You know it’s good for you. You know that exercise can give you energy, help you maintain a healthy weight, keep your muscles and joints flexible, help you live longer, and above all, make you feel better. For all the same reasons, your pets need to get up and get moving. Not only can exercise extend your furry friends’ lives; it may also expend some of their nervous energy and make them a little less likely to chew on the living room drapes.The thing is, nobody’s filled pets in on all of these benefits of exercise. Without someone to lead the way, they’re not going to run laps or do leg lifts in their spare time. So as a wonderful pet parent, part of your job is ensuring your animal family members get safe, enjoyable exercise on a regular basis–whether they’re cats, dogs, turtles, or ferrets! All pets need some physical activity to live a happy, healthy life.
Different pets need different amounts of exercise, so you’ll want to talk to your veterinarian before starting your pet’s workout program. With your veterinarian’s approval, you can embark on an exercise program that won’t seem like work at all–to your pet, it’s play.
Dogs on the run
Dogs, especially beagles, can be great fun to exercise, because they can get you out and moving yourself. You don’t want to hit the ground running with your pooch, though. Just as with any animal–or person–you’ll want a doctor’s okay before you start your dog’s fitness routine. “Begin with a visit to the veterinarian to discuss your plans and ensure your dog has a clean bill of health,” says Dr. Jay Geasling, member and past president of the American Animal Hospital Association. “After your veterinarian gives you the go-ahead, start your dog on suitable exercise for beginners.”
Just like people who aren’t used to exercise, dogs should start off slow. Moderately paced walking and swimming are a good way to start–they let canine athletes build their cardiovascular and muscle strength without putting undue stress on their joints. A daily ten- to 15-minute walking or swimming session is a good start; you can build to an hour a day if Rover seems up to it. If, after a few months, she/he’s doing well and can handle long, fast walks without fatigue, he/she can graduate to jogging with you. Once she/he’s adapted to the exercise, you and your dog can run and walk to your heart’s content, if you take a few precautions:
- Keep a close eye on your dog: watch for any unusual signs of fatigue or trouble breathing. If your pup wants to stop, let him. Dogs that overdo it can suffer strained tendons or ligaments or other orthopedic problems.
- Don’t expect your fuzzy buddy to be a weekend warrior, even if you only get exercise on the weekends yourself. After a long week without exercise, your dog may be ready to get out and burn off energy. But because of their enthusiasm, many of the popular breeds, such as Labrador and golden retrievers, beagles and pointers will overdo it.
- Safety first–keep Rover on a leash when you run. Even the best-trained dogs can run into the path of a car or a territorial animal. And if you have to run when it’s dark out, put reflectors on your dog’s collar as well as on your clothes.
- Concrete and asphalt are tough on the paws, especially on hot days. Try to run on dirt paths or grass as much as possible. Gravel, cinders, and road salt can also irritate paws.
- Take it easy in extreme weather. If it’s freezing cold or hot and steamy out, either keep your run short or play a little indoor fetch instead.
- The more active your dog is, the more water she/he’ll need. Make sure she/he has plenty of fresh water before and after your run. If you’re going for a long run, take some water along for her/him and plenty for yourself. If your dog is getting bored with running or walking, take heart: there are other ways to get him/her the exercise he/she needs. A 15-minute game of fetch makes for a good workout. Supervised play with other dogs is a good option too. Tug-of-war is not a good game because it can damage his teeth and may increase aggressive behavior. If you have the time and your dog has the inclination, you could even try running him through some agility obstacle courses, which incorporate a range of activities. If you’re interested, your veterinarian may know of a dog agility organization in your area. I have some very good courses here and could give you some pointers of my own.
Anyone can train a Beagle.
Beware; the Beagle will try to train you first!