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A RUNNING START TOWARD HEALTH

Not sure if that furry friend who regularly runs the halls really needs an exercise routine? Well, consider this:

  • Veterinarians say that dogs of all ages and activity levels need regular exercise to stay healthy and trim.
  • Regular workouts can keep dogs from "boredom behaviors," such as chewing your slippers, gnawing on table legs, or digging up your pansies.
See how you and your pet could benefit from doggy phys ed? To get started, check out the following options.


Walking
This is a good activity for all dogs. Walking doesn't stress joints, can be done in almost any weather, and lets your pet explore. Your dog may yearn for freedom while you walk, but let her run unleashed only if she always obeys commands, if you're in safe wide-open spaces, and if leash laws permit.


Jogging and Running
Over time you might want to speed up from a walk to a jog or run. Make this transition gradually over several weeks, and watch your dog for signs of fatigue. Keep in mind that the best canine companions for running are medium-size to large dogs who are energetic and in excellent health.

A couple of cautions: Don't feed your dog in the hour before or after a run; doing so can cause bloat. (Bloat is a serious condition in which the stomach fills with air. In grave cases, the stomach can twist, trapping the air and causing shock and even death.)

You also shouldn't run on very hot days because it can lead to heat exhaustion or heatstroke.


Swimming
If your dog likes the water, let her splash right in. She'll get a complete workout that offers both muscle toning and aerobic benefits. Swimming also makes a great lifelong sport because it's easy on the joints. That's also why it's a good exercise for dogs with hip dysplasia or arthritis. (One note: Try to minimize stress on the joints by picking a swimming hole that won't require your pet to maneuver an awkward dock or a steep incline.)

Some dogs, including the retrieving breeds, are natural swimmers, while others have no interest in water. If your dog refuses to consider water sports, don't force her. But if she's just lukewarm about swimming, don't give up right away. Many dogs grow to enjoy it if they're introduced to the sport gently and gradually. And it's a great choice in the summer because your dog won't overheat.

Keep the first session short and stay at your dog's side, praising her and encouraging her to move forward. If she's using only her front legs to swim, you can help by placing a hand under her lower abdomen for support. Soon she'll get the hang of it and use her rear legs too.

After a few minutes, show her where to get out of the water. You'll see that with a low-pressure approach, she'll be swimming happily in no time. If she likes to fetch, toss a buoyant toy into the water for her.

Watch your dog carefully during any swimming session. If she slows down, it's time to quit for the day.


Playing Fetch
Throwing a toy or ball for your dog to retrieve gets her heart pumping, gives yours a rest, and can be a lot of fun for both of you. Choose a toy that your dog likes to hold in her mouth.

Soft balls, Frisbees, squeaky toys, and fleece toys are all good choices. Avoid small balls that your dog could swallow or inhale, and never use sticks because they can tear or puncture her mouth. Fenced yards or parks are the best places to play - your pet won't run into foot traffic or the path of a moving vehicle.


Biking and Blading
The short advice: Don't. Biking and in-line skating are fun for people, but for most dogs, keeping up is too hard. What's more, if your pet runs free while you're on wheels, she'll be in danger when you're near roads and traffic. If she's on a leash, the strap could tangle in the wheels of your bike or blades and you or your dog could end up seriously hurt.


Exercising an Obese Dog
An overweight dog strains her heart and joints every time she moves, so talk to your veterinarian before you start. If your vet gives you the go-ahead, remember to exercise in moderation. Walking and swimming are the best choices.

Start slowly, and stop when your pet gets tired - heavy panting and a lolling tongue will be your first clues. Once your dog sheds those extra pounds, she'll still need plenty of exercise and a healthy diet to maintain her new figure.


Keeping It Up
Exercising with your dog can lead to a lifetime of good health and good times. Now and then you'll need to adjust your pet's routine to suit her age and physical condition, so consult your veterinarian periodically.

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