Spring is in the air! Here are some tips to get you ready for outdoor activities with your pooch.
Fitness for Fido
If your dog has had limited exercise this winter, start slowly and build up gradually. Just as you wouldn’t sit on the couch all winter and then go on a five mile run once the weather turns pleasant, so too should you help your dog build strength and stamina. Start with 10-15 minutes of you brisk walking (your dog should be trotting) and build from there. Not only is a tired dog a good dog (as they old adage says), but you can also keep your dog happier and healthier with regular aerobic exercise.
How much exercise should you aim for? Twenty to thirty consecutive minutes a day (fetch, brisk walking, jogging, swimming, or some combination of those) is great for most mature dogs. Adolescent dogs (6-18 months of age) need much more (an hour or more a day for active breed types). For dogs younger than a year, consult with your vet about the right type and amount of exercise to avoid straining growing bones, joints and ligaments. For more senior dogs, regular moderate exercise can actually help manage stiffness and obesity that would otherwise cause discomfort. What’s that, you say you want to play fetch but your dog won’t bring the ball back? In case you have a reluctant retriever, here are some tips on how to teach your dog to play fetch.
If your dog got a little pudgy over the winter, there’s no time like the present to help him get his figure back. He’ll thank you for many reasons, but especially when it gets too warm for him to cool his body mass with that tiny, little, panting tongue of his. Most dogs are overweight. And many veterinarians will not come right out and explain that your dog needs to lose weight (and the health consequences if he doesn’t). With a few exceptions for breeds who do not have a typical body shape, you should be able to see a distinct waist if you look at your dog’s back from above, a tucking up under his belly towards his back legs when viewed from the side, and you should easily be able to feel his ribs, and even slightly see them, if he turns sideways. (Here is a chart similar to the one your veterinarian uses to assess your dog’s ideal body shape.) To help him get back in shape, exercise helps, as do low-cal treats in place of processed ones or fatty table scraps. Some low-cal training treat ideas include:
- Use your dog’s kibble as treats (just put his meal in a ziplock baggie instead of the bowl)
- Macaroni noodles cooked in broth instead of water
- Lightly steamed sweet potato, cut into pea-sized bits
Teach your dog to walk nicely on leash. This will help get her ready for group training classes, trail walks, visits to the park and neighborhood strolls. There are many methods that are gentle and effective (Sue Ailsby’s is my favorite; scroll until you find “Leash” under Level 2). In the meantime, consider using an Easy Walk Harness, which causes you dog no pain, but prevents pulling in most dogs. If your dog visits dog parks, goes on hikes with you, or has trouble passing other dogs or people without getting over-stimulated, learn more about dog etiquette and how to train your dog to be a pleasure in public.
Believe it or not, now is the time to start thinking about flea and tick prevention. Even with the extreme winter we have had, fleas and ticks are alive and well in many areas.
The birds and the bees
Wildlife is coming out of its winter sleep and soon squirrels, birds, moles and snakes will be active and abundant. So now is a great time to solidify your dog’s ability to come when you call, before a bunny catches his eye and bolts across the street and into the path of an oncoming car. Here are some tips to get you started and some thoughts about dogs and wildlife. Also check out the DVD called Really Reliable Recall.
And, of course with warmer weather comes an important responsibility: keep your dog cool enough. Provide shade and clean water if he is going to be outside for an extended period. Leave him at home rather than risking brain and other organ damage from being trapped in a hot car. (Did you know canine heat stroke can occur in just ten minutes, even if you leave your windows cracked?) Also, exercise your dog during the coolest parts of the day to avoid overheating him.