If you’ve got a dog, then you’ll know that exercise is a really important part of keeping them healthy and happy.
But are the regular walks you’re taking them on really enough to keep them mentally stimulated and in good shape?
With research revealing that the pandemic has lead to 44% of dog owners feeding their pet extra treats because they are at home more, over a third (36%) admit their dog is either very or slightly overweight, according to research by Fitness Furst – a canine diet club for dogs.
1 in 5 (21%) also said they were unaware of the correct weight for the breed and size of their dog, and the same number said their dog had put on weight as a result of going on fewer walks in lockdown.
So, it might be time to think about a new way to introduce exercise into your time with your dog. And if you’re utterly sick of walking round the block, there are plenty of more inventive ways to work up a sweat with your pooch hot on your heels.
Here are some fun fitness alternatives you could try:
Running with your dog can be hugely beneficial for both you and your pooch. Whether you fancy a gentle, steady jog, a faster sprint session, or a hilly trail run, it can be a brilliant way to boost your cardiovascular fitness and keep you both in shape.
In fact, over half (51%) of dog owners take their dog running with them, with 40% admitting they only started doing so since the pandemic began, according to figures from Research from pet insurance provider Bought By Many.
Of these owners, 40% say they run with their dog on average four times a week.
But not all dogs are built for jogging. If you have a greyhound, for example, they’re great at short sprints, but can get tired really quickly on a longer run, so make sure you know what your breed of dog needs.
It’s also important to wait until your pet is fully grown and to gradually build up to a 30-minute jog so you don’t over-exert them, or risk injury. Before any run with your dog, make sure to include five minutes of warm-up and five minutes of cool-down.
Remember that dogs can’t sweat, so take care to avoid hot times of the day – particularly in the summer – and stop if your dog can’t keep up with you.
A running waist band (also known as hands-free lead) that attaches you to your dog can give more range of movement when you’re running, but you’ll need to get your dog used to the mechanism and train them to run ahead of you to avoid tangles.
We’ve all seen the viral videos of dogs doing perfect yoga with their owners. But most people probably think that getting their pup to perfect their child’s pose is a bit far-fetched. However, dog yoga can be really beneficial – even if it’s not perfect.
‘Doga’ (pronounced like yoga) is a series of modified yoga poses that allow your dog to get involved. Some moves use your pup’s weight for balance, others are stretches where your dog gets lots of pats.
It’s great for flexibility and strength, but it’s also a brilliant bonding experience for you and your four-legged friend.
You can sign up to ‘doga’ classes if you have any nearby, or you can follow simple routines on YouTube – you only need a small amount of space and a yoga mat to get started.
The classic game for all dog owners. Which dog can resist an enticing game of fetch?
Whether your use a ball, a stick, or one of those arm-extender contraptions, this simple game can help keep your dog active and healthy, while also giving them something fun to focus on.
And there are loads of ways to make it a good workout for you as well.
Why not try combining some of your favourite workout moves with the classic game? You could set yourself a challenge to throw the ball from a different point in the park every time, so when your dog returns the ball you have to jog to a different point.
Another way to incorporate movement into the game would be to use the time while your dog is running off to collect the ball. Why not set yourself a challenge to see how many squat-jumps, burpees or lunges you can do before your dog gets back to you?
That way, you’ll get all the benefits of a simple HIIT workout while your pooch is entertained as well.
How to tell if your dog is overweight:
Cycling with your dog trotting obediently at your wheels is a nice picture, right? But to pull this off safely you need to do some prep work and training with your dog.
Don’t just jump on your bike and grab your dog’s lead – that’s a disaster waiting to happen. You need to work up to it slowly, making sure your dog is comfortable walking and then running alongside the bike – and can do so without pulling.
You may want to attach their lead to your bike with a special device that absorbs some of the force of your dog’s tugs – a good pet store will have these – which could help you stay on your bike if they pull suddenly.
It’s also really easy for your dog to work too hard it if they are running while you’re on wheels – and you might not notice because you’re not putting in as much effort. So always be mindful of that and keep a close eye on how your dog is doing.
The benefits of swimming in dogs are pretty similar to the benefits of swimming we see in humans.
The fact that it is a low-impact exercise is incredibly helpful for people or dogs with arthritis or other injuries, because it is so easy on the joints. This means it can be a great exercise option for older dogs who aren’t up for running or jumping around a park.
Swimming works a huge range of muscle groups, improves endurance, and strengthens the heart and lungs – in both animals and humans. So now, all you’ve got to do is find a dog-friendly local pool or wild swimming location.
Not all dogs are big fans of the water, so it’s probably best to start small and build up – rather than kicking off with a big splash. You can use toys and treats for encouragement and to coax them in to giving it a go.
This is a great option to get your whole family involved in the action.
You’ve all seen Crufts. Why not try building your own obstacle course in the garden using chairs, cushions, tunnels, and anything you might have around your house to get your dog moving.
Scrambling over hurdles, jumping through hoops and crawling through tunnels is great for your dog’s agility, speed and stamina – and it’s also great fun for them too.
As a family, why not take it in turns to follow along the course and try to keep up with your dog and give them encouragement – just like they do in Crufts. It’s a great cardio workout, but because you’re having so much fun, and focusing on beating the previous time, you might not realise just how hard you’re working.
These kinds of courses can also help to develop improved coordination in your dog. And when they get really good, you can sign them up to participate in organised competitions, or look for a park with an agility course you can use on your own time.
Hiking can be a gentler way to get fit with your pup, however, the kind of exercise you can do depends on the breed of your dog, as each has different fitness needs and different limits.
Sarah Dawson, a registered vet nurse and claims manager at Bought By Many says: ‘The best dogs for hiking usually have hunting or herding traits which means they are bred to handle long distances, have good endurance and enjoy spending time exercising outside to stay stimulated.
‘Remember, it’s also down to your individual dog’s needs and temperament and the training you provide, not just the breed alone.’
You’ve also got to think about having the right kit before embarking on an epic hike with your dog. They need to be comfortable, supported and safe.
An appropriately fitted harness will distribute weight evenly and reduce the risk of neck and back injuries. Bungee leads can be used to help reduce lead tension and absorb the impact of any sudden jolts.
If going on a bit of a trek sounds like the perfect exercise for you and your pup, why not sign you and your dog up to our 10k Woof and Walk for MDD fundraising challenge this October, and help to raise vital funds for medical detection dogs in the process.
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