By Kim Boatman
The best workout partners never complain, bring unfailing energy to your exercise sessions and stick by your side rather than racing ahead or trailing behind. If it sounds like it would be tough to find someone to fit that description, it's time to consider a four-legged workout partner.
"For the most part, any dog can be a runner," says Lindsay Stordahl, a professional dog runner and walker who operates Run That Mutt in the Fargo-Moorhead area of North Dakota. Stordahl has covered more than 4,200 miles with clients' dogs. "People get too caught up over whether or not their dog can run. If you are not sure, then simply try."
It's also possible you might find another exercise activity to enjoy with your dog, such as swimming, which is low-impact for joints, says Dr. Amber Andersen, a veterinarian at Point Vicente Animal Hospital in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
A dog-focused activity such as agility training can also provide workout benefits for both you and your dog.
Before You Begin a Workout Program
Of course, it's not simply a matter of grabbing a leash and heading out the door. Before you begin working out with your dog, experts say you should consider these factors:
Your health and your dog's health. It's a good idea to check with both your veterinarian and your physician before you begin a workout program.
Your dog's breed. Stordahl runs with all manner of breeds. However, short-faced (i.e., brachycephalic) dogs, such as English bulldogs and pugs can overheat easily. "They have an already compromised respiratory system," says Andersen. "Monitor them closely." An English bulldog will likely be happier walking because of its heavyset body.
Your dog's age. "Many veterinarians will stress that a large-breed dog should not run until it's about 18 months old, because the dog's bone structure will not be fully developed until that time," says Stordahl. Check with your veterinarian to determine when a young dog is ready to jog, then keep to a modest pace and distance. Older dogs, like older humans, can suffer from arthritis or other health conditions.
Weather conditions. Extreme temperatures and weather conditions can impact your dog's ability to work out. Be particularly conscious of your dog's water needs in warmer weather.
Working out With Your Dog
"Gradually increase the intensity and duration of exercise over the course of a few weeks," says Andersen. "Be consistent and committed so both you and your dog can build stamina." Exercising with your dog will work better if you do the following:
Let your dog be a dog. "Usually our dogs are allowed to stop and sniff on daily walks, so they will want to do this during more intense jogs or runs," says Andersen. "Before you start running, let your dog have ample time to relieve itself as well as sniff around. During the cooldown after your run, let your dog do this again."
Use a harness and ditch the retractable leash. A harness allows for greater control, and you'll want to keep your dog on a short leash.
Do regular paw-checks. "If your dog is new to running, you should stop and check its feet at least every five minutes until you know how much it can handle," says Stordahl. "If the paws look pink or tender, then slow to a walk and head home." Bleeding paws mean a few days' rest, though they should heal on their own. Your dog's feet will naturally toughen.
Know when to stop. If you see a wagging tail and your dog is alert and responsive, it most likely is enjoying the activity. It's time to stop when you see any respiratory distress or lameness or when your dog starts dragging behind or slowing down.
Be creative and patient as you find a workout routine you both enjoy.
"Exercising is vital to both human and canine health," says Andersen. "Finding a way to incorporate your dog's fitness routine with your own will make you both happy and can be a huge time-saver."
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