Exercising with your dog is the perfect bonding experience. Your pet’s daily dog walks are a chance to use up physical energy (particularly if they’re a breed with working roots) and indulge their senses, so they can experience all the sights, sounds, and smells, and investigate their environment. But for many dogs it’s also all about you — and a walk represents the perfect opportunity to have your undivided attention.
A recent survey from premium pet food ORIJEN revealed that 64 per cent of dog owners would like to exercise with their dogs more often, and there are many ways in which you can do this. All dogs are different, so it’s up to you to observe your pet and work out exactly what they enjoy most — and what they’d rather avoid.
Think of ways in which you can interact with your dog on their walks. This might include playing with toys, taking treats to reward good behaviour, playing interactive games like hide-and-seek, or just asking them to look at you from time to time and rewarding them for doing so. Walks are also the perfect opportunity to practise your training in different settings, working on recall, and perfecting your on-lead walking.
For those with more adventurous pets, it’s worth considering how you can gradually build up your dog’s fitness so you can enjoy longer walks together, in lots of different locations. Britain is home to numerous national parks and trails, many of which could provide the perfect adventure — think exploring The Lake District, walking the South Downs Way, or hiking in the Highlands — or try some of the dog-friendly National Trust or English Heritage walks.
If your dog’s the sporty type, look into joining a club for activities such as agility, flyball, or cani-cross; others, like heelwork to music or rally, can be less full-on but just as fun. Alternatively, seek out local dog clubs in your area, which might organise group dog walks or courses if your dog is fond of canine company. Or, if you’d prefer it was just the two of you, how about paddle-boarding (if your dog loves water) or working towards taking part in some sponsored runs? Dogs make great training partners! The possibilities are endless.
For your dog’s health and happiness, it’s important to ensure they are getting the correct amount and type of food to fuel his activity. The ORIJEN survey found that 42 per cent of owners admitted to being uncertain as to how to adapt their dogs’ diets for increased exercise.
ORIJEN’s nutrition experts advise that dogs have inherited their nutritional needs from their wolf ancestors, and this means they have evolved to get their energy from animal proteins and fats rather than plant-based products and grains. This is what is meant by the term ‘biologically appropriate’, when discussing an animal’s dietary needs.
Bearing this in mind, they recommend that owners select a pet food that contains at least 50 per cent meat content, for both fully grown dogs and puppies, to ensure their pets are getting enough animal protein and fat to build and maintain strong, healthy bones and muscles. ORIJEN’s dog food contains 85% quality animal ingredients.
It makes sense to select a food that includes a variety of animal meats as well, as these offer different nutritional functions. For example, muscles supply protein while liver, kidney, and tripe supply vitamins and minerals.
Whatever your food choices, you also need to ensure that your dog has time to process their diet safely. Don’t feed your pet directly before or after exercise, otherwise it can lead to digestive upsets or bloat. Some vets advise waiting up to two hours after a feed before exercising. If in doubt, always check with the experts. If your dog is enjoying a busier and more active exercise regime and is fed after a walk, it is particularly important that they are calm and relaxed before eating.
If you’re planning to increase or alter your dog’s exercise, it’s important that you are sure this is appropriate for your pet. Be aware that puppies’ exercise needs to be limited to protect their developing bodies and joints. The Kennel Club recommends that a ratio of five minutes’ exercise per month of age (up to twice a day) until the puppy is fully grown is a good rule of thumb. This translates as 15 minutes (up to twice a day) when the pup is three months old, 20 minutes when four months old, and so on. Once a pup is fully grown, they can go out for much longer.
At the other end of the spectrum, make sure your exercise plans are not too ambitious for an older dog, who may struggle, as might an overweight pet or those with any health conditions. Some dogs may indicate that they are uncomfortable with the new regime, by becoming reluctant or hesitant about exercise, but dogs can be incredibly stoical and often just put up with things. So, if you have any concerns or are unsure about what your dog is capable of, seek expert help, and if you are planning major changes to your dog’s exercise regime, have a word with your vet who will be happy to advise you.
By combining good nutrition and suitable exercise, you can enhance your relationship with your pet, and ensure they are as happy and healthy as possible.
*For more on canine nutrition, visit www.OrijenPetFoods.co.uk