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WORKING UP A GOOD PANT

Like you, your four-legged friend will benefit from an exercise routine. Regular physical activity improves muscle tone, joint flexibility, digestion, and cardiovascular fitness. It also helps prevent obesity, which is linked to numerous health problems in dogs.

Besides safeguarding your dog's health, exercise will make her happier - more relaxed and less destructive. Convinced? The next step is to tailor your dog's exercise program to her age, size, and breed.

Getting Started

Before beginning a fitness plan, take your dog to your veterinarian for a physical exam and some guidance. The vet will check for heart, lung, and joint problems and evaluate your dog's overall condition. Ask how much exercise and what kinds of activities are appropriate.

Even if your dog has a health problem, she still needs to be fit. Your vet should be able to recommend a suitable program.

Building a Routine

A healthy dog can start with two short exercise sessions a day. Possibilities include a 15-minute walk, a game of fetch in the backyard, and a short swim.

If you choose to walk, no matter how well behaved and trained you believe she is, keep your dog on a leash. The local wildlife, other dogs, people and other outside activities can be a big distraction, and you don't want her to run out of sight or into a street.

Health Issues

When you exercise your dog outdoors, pick areas with soft grass or dirt. Hard or slippery surfaces can damage her pads or lead to falls.

To prevent heat stroke, don't exercise your dog on extremely hot days or walk her early in the morning and in the evenings, when it tends to be a bit cooler. And no matter the weather, see that she drinks plenty of fresh water every day and stop a workout if she's fatigued or panting excessively, even if she appears to not want to stop.

Also, don't exercise your pet for at least an hour or two afterward, especially if she's one of the larger, deep-chested breeds that are predisposed to bloat. In addition to waiting to exercise, it's recommended to feed your large breed dog twice day as opposed to one meal a day. (Bloat is a serious condition in which the stomach fills with air. In severe cases, the stomach can twist, trapping the air and causing shock and even death.)

If your dog is pregnant or older, consider less rigorous activities that don't involve twisting or jumping. Let her set the pace, and check in with your veterinarian periodically.

How Much?

Different breeds require different exercise routines. For the average adult dog, a daily total of 40 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise (for example, two brisk 25-minute walks a day) is sufficient. This guideline applies to most mixed breeds and purebred dogs.

More active dogs, including many of the sporting, herding, and working breeds, may require longer periods of vigorous exercise each day. By contrast, toy breeds may get much of the exercise they need inside your apartment or house, but they should still get some outdoor playtime.

Once you've worked up to the duration and intensity your veterinarian recommends, monitor your dog's activity level. If she still tears through the house or takes flying leaps off your sofa, she might need a more vigorous workout.

At the same time, take care not to do too much too fast. Your canine companion can't tell you when she's had enough, so it's your job to watch for signs of weariness, including an altered gait or heavy panting.

Have Fun Together!

Use your dog's exercise sessions to connect with her - you'll deepen your bond by allotting this time for her and responding to her needs. The payoff will be huge: She'll delight in the physical challenge and in releasing pent-up energy, so she'll look and feel great. What's more, when you run around or throw balls for her, you may accrue some fitness benefits for yourself!

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