Exercise, appropriate to your pet’s condition and age, is very important to their physical and mental health. The challenge with providing physical exercise for your pet is the question of how much is enough, too little or too much. Too little exercise can be the reason for the emergence of behavior problems: destructive behavior, frequent bouts of the “Zoomies” (racing around and around in circles), or persistent demanding or attention seeking behaviors (barking/meowing, stealing, pawing to name a few). Of course, a pet who is overweight is also a candidate for more exercise. As the old adage goes: if your dog is overweight, you need more exercise.
The “Right” Amount of Exercise
Younger pets, free of physical impairments, need much more physical exercise to keep fit and expend that seemingly endless energy. Exercise is critical for bone and joint health as well as the function of vital organs for pets of any age. But exercise doesn’t need to be flat-out running and jumping every time.
Dogs can injure themselves by overdoing exercise, just as humans can. Ask anyone whose dog has had a torn ACL or a luxating patella – it’s painful for the dog and expensive to fix. Puppies are vulnerable to growth plate injuries which can cause lifelong issues. Carefully supervising exercise, moderating duration and exertion, will help protect them during the first year of their life until growth plates seal closed.
To get your dog in great physical shape, build up their stamina and endurance over time with increasingly greater physical challenges. Begin with leash walks of short duration and work up to 20 to 40 minute rigorous walks. If your dog likes to play with other dogs, find a playmate that is a good size and energy level match for your dog; give them timed off-leash play sessions. Explore organized dog sports once your dog is capable of handling more exertion. During extremely hot or cold weather, walk your dog on a treadmill.
We often think of cats as sedentary pets, but they need exercise for the health and behavioral benefits, too. Our youngest cat likes to do what we call “Kitty Nascar” in the upstairs hallway, racing from room to room. Our cats play with each other, chasing and wrestling around the house; and sometimes exhort one of the dogs to chase them. We have “cat trees” for them, those multi-level structures that give cats lots of surfaces to climb on and scratch.
Regardless of how much exercise our dogs and cats engage in on their own, most love playing with us. What better way to ensure exercise is healthy than to be a part of it? Flirt poles are more exciting when in our hands. Balls fly farther. Tug is more competitive. Hide and Seek more exciting. The games are so much more fun . . . and they build a strong relationship.
Can There Be Too Much Exercise?
In a word, Yes. One risk is injury. But the other is behavioral – principally for dogs. I hear from people who give their dog lots of physically challenging exercise every day and yet claim it doesn’t settle their dog down. It is possible to over-stimulate your dog with too much exercise. A steady diet of flat-out, high exertion exercise can spawn behavioral issues such as body slamming and mouthing, vocalizing, and leash grabbing, all the way to reactivity or aggression to other dogs and people when in this hyper-excited state. These dogs will benefit from a varied diet of different types of physical exercise, as well as some healthy mental exertion.
But mental exercise is the topic for next month’s column. Stay tuned!
Resources at your fingertips
Exercise – Why Dogs Need It: http://www.veterinarypartner.com/Content.plx?P=A&A=1396&S=1
Tips for Exercising with Dogs and Cats: http://vetmedicine.about.com/od/diseasesandconditions/tp/Tips-For-Exercising-With-Dogs-And-Cats.htm
Carol Peter is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer and owner of Cold Nose Companions, LLC Dog Training. She offers private training and group classes for people and their dogs throughout Geauga County. Carol focuses on resolving problem behaviors and teaching good household manners using positive reinforcement training and behavior modification methods. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
©2012, Carol Peter, Cold Nose Companions, LLC