As a trainer who is active in competitive dog sports, it is easy for me to say that canine fitness is an important aspect of my dogs’ career. Conditioning dogs is a part of my life more than it is for most, even those who are actively competing in various dog sports with their own dogs. I am constantly in shock over of the fact that canine fitness receives so little limelight. Even more shocking for me is to see dogs active in canine sports getting zero warm-up time and conditioning to prevent injuries in their respective sports. Dog sports are on the rise, with 30,000+ dogs competing in USDAA Agility and 400 active Flyball clubs nationwide. Clearly, it’s something we need to talk about!
It’s easy to advocate for canine fitness in the sports dog world. But how does this relate to your average pet dog? There are 41.9 million overweight or obese dogs to date, and all of these dogs are in need of exercise! That seems like a no-brainer, however it goes deeper than that. There are roughly 89.7 million dogs in the world currently, and all of them are in need of exercise. Exercise is an important aspect of our own health, why shouldn’t it be with our dogs as well?
Here are a few benefits to fitness for our dogs:
- Improved quality of life. Dogs that are overweight can expect to shave off as many as seven years off of their life expectancy. Dogs that are fit have enhanced lifespans.
- Prevention of injuries. Fit dogs have less pain in their joints. They move more fluidly and have less of a chance of soft tissue injuries, torn ligaments, and ruptured discs.
- Lowers the risk of cancer and diabetes. Enough said!
The Fitness Puzzle
There are pieces to the puzzle when it comes to canine fitness, and while you may feel that your dog (who gets walked daily) gets plenty of exercises, you would likely be surprised at the pieces of whole fitness that are missing from the puzzle!
All five of these things must be fulfilled in order to achieve optimal fitness. So how can you work towards optimal fitness for your dogs?
Before you start, always be sure to check with your veterinarian to be sure that your dog is healthy enough for an exercise plan.
Walks! This is the first step and the easiest way to be sure your dog is getting a good start to their exercise regime. It is also a great warm up!
Fetch. Throw a ball, stick or frisbee in a safe environment. If your dog doesn’t know how to fetch, you can use a treat dispensing ball to glean interest in retrieving. With much persistence and effort, most dogs will catch on to fetch, just be patient.
Play hide and seek. Use some healthy Real Dog Box treats or a portion of their meals. Place them behind doors, under bowls and chairs. Make treating an active reward.
Food fitness. Place an unstable object in front of the food bowl for your dog to step on as they reach for the food bowl to introduce balance activities and limb strengthening as a fun and rewarding game. Don’t force them to stay on the surface. Unfit dogs may not be able to maintain their balance for longer than 15 seconds. That’s okay, it takes time!
Raise the floor. Integrating a platform that can be climbed on, or crawled under, during the day is an excellent way to incorporate movement if space is small and the weather isn’t cooperating.
Incorporate some of your dog's well-known obedience commands into your own yoga routine. When you go into cobra, try asking your dog to down. When you move into downward dog, have him sit.
Create an obstacle course indoors and out. Make it fun! Move furniture around, create different surfaces for your dog to move on, overall encourage movement! You can use FitPAWS equipment.
Don’t have time? Find a Canine Fitness Trainer or a Dog Walker that can help get the recommended 20-30 minutes your dog needs each day.
I hope that this article opens your eyes to the importance of canine fitness and inspires you to go forth and live a more active lifestyle with your canine companions!