How to Exercise with Your Dog

Keeping your dog fit will likely do the same for you.

By Leah Zerbe

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3. Cool down—After you both exercise, give your pooch a head-to-tail rubdown to relax his or her muscles.

• Know when it's time to fly. Incorporating Frisbee time into a workout can be a great calorie burner, but younger pups need some months under their collar before launching into high jumps to grab the toy, warns Moore. To start off, throw a natural-rubber Frisbee just inches above the ground until the dog is at least 18 months old—it will get them in the routine but won't jar their developing body.

• Be the center of attention. "Walks are a really big deal for most dogs. It's their chance to use all of their senses to take in the environment," says Moore. "It's like us going on a shopping spree to a mall running a sale." Which means some dogs will have trouble focusing on the exercise session. To keep things moving and avoid being yanked to the side while your dog sniffs everything along the path, it's your job to make the path itself not so ho-hum. Vary the route, the side of the street you walk along, and the time of the walk, and change the intensity with speed variations and surfaces that add resistance, such as hills, bark-filled paths, or sand-packed beaches. To keep the dog focused on you, especially when you're first exercising together, walk sideways or backwards. "You have to be more interesting than the squirrel they see," says Moore.

• Loosen up a shy dog. If you have a nervous or shy dog that isn't ready for big walks in a public setting, build her confidence inside the house first. Turn on some music, act goofy, and dance, inviting the dog to weave between your legs, turn, and even stand on hind legs to dance with you. After she becomes more confident, invite over a friend your dog seems to like, and take a short walk around the yard or block together.

• Learn dog water safety 101. Rule numero uno—never force your dog to swim. "Not all dogs are natural swimmers. Some want to be near water but not swim," says Moore. If your dog does like the water and swims with you, or rides along in a boat or kayak, it's a good idea to use a doggie life vest. Moore recommends Ruff Wear flotation products. And be careful where you choose to swim. If a body of water is stagnant, smelly, or contains lots of algae, it could also harbor Giardia, a parasite that will require a visit to the vet if your dog swallows infected water. If you live in a development, it's important to keep your dog out of retention ponds, too. They're often contaminated with gardening and lawn chemicals that are hazardous to everyone's health.

Once you find a clean swimming hole, if you want to swim with your dog or play fetch, make sure the toys you use are brightly colored, floatable, and easy to grab, to avoid the dog's having to go under water. If you take your dog to the ocean, go when the tide is low. Most dogs don't want to crash into the waves, but enjoy frolicking along the shore's edge. And remember to bring towels, and even an all-natural oatmeal shampoo, so you can scrub the irritating salt out of their coat.

• Don't sizzle their paws. Doggies don't wear shoes, so if you're going to jog or run on pavement or a sidewalk, place your palm to the surface first. If it's irritating to you, it will be for them, too. Pick a grass surface, or wait until it's cooler to work out.

• Don't bike. Cycling with your pooch by your side is a prescription for trouble, Moore says. If you're looking for something a little more interesting, check out an agility class in your area. It's fun and burns calories for you and your dog, and it can develop and deepen the trust between you.

• Don't let your pooch overheat. Dogs with pushed-in noses, such as pugs, bulldogs, and Boston Terrier types, can have a lot of problems in the heat, so try walking them in the early morning or evening, when it's a bit cooler. Remember to offer small amounts of water throughout the workout, no matter what type of dog you own. Dogs won't always tell you when they're exhausted, and will often run or play fetch until they collapse. Monitoring them is your job, and it's best to stop even before they start showing signs of exhaustion. If you notice any of these signs in your dog, it's time to stop working out immediately:

1. Drooping tongue that may actually have widened, or is curled up
2. Overtaxed-appearing eyes; the dog could look worried, or have a slightly glazed look
3. Rapid panting
4. Change in gait—hesitation before chasing ball, or staggering, wobbling, or shifting weight.

If your dog is overheated, offer the dog more water to drink, and dip the dog's paws in cool, but not cold, water.

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