Did you know that the single most important thing you can do to help your dog (and horse!) live a long, healthy life, is to help them maintain a lean bodyweight and condition?
Science consistently supports the benefits of not carrying excess bodyweight. Dogs suffering from overweight and obesity can have reduced lifespans, but their health span is also affected. This means that their overall health and wellbeing, can be significantly impacted by carrying excess weight.
By feeding well and feeding appropriate amounts, we can help our dogs maintain healthy waistlines. Exercise is also important to support a healthy weight, and for our dogs, activity is also important for their physical, physiological, and behavioural health.
What should you be aware of when thinking about your dog’s fitness? Here is Science Supplements’ guide to helping keep your dog fit and flexible for as long as possible.
Just like the horse world, there is a huge array of activities and disciplines that we can enjoy with our dogs, whether just for fun, or perhaps even for competition. Whatever we ask our dogs to do however, we should make sure they are fit enough, have suitable training and also that we allow time for their bodies to become conditioned to support the activity well. This will help to maximise enjoyment and minimise injury risk.
Traditional activities that have competitive options include herding, racing, and trials such as working trials which evolved out of the expectations of police and military dogs, and field trials where working gundogs show their prowess.
However, the options for our dogs are enormous. Whether you like to explore the countryside via cani-trekking, try your hand at obedience, the canine version of dressage, or even explore your musical side via heelwork-to-music, there is an activity for everyone and every dog!
Agility is an increasingly popular activity and one where dog speed and skill is tested over jumps and equipment such as tunnels and see-saws.
Canicross is where you run attached to your dog and attracted much interest during the COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns when human and dog exercise was limited and many sought alternative ways to keep themselves AND their dogs fit!
You might even fancy bikejor where your dog is in effect pulling you along on your bike. For cani-cross and bikejor, specialised equipment of harnesses and lines are essential to keep you and your dog safe, but these are exciting activities that both dogs and people love – you just have to hear dogs at the start of cani-cross races!
Being involved in any discipline with your dog can help to make exercise and fitness fun. It can also help to deepen your relationship with your dog, improve their training and behaviour and keep them slim and trim – you never know, your waistline might benefit too!
Whatever activities your dog undertakes, they should be age appropriate. Young puppies are especially sensitive to extreme levels of exercise when they are growing. It is not recommended to pound the pavements with your young puppy and general advice often suggests managing exercise and activity carefully until they are at least a year old. This helps to ensure that their musculoskeletal system has grown and matured, limiting the potential for long-term damage, which sadly, might not become apparent until your dog is older.
How To Keep Puppies Active
For very young puppies, gentle, regular exercise that allows them to regulate their activity is often best. Beware of slippery surfaces and try to limit them jumping on and off items at height. You can do lots of foundation training with young dogs while limiting physical demands on them.
For example, many agility trainers will work on basic skills such as recall, and interest in toys, long before their dogs encounter agility equipment! Scent and sniffing games are also great for puppies. You can start encouraging your puppy to search by scatter feeding some tasty treats on a clean surface – your lawn for example. Work with your puppy to explore the area and reward them for sniffing out their tasty prizes.
Keeping Our Older Doggy Friends Active
It is important to keep even our older canine friends active too, although they might need changes to their activities. They may become less able to undertake intense, athletic pursuits and prefer a gentler pace of life. This doesn’t mean that their activity level decreases however, it might just need altered to suit their different needs and physical abilities.
Sometimes conditions such as osteoarthritis can reduce our dogs’ desire to be active. If your dog does show signs of stiffness or pain, it is essential to seek veterinary support and diagnosis. There are many highly effective pain management options now available that help your older friend remain happily active but getting guidance from your vet is critical. A great resource is available at Canine Arthritis Management that can give you further advice and support to help your dog.
In some cases, we need to seek alternative ways to exercise our dogs. We might need to be creative about activity if they are recovering from illness or injury, where steady, gentle exercise is essential. Food activity toys can be useful in these cases – they not only prolong feeding time, but your dog will also expend energy actually getting their food. This creates activity as well as environmental enrichment benefits.
Hydrotherapy is another great option for our dogs, but this is not all forms of swimming! Hydrotherapy in a managed, temperature-controlled pool with the support of a qualified hydro therapist can provide targeted exercise and activity. Because hydrotherapy provides non-weight bearing exercise, it is especially useful for dogs recovering from injury or suffering from osteoarthritis, helping to keep them fit and flexible for longer.
Nutritional Support For Fitness & Flexibility
Providing your dog with a nutritionally balanced diet is important to fuel them for activity. Their nutrition is also important to supply key nutrients such as protein, fat, and electrolytes. It is possible to assess the daily energy needs of your dog and then tailor their diet appropriately so that is supplies the calories they need, while minimising the potential for excess weight gain.