas and Shih-Tzus, don’t need as much walking exercise as larger-breeds.
- Breeds that have very short or flat noses, like English Bulldogs and Pugs, often have difficulty breathing and do not need vigorous exercise. In fact, they can experience breathing problems if exercised too much or too vigorously.
- Young dogs of any breed should not run or jog for long periods of time because their bones haven’t finished growing and can be affected by the constant pressure.
- Large breed dogs, like Mastiffs, Great Danes and Rottweilers, are often more prone to arthritis, hip dysplasia and ligament injuries than other smaller breeds, and should also not participate in sustained jogging or running exercises.
- Dogs in the sighthound class, like Greyhounds and Whippets, are very fast runners, but they are bred for short-distance sprinting, not long-distance running.
It is always advisable that you check with your dog’s veterinarian before instituting an exercise program, this way they can outline specifically what type of exercise will work best for your dog to keep them healthy, happy and not over-taxed physically. It is also important to recognize that properly exercising your dog means stimulating their brain as well as their body. You can play fetch, hide-and-seek, catching bubbles and much more. Additionally, some dog breeds are well-suited to the water, and can benefit from swimming exercise, especially since this is far easier on their joints than sustained jogging or running. You may also find a lot of benefit in having your dog hunt for their dinner or work at getting their treats out of a puzzle toy designed for that exact purpose.
Whatever exercise is most suited to your dog’s specific needs, you will likely find that implementing a regular exercise program not only improves their health and happiness, it also improves your relationship with your dog, creating a much happier home.