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Get your dog fit!

As published in Canadian Dogs Annual
Get your dog fit!

Exercise doesn’t just keep your dog healthy and fit and extend his lifespan. It also reduces anxiety, builds confidence, provides an excellent way to connect and bond with your dog – and it’s a fun way to teach and maintain obedience!

Here are eight ways you can get your dog fit and have a great time in the process. Just remember to check with your vet first, before starting your dog on a new exercise program.

puppy with ball1. Active commands are a wonderful way to exercise your dog, indoors or out, as well as harness and dispel hyperactive behavior due to excitement or anxiety.

“Pushups” get rid of your dog’s excess energy through repetitious exercise. They also train him to focus on you and your commands rather than his surroundings or hyperactive behavior triggers. “Pushups” simply consist of having your dog face you and perform “sit” then “down” then “sit”, at which point he is treated and praised. With practice, many fast pushups can be performed for one treat. The treat can be gradually phased out, but always praise your dog. Potential situations in which “pushups” can be helpful are when greeting guests (they prevent the dog from jumping up on people) or while waiting in the vet’s office.

2. Aerobic exercise such as a brisk walk or romp in the park at the start of each day will keep your dog (and you!) in shape. It also significantly reduces anxiety throughout the day by keeping the dog tired and calm and by providing a dependable routine and bonding time with you.

3. A terrific way to provide daily aerobic exercise regardless of the weather is to bring a little agility indoors and train your dog to jump through a hula hoop – 15 to 20 minutes of jumping provides a physical workout that can be equivalent to a long jog or romp through the park.

To start, have the hula hoop touching the floor and have your dog sit or stand right before it. Toss a treat or toy upwards through the hoop and praise your dog as he walks through the hoop after it. If he is initially skittish of going through the hoop, lure him by holding the treat cupped in your hand to his nose and very slowly moving it through the hoop while giving plenty of praise. Over time, gradually raise the hoop inch by inch off the floor and pair the the treat or toy with a command such as “jump through” and a hand signal, which could simply be the motion of your hand tossing the treat. Once learned, treats can be thrown intermittently, then on a random basis. Part of the game can include searching for the treats once tossed; commands such as “go that way”, “go left” or “go right” can be added to give your dog a challenging mental workout. Make it fun for him by putting lots of encouragement and excitement in your voice.

4. Get in shape and stay fit with the perfect workout buddy – your dog! Some activities to partner in include Frisbee, jogging and biking. Bike attachments make it safe for you and your dog as he runs besides you. Be careful not to overdo it, especially when biking, and avoid vigorous exercise on hot days. Make sure you carry water for your dog as well as for yourself.

5. The “come/tag game” is a wonderful exercise and a marvelous way to train your dog to come off leash. Begin in a standing position facing each other. Putting playful excitement into your voice, say “come”, clap your hands and run away from your dog. He’ll chase you. Stop after a short distance, face your dog, tell him to sit and reward him with praise and affection. Then set off again in a different direction. A toy can be used to entice your dog to chase you.

6. One of the best indoor or outdoor games is “fetch”. Incorporate obedience into the game by asking your dog to sit prior to throwing the toy. For the game to continue, teach him to give the toy back into your hand on command.

Agility7. Besides being a popular trick and useful for agility, training your dog to circle involves an active command. By redirecting your dog’s energy and focus, circling works very well to prevent pacing, lunging and jumping when he’s excited.

To start, your dog needs to be standing in front of you. Slowly lure him with a treat or toy, keeping his head level and aiming for his flank, and praising him as he slowly circles. This will keep him moving. End the circle with your dog in his initial position, facing you. It is best to start with one circle at a time in each direction. You can name your circle commands “circle left” and “circle right”. As your dog masters this technique, he can do multiple circles in both directions. Counting each circle adds to the fun.

8. Organized sports to play with your dog include agility, flyball and earthdog. These are fantastic ways to have fun, train and bond as well as socialize with other dog people and their canine companions.

Again, before starting any exercise program, check with your vet that the activity you have in mind is suitable for your dog’s age, health, size and current fitness level. Then enjoy exercising your way to a healthier, calmer and happier companion!

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